Honorary Degree Conferred on Jefferson by the College of William and Mary

From Wythepedia: The George Wythe Encyclopedia
Revision as of 13:31, 21 May 2024 by Gwsweeney (talk | contribs) (External links)

(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to: navigation, search
Honorary Doctor of Laws conferred on Thomas Jefferson by the College of William & Mary, January 20, 1783, Massachusetts Historical Society.

At opening convocation in January, 1783, the president and professors of the College of William & Mary presented Thomas Jefferson with an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws, or LL.D. (Legum Doctor).[1] The decision to confer the honor of a degree was recorded in the Journal of the President and Masters or Professors of William and Mary College on New Year's Eve, 1782:

At a Meeting of the President & Professors of the University on December 31, 1782.

James Madison, Presidt.
George Wythe,
Robert Andrews,
Charles Bellini.

Resolved that a Degree of Doctor of Law be presented to Thomas Jefferson, Esqr., of which the following is a Diploma.[2]

Starting when he was sixteen, Jefferson was enrolled at William & Mary from 1761-1762, and followed this formal education with three years of reading law under the mentorship of George Wythe. After serving in the House of Burgesses of Virginia, drafting the Declaration of Independence at the Second Continental Congress, and standing as the second Governor of Virginia (during which time he reorganized William & Mary), in 1783 Jefferson was a delegate from Virginia to the Congress of the Confederation in Annapolis, Maryland.

The diploma is affixed with the second seal of the College, sometimes referred to as the "temple" seal, in use from 1782 until 1929. The signatories to Jefferson's degree, President of the College, James Madison, and Professors George Wythe, Robert Andrews, and Charles Bellini were, in 1790, also granted honorary degrees from William & Mary, along with Wythe's successor and former student, St. George Tucker.[3]

George Wythe is generally credited with drafting the Latin text of Jefferson's diploma, however, the engrossed parchment may not be drawn by Wythe's hand. Scholars note that the author of the text was not a "carefully trained classical scholar."[4] Although Wythe was introduced to Latin by his mother and may have attended grammar school, he is generally thought to have been self-taught in Latin and Greek.[5] Professor Bellini, Professor of Modern Languages, would also be a candidate for providing the Latin text.

Document text, December 1782


Praeses et Professores universitatis seu Collegii Guilielmi et Mariae in Virginia omnibus ad quos presentes literae pervenerint Salutem: Cum eo gradus Academici instituti fuerint ut viri de Academia, de Republica optime meriti, istis insignibus ornarentur, Sciatis, quod nos ea, sola qua possumus via, gradu doctoris in jure civili libenter studioseque collato, testamur quanti facimus Thomam Jefferson Virginiensem ingremio nostrae matris educatum mira in has Musarum Sedes benevolentia propendentem nec minorem inde reportantem, peritisimum et privati juris et publica; eximio erga patriam Amore, quam aliis in rebus, tarn maxime in libertate americana vindicanda insignem; adeo Uteris qua vulgatis qua interioribus et reconditis imbutum, ut artes omnes bonae in uno nomine convenire videantur quas ornat Magnitude animi, quae nihil ad ostentationem omnia ad conscientiam refert, recteque facti non ex populi sermone Sed ea facto petit. Idcirco in solemni convocatione vigesimo die mensis januarii Anno Domini Milessimo Septingentesimo octogesimo tertio habita conspirantibus omnium suffragiis, eundem honorabilem et egregium Thomam Jefferson Doctorem in Jure civili creavimus et constituimus, eumque virtute presentis Diplomatis singulis juribus, privilegiis et honoribus gradui isti quaqua pertinentibus honoris causa frui et gaudere jussimus. In cuius rei testimonium sigillum Universitatis commune quo ac in parte utimur, presentis apponi fecimus. Datum in Domo Nostrae convocationis Anno, die, et mense praedictis.

J: Madison Pr.  
G. Wythe P.L.P.     R. Andrews M.P.P.
  C. Bellini M.L.P.



The president and professors of the university or College of William and Mary to all to whom these present letters shall come, greetings. Since academic degrees have been instituted in order that men deserving most highly of learning and the state may be honored by such distinctions, know ye that we by the sole means in our power—the conferring gladly and eagerly of the degree of doctor in the civil law—bear witness to the high opinion we hold of Thomas Jefferson, Virginian, who, having been educated in the bosom of our alma mater, exhibits wonderful good will to this seat of the Muses and bears hence good will not inferior; most skilled both in private and public law; of exceptional love for his country; illustrious not only in other matters but especially in championing American liberty; and so imbued with letters, whether popular or recondite and abstruse, that all the fine arts seem to foregather in one man; these arts are adorned by the greatness of his mind which proposes nothing with regard to ostentation, everything with regard to conscience, and for a deed well done he seeks his reward not from popular acclaim but from the deed itself. Therefore, in a solemn convocation held on the twentieth day of the month of January in the year of the Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-three, by the unanimous votes of all, we have elected and appointed this honorable and illustrious man, Thomas Jefferson, doctor in the civil law, and him, by virtue of the present diploma, we have ordered to enjoy and rejoice in, for the sake of the honor, the several rights, privileges, and honors pertaining in any way to this degree. In testimony of this fact we have caused to be affixed to the present document the common seal of the University which we employ in this capacity. Granted in the home of our convocation on the aforesaid year, day, and month.[6]

James Madison, President of William & Mary
George Wythe, Professor of Law & Police
Robert Andrews, Professor of Moral Philosophy
Charles (Carlo) Bellini, Professor of Modern Languages

See also


  1. College of William & Mary, The History of the College of William and Mary, from Its Foundation, 1693, to 1870 (Baltimore: John Murphy, 1870), 145.
  2. Lyon G. Tyler, "Journal of the President and Masters or Professors of William and Mary College," William and Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine 16, no. 2 (October 1907), 73-74.
  3. "Honorary degree recipients," William & Mary Libraries, Special Collections Research Center.
  4. "Honorary Degree Conferred on Jefferson by the College of William and Mary, 20 January 1783," Founders Online, National Archives.
  5. Wythe advertised a school for reading Latin and Greek classics in the Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg), in July 1787: "I propose in October, when the next course of lectures in law and police will commence, to open a school for reading some of the higher Latin and Greek classics and of the approved English poets and prose writers, and also for exercises in Arithmetic." In Lyon G. Tyler, "Historical and Genealogical Notes," College of William and Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine 10, no. 4 (April 1902), 274.
  6. Translated by Allen C. Johnson, and John V. A. Fine. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson 6, 21 May 1781–1 March 1784, ed. Julian P. Boyd (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952), 221–222.

External links