You are here

Monticello Day Pass and House Tour - UVA Law School

$25 Adults Mar - Oct
$8 Children 5-11, year-round (under 5 free)

View Shopping Cart

Daily, year-round
House Tours run throughout the day.

Spend a day on the beautiful grounds of Monticello and get an intimate look at Thomas Jefferson. Included in the Monticello Day Pass:

Three Guided Tours Included

State of the Art Visitor Center

Access to

Guidelines for House Tours

Please arrive at Monticello at least 30 minutes before your Tour so you have time to park, pick up your ticket(s), and ride the shuttle bus to the mountaintop.

The time of your reservation is when you should be at the East Walk, the area directly in front of Monticello, where House Tour groups form. You will be admitted to the house according to the time printed on your ticket.  With rare exceptions, you can expect your Tour to begin within 10 minutes.

Please note that if you are late for your reserved timeslot, you will be assigned to the next available Tour, as space allows; some days this could mean a significant wait, or if all timeslots are filled, the issuance of a Grounds ticket only (no House Tour). Reservations and tickets are valid only on the date specified. There are no refunds unless the Tour is canceled by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

Other Guidelines

  • Bags and Backpacks. None exceeding 11 x 15 x 6 inches are allowed beyond the Shuttle Station.
  • In the House. Eating, drinking, chewing gum and using tobacco products are prohibited. Cell phones and other electronic devices must be turned off. Still photography, filming, and video recording are prohibited. Visitors are urged not to touch or lean on walls or furnishings.
  • On the Grounds. The West Lawn is open to visitors; otherwise visitors are asked to remain on designated paths and trails. Smoking is not permitted near the house or its dependencies and terraces.
  • Photography: Still photography, filming and video recording for personal use are permitted on the grounds of Monticello. No photography of any kind is allowed inside the house.
  • Pets. Pets are allowed on the grounds if leashed. With the exception of certified service dogs, pets are not allowed in any buildings or on the shuttle buses. Visitors who bring pets are required to clean up after them.
  • Smoking. Monticello is a smoke-free site.
  • Visiting with Kids. Families with toddlers are encouraged to use small strollers when touring the house. Families with active or restless young children may be asked to take turns touring the house, as a courtesy to other visitors.
Related Tours & Activities:

Funding the University of Virginia

When the Virginia General Assembly on January 25, 1819, formally established a state university at the site of Central College in Charlottesville, it did so without providing the funds necessary to make Jefferson’s vision a reality. Responding to Senator Joseph Cabell’s news of the legislative victory, Jefferson expressed his joy at the passage of the University bill, but then quickly described the situation confronting supporters of the University:  “...we shall fall miserably short in the execution of the large plan displayed to the world, with the short funds proposed for its execution.”1

The Assembly approved an annual sum of fifteen thousand dollars from the Literary Fund in support of the state university. To this amount could be added funds in-hand or those anticipated from the subscription drive for Central College, as well as proceeds from sale of glebe lands.2 Jefferson immediately requested Cabell to petition the legislature for more money from the Literary Fund, but the senator replied that the timing was wrong. With continued opposition to the University bill, Cabell did not want it to appear that supporters of the University sought the whole fund, some of which was designated for educating the poor.3

The historian Philip Alexander Bruce points out that opposition to taking money from the Literary Fund was from many quarters, including from friends of the College of William and Mary, and of smaller institutions like Hampden-Sydney College and Washington College, all of whom felt their schools would be overshadowed by the state university. Members of several denominations believed the University had irreligious tendencies, while still others were indifferent to higher education in general. And there were always those politicians who opposed most anything connected with Jefferson.4  Supporters of the state university also met opposition from individuals who felt the general plan for the University was extravagant - that Jefferson had set his sights too high. Over the years a perception of “extravagance” would dog Jefferson and Cabell’s efforts at securing funds.5 It did not help that Jefferson often was perceived (correctly at times) as underestimating costs.

Jefferson showed little patience with the tight-fisted legislature. He complained to Cabell that nearby Kentucky “has an University, with fourteen professors and upwards of 200 students” while Virginia is “higgling without the heart” to spend money on its own University. As he saw it: “All the States but our own are sensible that knowledge is power.” While we, said Jefferson, “are sinking into the barbarism of our Indian aborigines, and expect, like them, to oppose by ignorance the overwhelming mass of light and science by which we shall be surrounded. It is a comfort that I am not to live to see it.”6

Although Cabell initially doubted funds could be obtained during the 1819-1820 legislative session,7 he managed to get the General Assembly to empower the University Board of Visitors to borrow sixty thousand dollars “for the purpose of finishing the buildings of the University.”8 Jefferson, writing for the Board of Visitors, reported to the President and Directors of the Literary Fund that completion of the pavilions and student residences with their supporting hotels would not leave enough funds for the erection of a principal building to serve as a library and for other purposes. Moreover, there were not enough monies for maintenance nor would the present annuity suffice to “furnish sufficient inducement to ten professors, of high degree each in his respective line of science.” Consequently, unless the university received more money, it would end up having “to employ inferior persons” and leave the University in the position of being “unavailed of the higher advances already made elsewhere, and of the advantages contemplated by the statue under which we act.” He went on to suggest the University could open in fall of 1821 in an incomplete form, but if it be wished that “the whole objects of the law” be executed, then more money must be forthcoming.9

In November of the same year, Jefferson  pens a lengthy and emotional critique of the Virginia educational system. He contrasts it with the system in New York with its numerous schools and colleges and which spends millions on education. “What a pigmy to this is Virginia become! With a population all but equal to that of New York! And whence this difference? From the difference their rulers set on the value of knowledge and the prosperity it produces.”  Jefferson also included estimates for a library ($40,000) and an observatory (“about ten or twelve thousand dollars”).10

As the 1820-1821 session of the General Assembly got underway Cabell once again expressed little confidence in securing more funds.11  His report caused Jefferson’s spirits to sink further.12  Adding to his gloom, the senator said he was contemplating retiring from public life at the end of the Assembly’s session. Always of weak constitution, Cabell worried the rigors of his legislative duties “might carry me to the grave, or bring on me further and more distressing symptoms of pulmonary affection,” and he was looking forward to “domestic, rural and literary leisure.” He tells Jefferson that his service in support of the University “will always constitute one of the most agreeable reflections of my life.”13

Jefferson would have none of it, stating that abandoning the cause would be a “desertion” from a “sacred duty.” He challenged Cabell to consider how better he might serve his country: “What object of our own lives can we propose, so important? What interest of our own, which ought not to be postponed to this? Health, time, labor, on what in the single life which nature has given us, can be better bestowed than on this immortal boon to our country? The exertions and the mortifications are temporary; the benefit eternal.” Jefferson declared that if anyone could justifiably withdraw it would be himself as he has “neither vigor of body nor mind left to keep the field. But I will die in the last ditch.” He appealed to Cabell: “ Pray then, dear and very dear sir, do not think of deserting us; but view the sacrifices which seem to stand in your way, as the lesser duties, and such as ought to be postponed to this, the greatest of all.”14

The emotional, even desperate, words of Jefferson resulted in the only response possible from the man who for years had been a steadfast ally in support of a state university. “It is not in my nature to resist such an appeal,” he writes to Jefferson on February 8th.15  Cabell’s return to the fray yielded, if not outright grants from the state, at least an authorization by the Assembly for a second loan of sixty thousand dollars. He makes it clear that no more money is likely to be forthcoming, stating that even friends of the university want Jefferson “to commence no building which cannot be finished, and, above all, not to come here again for money to erect buildings.”16 The allocated funds were judged to pay for land purchased, and “for the whole system of buildings of accommodation, and all accessory expenses.” The Board of Visitors believed that the  “whole establishment, except that of the library” could be completed by the ensuing summer.17 Jefferson, however, was not to be denied the centerpiece of his University, which would close the buildings on the north side. Ignoring Cabell’s earlier warnings, he continued to push for more money from the Assembly as well as a suspension of interest on the loans already obtained, but no money was forthcoming during the 1821-1822 session.18

By fall of 1822, all the buildings proposed by the Commissioners of 1818 were nearly completed, except the library. The Proctor’s cost estimate for this building was $46,847 dollars. Reiterating the Board’s belief that it is “indispensable to complete all the buildings before opening the institution,” yet another request was made of the legislature for more money.19                                                                                                   

As the 1822-23 session began, Cabell reported to Jefferson that leading members of the House of delegates now “seem well disposed towards the University” but the state of finances in the Literary Fund is unfavorable. He is undecided as to the direction to take and how much money to request from the Assembly. Should money be sought for the library or for relinquishing the debt?20  Shortly thereafter Cabell tells Jefferson he saw a letter “stating that the undertakers had ascertained that they could not build the library for less than $70,000.” So as not to be “seen by our enemies” he had the letter thrown into the fire. Cabell states that $70,000 is out of the question and suggests asking for $50,000 for the library from capital on hand and seeking relinquishment of the debt. He mentions, however, that “the public mind seems impatient for a commencement of the operations of the institution, “ and some wonder whether money should be put towards books and apparatus to get the University started.21

Jefferson is quick to respond: “Of all things the most important, is the completion of the buildings. The remission of the debt will come of itself. It is already remitted in the mind of every man, even the enemies of the institution.”  The goal, Jefferson reminds Cabell, is “to make the establishment the most eminent in the United States.”  It is only by the “distinguished scale of its structure and preparation,” he states, will we draw faculty of the highest calibre and the youth from every state.  Jefferson says the figure of $70,000 for the library is due to “greediness of a undertaker” and that no more than $60,000 is needed.22 Two months later Cabell now reports that a third loan of $60,000 to finish the library is certain to be had, but, he emphasizes: “We must never come here again for money to erect buildings.”23  The bill passes February 5, 1823.24  The next month work on the principal building of Mr. Jefferson’s University, the Rotunda, began.25

When the 1823-24 session of the Assembly begins, Cabell tells Jefferson that the Governor “has put our claims before the Legislature in his happiest manner,” and that sentiment is running high in favor of remitting the entire debt.26 As historian Bruce notes: “This new feeling was to be attributed either to impatience with Jefferson’s patent determination to keep the University shut up until it was fully completed, or to admiration for his stubborn and disinterested zeal on its behalf.”27 Progress was slow, but due to Cabell’s extraordinary efforts on the University’s behalf, in January, 1824, he could report that the legislature had relieved the University Board of Visitors of the $180,000 loans and interest. He then asked Jefferson what sum was needed for books and apparatus in order to begin classes.28  Jefferson replied simply: “Certainly the largest you can obtain.” But he acknowledged that forty or fifty thousand would “enable us to set out with tolerable competence.”29

Cabell was not able to get any more money from the legislature but did gain approval for fifty thousand dollars of money expected from the National Government in payment for interest on loans obtained from Virginia during the War of 1812.30 However, the General Assembly would release the funds only when the government money was assured and that did not happen until the winter of 1825.31 The architectural historian, William B. O’Neal, states that the Proctors’ accounts reveal the eventual total cost “of each part of the University, inclusive of land, was slightly more than three-hundred thousand dollars."32

There was still much undone when the first students arrived in the spring of 1825.33 The Rotunda was not yet finished, nor was there an anatomical theater, which Jefferson viewed as “indispensable,” 34 and numerous other tasks were not completed. Nevertheless, when the doors opened on March 7, 1825, the University of Virginia was preparing to take its place among “the most eminent in the United States.”

- Gene Zechmeister, November 2, 2011





  • 1. 1.  Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, January 28, 1819, in Cabell, Nathaniel Francis, ed., Early History of the University of Virginia: as contained in the letters of Thomas Jefferson and Joseph C. Cabell, hitherto unpublished; with an appendix consisting of Mr. Jefferson’s bill for a complete system of education, and other illustrative documents; and an introduction comprising a brief historical sketch of the university, and a biographical notice of Joseph C. Cabell (Richmond, Va.: J. W. Randolph,  1856), 154.
  • 2. Minutes of the Board of Visitors of Central College, February 26, 1819, in ibid., 451-452. The Minutes of the Board of Visitors of Central College and then of the University of Virginia also can be found online.
  • 3. Joseph C. Cabell to Jefferson, February 4, 1819, in ibid., 155. Note: In the Jefferson-Cabell Letters the date is mistakenly reported as December.
  • 4. Philip Alexander Bruce, History of the University of Virginia, 1819-1919: The Lengthened Shadow of One Man  (New York: Macmillan Co., 1920), 1:289.
  • 5. Malone, Jefferson, 6:385. See also Joseph C. Cabell to Jefferson, March 6, 1822, in Cabell, Jefferson-Cabell Letters, 245-251.
  • 6. Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, January 22, 1820, in ibid., 178.
  • 7. Joseph C. Cabell to Jefferson, February 3, 1820, in ibid., 180.
  • 8. Minutes of the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia, October 3, 1820, in ibid., 461.
  • 9. Ibid., 464.
  • 10. Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, November 28, 1820, in ibid., 186, 189.
  • 11. Joseph C. Cabell to Jefferson, January 4, 1821, in ibid., 194-195.
  • 12. 12. Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, January 31, 1821, in ibid., 201-203.
  • 13. Joseph C. Cabell to Jefferson, January 25, 1821, in ibid., 198-199.
  • 14. Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, January 31, 1821, in ibid., 202.
  • 15. Joseph C. Cabell to Jefferson, February 8, 1821, in ibid., 203.
  • 16. Joseph C. Cabell to Jefferson, March 10, 1821, in ibid., 210.
  • 17. Minutes of the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia, November 19, 1821, in ibid., 468.
  • 18. Joseph C. Cabell to Jefferson, January 7, 1822, in ibid., 229-231.
  • 19. Minutes of the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia, October 7, 1822, in ibid., 472.
  • 20. Joseph C. Cabell to Jefferson, December 19, 1822, in ibid., 255-257.
  • 21. Joseph C. Cabell to Jefferson, December 23, 1822, in ibid., 257, 259.
  • 22. Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, December 28, 1822, in ibid., 260-262.
  • 23. Joseph C. Cabell to Jefferson, February 3, 1823, in ibid., 273.
  • 24. Joseph C. Cabell to Jefferson, February 5, 1823, in ibid., 274.
  • 25. Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, March 12, 1823, in ibid., 278-279.
  • 26. Joseph C. Cabell to Jefferson, December 3, 1823, in ibid., 285. Note: James Pleasants was Governor of Virginia, 1822-1825.
  • 27. Bruce, History of the University of Virginia, 1:306.
  • 28. 28. Joseph C. Cabell to Jefferson, January 29, 1824, in Cabell, Jefferson-Cabell Letters, 288-290.
  • 29. Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, February 23, 1824, in ibid., 291.
  • 30. 3Bruce, History of the University of Virginia, 1:307-308.
  • 31. Ibid., 2:40.
  • 32. William B. O’Neal, “Financing the Construction of the University of Virginia: Notes and Documents,” Magazine of Albemarle County History 23 (1964-1965): 11. Note: This is an excellent source for further reading about the funding of Mr. Jefferson’s University.
  • 33. Frank Edgar Grizzard, Jr., Documentary History of the Construction of the Buildings at the University of Virginia, 1817-1829 (PhD diss., University of Virginia, 1996). See Chapter 10.
  • 34. Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, January 11, 1825, in Cabell, Jefferson-Cabell Letters, 331.

Genesis of the University of Virginia

Thomas Jefferson, to a degree greater than many founding fathers, believed that people are the guardians of their own freedom.  To his oft-repeated expression of faith in the ability of the people to govern themselves, however, he attached a caveat: The citizenry, in order to become "safe depositories" of their freedom, must be educated.1  Simply put, he stated: "Wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government."2

In November of 1776, a few months after leaving Philadelphia and the momentous events surrounding July 4th, Jefferson was at work in the Virginia General Assembly rewriting the colonial statutes to conform to the ideals of the Revolution.  He joined a committee of "Revisors," including George Wythe and Edmund Pendleton, which proposed 126 new or amended laws. Three of these bills, authored by Jefferson, proposed a system of public education for the state. In 18th century Virginia, schooling was largely tuition based, thereby denying children of less prosperous families access to any formal education. Parents who could afford to do so took in visiting tutors or enrolled their children in small private schools.3 The girls of Peter and Jane Jefferson were schooled at home, while the boys were taught out of the house. Thomas lived for five years with the Reverend William Douglas and later with Reverend James Maury. Only Peter Jefferson’s slaves costed more than Thomas’s yearly schooling and board with Dr. Maury.4 With sufficient background, the male children of this privileged class would perhaps move on to the College of William and Mary, as Thomas did in 1760, or migrate to northern colleges or to ones abroad. To make all citizens safe depositories of their freedom would require a different system of education.

One of the bills written by Jefferson called for a public library (No. 81),  another for restructuring William and Mary College (No. 80). The introduction to the third, "A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge," (No. 79) echoes the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence. It reads, in part:

"Whereas it appeareth that however certain forms of government are better calculated than others to protect individuals in the free exercise of their natural rights, and are at the same time themselves better guarded against degeneracy, yet experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms, those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny; and it is believed that the most effectual means of preventing this would be, to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, ....whence it becomes expedient for promoting the publick happiness that those persons, whom nature hath endowed with genius and virtue, should be rendered by liberal education worthy to receive, and able to guard the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens, and that they should be called to that charge without regard to wealth, birth or accidental condition of circumstance."5

The bill provided for tuition-free education at local elementary schools for three years to "all the free children, male and female," tuition-based secondary education for boys at district grammar schools, and subsequent entry to William and Mary College. Scholarships were available for students “of the best and most promising genius and disposition” but “whose parents were too poor to give them farther education.” All three bills failed in the legislature - a matter of too much, too soon. War-time concerns in Virginia and the cost of public education were contributing factors to the defeat, as was resistance among the Virginia wealthy "to finance education of children other than their own," and, consequently, "jeopardize their own privileged position atop the social hierarchy of the state.”6

Jefferson's attempts to reform public education in Virginia were the genesis of his idea for a public university.7 In particular, "A Bill for Amending of the Constitution of the College of William and Mary, and Substituting More Certain Revenues for Its Support" (No. 80) is where we get the first glimpse of Jefferson's thoughts on the proper organization and curriculum for the pinnacle of his plan for general education. He did not mince words when talking about his alma mater, stating that after a hundred years the College had not fulfilled the public's expectations and "that it would become more useful, if certain articles of its constitution were altered and amended."8 He proposed changes related to the governance, funding, and organization of the College.

Although the plan to amend the College's constitution was not approved in the General Assembly, in 1789 Jefferson was elected Virginia’s Governor and to the Board of Visitors for the College. In these positions he was able to convince the board to make some of the changes proposed in his earlier bill - among others, eliminating the professorship in divinity and adding one of modern languages and one of anatomy, medicine, and chemistry.9 All was not accomplished during these war-focused years, but it is here that we see Jefferson's first steps at designing a modern secular university, unfettered by religious tenets.

If Jefferson had not soon embarked on his mission to France, and then been occupied as Washington's Secretary of State, his presence might have led to an earlier adoption of his plan for public education, and in a form closer to his original proposal than the watered-down version adopted by the Assembly in 1796.10 This was not for want of effort, however, even from a distance. In 1786 Jefferson wrote from Paris to George Wythe, urging him to work with James Madison to see the plan succeed: "I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised, for the preservation of freedom and happiness."11 The next year, still in Paris, he wrote to Madison: "Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to; convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty."12

The statesman from Virginia never gave up on the idea that education of the common people, including entry to the highest level of education, a college or university, was necessary for preserving the democracy.  Many years later, in 1818, as part of the plan for a new state university, the 75-year old Jefferson identified more specifically the "objects of that higher grade of education" by which freedom and happiness are preserved. Proper higher education would, he wrote, prepare people for citizenry in the new democracy, enabling them to make right choices of government, harmonize various aspects of the economy, and, importantly, form the country’s future leaders.13 As Jefferson's pre-eminent biographer, Dumas Malone, states: "To the venerable Sage as to the bold Revolutionary patriot, freedom and knowledge were inseparable."14

- Gene Zechmeister, June 8, 2011

Next Article: From Central College to University

Establishment of the University of Virginia

On February 14, 1816, the Virginia General Assembly granted a charter for Central College in Charlottesville.1 The hard-fought legislative victory was won mainly due to the unfailing efforts of Senator Joseph C. Cabell, Thomas Jefferson’s stalwart ally in the legislature. The elevation of  Albemarle Academy to Central College constituted a major step toward fulfilling Thomas Jefferson’s vision for a state university.

Members of the Board of Visitors for Central College, in addition to Jefferson,  included another ex-president, James Madison, a presidential incumbent, James Monroe, as well as Joseph Cabell, John Hartwell Cocke, and David Watson. The visitors did not have their first meeting until April 8, 1817,  more than a year after the college received its charter.  Although a quorum was not reached on that day, Jefferson, not being one to waste valuable time, led Cabell and Cocke on a tour of possible building sites. Land west of Charlottesville owned by Frank Perry was deemed desirable, although this was not Jefferson’s first choice, the latter being owned by a man at odds with Jefferson who refused to sell to him.2

At the May 5 board meeting, Alexander Garrett was appointed both Proctor and Treasurer. The board authorized him to purchase the land from Perry and, following the architectural plan presented earlier by Jefferson to trustees of the Albemarle Academy, determined that one of the pavilions should now be erected along with “dormitories for the students adjacent to the said pavilion, not exceeding ten on each side...”  After proposing that construction “be completed, if possible, during the ensuing summer and winter,” the board turned its attention to finding money to accomplish this. The minutes state:

“Resolved, That a subscription paper be prepared, and placed in such hands as the Proctor shall deem will be the most likely to promote it with energy and success, in which shall be different columns, to wit: one for those who may be willing to give a donation in gross, another for those who may be willing to give a certain sum annually for the term of four years, and a third for donations in any other form; and that the moneys subscribed be disposed of as they are received by the Proctor...”

At the same meeting Jefferson and Cocke were appointed a “Committee on the part of the Visitors, with authority jointly or severally, to advise and sanction all plans and the application of moneys for executing them...” 3

Soon after the board’s May meeting Jefferson wrote both to William Thornton, the architect of the Capitol Building in Washington, as well as Benjamin Henry Latrobe, seeking comments on his plans for the college. On July 18th, he personally surveyed the building site, reporting to Cocke the next day that “our squares are laid off, the brick yard begun, and the leveling will be begun in the course of the week.”4 A few weeks later the board approved the hiring of the college’s first professor, Dr. Samuel Knox of Baltimore, and also authorized Jefferson to import a stone cutter from Italy.5 The subscription drive was producing enough money that at the October 7th meeting the board proposed “two other pavilions be contracted for and executed the next year, with the same number of dormitories to each.”  Student tuition was set at $60 per annum, of which $20 was to be paid to his professor; dormitory space was set at $15.6

Successful construction of buildings during the last months of 1817 served to achieve the strategic goal of giving Central College the appearance of an ongoing concern before the legislature reconvened.7 Lest anyone not know about the rise of Central College, Jefferson’s biographer, Dumas Malone, indicates that Jefferson sent a letter, an “unsigned communication,” to the Richmond Enquirer. Essentially a progress report, the letter appeared in the newspaper with a laudatory preface by the editor in which Jefferson was identified as the “chief founder” of Central College and expressing the hope that the college would be a “future nursery of Science and of Liberty.”8 

In preparation for the 1817-1818 session of the General Assembly, Cabell asked Jefferson to draft a bill for a system of public education.9 Jefferson did so, building on his earlier bill proposed forty years earlier, and including extensive thoughts on education later delivered in 1814 to his nephew Peter Carr,10 as well as ideas contained in a missive of 1816 to Governor Wilson C. Nicholas who was seeking advice on a plan for public education in Virginia.11

The “Bill for Establishing a System of Public Education,” drafted by Jefferson in 1817, proposed the same three-tier system that Jefferson, as a young revolutionary, had presented to the Assembly in 1778. It called for free elementary education, followed by tuition-based secondary (collegiate) education, and, for those eligible, entry to a state university. Whereas grammar schools would be built and administered within wards of each county, nine collegiate districts across various counties would be created for schools for secondary education. Jefferson then suggested guidelines “for establishing in a central and healthy part of the State an University wherein all branches of useful science may be taught.” In addition, the bill provided plans for the buildings of such a university, including dormitories for students which “shall be such as may conveniently admit additions from time to time.”12 It was no coincidence that Central College was located in the central region of district four (which in turn was centrally located in the state), was founded to teach all the useful sciences, and was in the process of constructing dormitories that might be expanded when enrollment demanded.13 Jefferson clearly intended that the legislature would view Central College as the obvious choice for the state university. With this in mind, he composed alternative paragraphs for the bill, specifically naming Central College. These were to be substituted if it appeared that Central College would be chosen as the state university.14

The fate of Jefferson’s bill was once again in the hands of the faithful Cabell. In the face of opposition to the College, he was required to make changes that would more easily move the bill through the legislature. The result was a much more modest proposal than Jefferson had drafted. A university was still part of the package, but its site was unspecified, and the prospects of even this stripped-down version, Cabell warned Jefferson, were uncertain. 15 

Jefferson attempted to sway legislators by sending a letter signed by the Visitors of Central College to the Speaker of the House of Delegates, touting many reasons for the selection of Central College.  He described its central location in the state, ideal climate (“nothing in its vicinity which could threaten the health of the students”), the amount of land already purchased, and the innovative architectural design of the separate pavilions and student dormitories that avoided a single large edifice and which allowed  “greater security against fire and infection,” as well as permitting “extending the buildings in equal pace with the funds.”  His list of positives, in addition, included the success of the subscription campaign, construction in progress or contemplated, and the ongoing process of securing faculty. Jefferson also stated that if  “the Legislature shall think proper to proceed to the establishment of an University, and to adopt for its location the site of the Central College,” that all property and rights of the college would be delivered.16 Cabell reported that, unfortunately, the report from the visitors had little influence on the majority of House members.17

Supporters of a state university were up against numerous factions in the Assembly who did not agree on the structure of an educational system for Virginia, how money from the Literary Fund should be spent, or where a state university, should it be approved, should be located. And then there were political opponents of Jefferson who were simply against anything the ex-president proposed.  Debate in the Assembly continued through January and into February, with Cabell becoming more and more pessimistic that a university bill would pass in this session.18 He later complained that they were “the victims of local interests, factious views, and lamentable ignorance.”19

Jefferson’s bill failed, as Cabell expected, but when all things looked bleak Cabell saw a way to the goal. A bill funding primary schools for indigents made its way from the House to the Senate and was referred to a committee of which Cabell was a member. He won approval of a rider for the establishment of a university, location unspecified, with a yearly appropriation of $15,000. It was approved by the Senate and returned to the House for a vote, where it passed mainly due to the fact that it was: (a) not closely identified with Jefferson, (b) nor very costly, and (c) did not designate a location for the university. The last feature apparently did not threaten supporters of a university at William and Mary in Williamsburg, or those who favored locating it in Charlottesville, Staunton, or in Lexington. These groups would now wait until the next legislative session to renew the fight over a site.20

On February 21, 1818, the General Assembly formally approved the appropriation of funds for a state university “to be called ‘The University of Virginia,’ wherein all the branches of useful science shall be taught.”21 Central College was still in the running for its location, but there remained other fast horses in the race. The governor was called upon to appoint a commission which would meet and recommend a site for the university. The showdown over a site for the university was set for the first day of August at the tavern in Rockfish Gap on the Blue Ridge.

- Gene Zechmeister, June 28, 2011

Next Article: Choosing the Site

Previous Article: Jefferson's Plan for an Academical Village

  • 1. "An Act for Establishing a College in the County of Albemarle, February 14, 1816." Reprinted in Cabell, Nathaniel Francis, ed., Early History of the University of Virginia: as contained in the letters of Thomas Jefferson and Joseph C. Cabell, hitherto unpublished; with an appendix consisting of Mr. Jefferson’s bill for a complete system of education, and other illustrative documents; and an introduction comprising a brief historical sketch of the university, and a biographical notice of Joseph C. Cabell. (Richmond, VA: J. W. Randolph,  1856), 391-393. Reproduction: Ann Arbor, MI: Scholarly Publishing Office, University of Michigan, 2007.  (Michigan historical reprint series). Available online at
  • 2. Neil McDowell Shawen, The Casting of a Lengthened Shadow: Thomas Jefferson’s Role in Determining the Site for a State University in Virginia (EdD diss., George Washington University, 1980), 186-88.
  • 3. Minutes of Board of Visitors of Central College, May 5, 1817, in Cabell, Jefferson-Cabell Letters, 395-396.
  • 4. Jefferson to John Hartwell Cocke, July 19, 1817. Transcription available online from the University of Virginia EText Center..
  • 5. Minutes of Board of Visitors of Central College, July 28, 1817, in Cabell, Jefferson-Cabell Letters, 396. (Note: Knox later declined the offer.)
  • 6. Minutes of Board of Visitors of Central College, October 7, 1817, in ibid., 397.
  • 7. Shawen, 205.
  • 8. Malone, Jefferson, 6:264-265.
  • 9. Philip Alexander Bruce, History of the University of Virginia, 1819-1919: The Lengthened Shadow of One Man (New York: Macmillan Co., 1920), 1:75. See also: Jefferson to Joseph C. Cabell, September 9, 1817, in Cabell, Jefferson-Cabell Letters, 79.
  • 10. Jefferson to Peter Carr, September 7, 1814, in PTJ:RS, 7:636-41.
  • 11. Jefferson to William Cary Nicholas, April 2, 1816, in L&B, 14:446-456.
  • 12. Bill for Establishing a System of Public Education, September, 1817, in Cabell, Jefferson-Cabell Letters, 413-427.
  • 13. Shawen, 224-228.
  • 14. Bill for Establishing a System of Public Education, September, 1817, in Cabell, Jefferson-Cabell Letters, 422-427.
  • 15. Joseph C. Cabell to Jefferson, December 29, 1817, in ibid., 89-94.
  • 16. Board of Visitors of Central College to The Honorable Speaker of the House of Delegates, January 6, 1818, in ibid., 400-404.
  • 17. Joseph C. Cabell to Jefferson, January 22, 1818, in ibid., 108.
  • 18. Joseph C. Cabell to Jefferson, February 6, 1818, in ibid., 116-118.
  • 19. Joseph C. Cabell to Jefferson, February 12, 1818, in ibid., 121-122.
  • 20. Shawen, 250-252.
  • 21. "An Act Appropriating Part of the Revenue of the Literary Fund, and for Other Purposes," February 21, 1818, in Cabell, Jefferson-Cabell Letters, 430.

Quotations on the University of Virginia

1800. "we wish to establish in the upper & healthier country, & more centrally for the state an University on a plan so broad & liberal & modern, as to be worth patronising with the public support, and be a temptation to the youth of other states to come, and drink of the cup of knolege & fraternize with us."1

1820 Aug. 14. " establishment which I contemplate as the future bulwark of the human mind in this hemisphere."2

1820 Dec. 26. "This institution of my native state, the hobby of my old age, will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind, to explore and to expose every subject susceptible of it's contemplation."3

1820 Dec. 27. "This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it."4

1821 Feb. 15. "I had hoped...that we should open with the next year an institution on which the fortunes of our country may depend more than may meet the general eye. The reflections that the boys of this age are to be the men of the next; that they should be prepared to receive the holy charge which we are cherishing to deliver over to them; that in establishing an institution of wisdom for them, we secure it to all our future generations; that in fulfilling this duty, we bring home to our own bosoms the sweet consolation of seeing our sons rising under a luminous tuition, to destinies of high promise."5

1821 Mar. 9. "It is the last act of usefulness I can render, and could I see it open I would not ask an hour more of life."6

1825 Mar. 25. "I hope [the University of Virginia] will prove a blessing to my own state, and not unuseful perhaps to some others."7

  • 1. Jefferson to Joseph Priestley, January 18, 1800, in PTJ, 31:320.
  • 2. Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, in L&B, 15:264.
  • 3. Jefferson to Destutt de Tracy, in Ford, 12:181.
  • 4. Jefferson to William Roscoe, in L&B, 15:303.
  • 5. Jefferson to Gen. James Breckinridge, in L&B, 15:314.
  • 6. Jefferson to Spencer Roane, in L&B, 15:326.
  • 7. Jefferson to Edward Livingston, in L&B, 16:115.
Tour At A Glance:
All day
Maximum 25 people


Login or register to participate in our online community.