Jefferson's Promotion of Mathematics

Throughout his life, Jefferson was avid to keep up with the mathematical world, and to spread knowledge about it to others. How deeply he explored mathematics depended obviously on what else was happening in his life at the time, but he was always keen to pass on what he had learned to his correspondents. Staying in Paris in 1789 he was eager to pass on information about the latest work by Lagrange [TJ to Joseph Willard, March 24, 1789]:

A very remarkeable work is the 'Mechanique Analytique' of La Grange in 4to. He is allowed to be the greatest mathematician now living, and his personal worth is equal to his science. The object of his work is to reduce all the principles of Mechanics to the single one of the Equilibrium, and to give a simple formula applicable to them all. The subject is treated in the Algebraic method, without diagrams to assist the conception. My present occupation not permitting me to read any thing which requires a long and undisturbed attention, I am not able to give you the character of this work from my own examination. It has been received with great approbation in Europe.

Even right at the end of his life, thirty-five years later, Jefferson was still reporting on the current news, in this case the abandonment of fluxional calculus at Cambridge in favour of the Leibnizian notation [TJ to Patrick K. Rogers, January 29, 1824].

The English generally have been very stationary in later times, and the French, on the contrary, so active and successful, particularly in preparing elementary books, in mathematics and natural sciences, that those who wish for instruction without caring from what nation they get it, resort universally to the latter language. Besides the earlier and invaluable works of Euler and Bezout, we have latterly that of Lacroix in mathematics, of Legendre in geometry, . . . to say nothing of the many detached essays of Monge and others, and the transcendent labours of Laplace, and I am informed by a highly instructed person recently from Cambridge, that the mathematicians of that institution, sensible of being in the rear of those of the continent, and ascribing the cause much to their long-continued preference of the geometrical over the analytical methods, which the French have so long cultivated and improved, have now adopted the latter; and that they have also given up the fluxionary, for the differential calculus.