Thomas Jefferson inquires about a former flame

Thomas Jefferson inquires about a former flame

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On May 24, 1797, future President Thomas Jefferson writes to his friend Angelica Church, inquiring casually about their mutual friend, Maria Cosway, a woman who had once captured his heart and inspired a romantically-themed essay.

In 1786, a widowed Thomas Jefferson met Maria (pronounced Mariah) Cosway in Paris while he was serving as the U.S. minister to France. Cosway was born to English parents in Italy and, by the time she met Jefferson, had become an accomplished painter and musician. She was also married. The two developed a deep friendship and possibly more, although a sexual relationship has never been proven. The usually self-contained Jefferson acted like a giddy schoolboy with Cosway, at one point leaping over a stone fountain while the two were out walking and falling and breaking his right wrist. After the wrist healed, a chagrined Jefferson wrote his famous Head and Heart Letter to Cosway in October 1786, just after she left for London with her husband for an undetermined period of time. The letter reveals him to have been a lovesick man whose intellect battled with a heart aching for a woman he could not have.

In the Head and Heart letter, Jefferson pines for a woman who has made him the most wretched of all earthly beings and at the same time chides himself for giving in to emotional attachments. The dialogue reveals Jefferson’s struggle between his desire for Cosway and his wish to maintain his integrity (she was, after all, married). In the end the head wins over the desires of the heart and Jefferson declares that the only effective security against such pain of unrequited love, is to retire within ourselves and to suffice for our own happiness. Two years later, though, his letters to her still expressed an unrequited longing.

In 1787, Jefferson wrote to Cosway while traveling in Italy, painting an idyllic picture of the two of them together one day in the future: we will breakfast every day [go] away to the Desert, dine under the bowers of Marly, and forget that we are ever to part again. He wrote to her again in 1788 from Paris and expressed his tenderness of affection and wished for her presence though he knew he had no right to ask.

Eventually Jefferson’s physical separation from Maria and the hopelessness of a relationship with her cooled his ardor. After returning to America in 1789, his letters to her grew less frequent, partly due to the fact he was increasingly preoccupied by his position as President George Washington’s secretary of state. She, however, continued to write to him and vented her frustration at his growing aloofness. In his last letters, he spoke more of his scientific studies than of his love and desire for her, finally admitting that his love for her had been relegated to fond memories of when their relationship had been pure.

Cosway left England in 1789 after her husband died and moved to a village in Italy to open a convent school for girls.

READ MORE: Why Thomas Jefferson Rewrote the Bible

Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: one of history's myths?

New research being published in "The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy" disputes claims that Thomas Jefferson fathered children with Sally Hemings.

That, in short, is the issue in question in a new book coming out Thursday that strongly challenges the widely accepted view that Thomas Jefferson sired offspring with one of his slaves.

The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy: Report of the Scholars Commission, is a new look at a very old dispute, except this time the dozen scholars behind the book are disrupting years’ worth of research that suggests that Thomas Jefferson fathered children with his slave Sally Hemings.

The Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society, a group that seeks to defend Jefferson’s image, is behind the book, which documents the results of a yearlong research
inquiry by a dozen scholars across the nation working without compensation for the Heritage Society. Carolina Academic Press will release the 400-page book Thursday.

Ever since a 1998 DNA test was performed on Sally’s youngest child, Eston, scholars have thought for years that a Jefferson male, assumed to be Thomas
Jefferson, fathered the boy. But those tests didn’t even involve DNA from Thomas Jefferson and only established that Eston was probably fathered by any one of more than two dozen Jefferson men living in Virginia at the time, “The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy” asserts. In fact, the scholars point to Jefferson’s brother, Randolph, as the likely father of Hemings’ son.

The book also disputes accounts that Hemings’ children received special treatment from Jefferson, evidence some have used to suggest that the third president had a special relationship with Hemings. Neither Hemings nor her children received unusual privileges at Monticello, the scholars argue in the book. In fact, all of Hemings’ relations were not, in fact, given freedom at age 21, as is commonly believed.

“It is true that Sally’s sons Madison and Eston were freed in Jefferson’s will, but so were all but two of the sons and grandsons of Sally’s mother Betty Hemings who still belonged to Thomas Jefferson at the time of his death. Sally’s sons received by far the least favorable treatment of those freed in Thomas Jefferson’s will,” Robert F. Turner, a former professor at the University of Virginia who served as chairman of the commission, told The Washington Times.

According to the Washington Times, the scholars cite the following evidence in the Heritage Society commission report:

• Arguments that the relationship between Hemings and Jefferson started in Paris are unlikely because she was living with his daughters at their boarding school
across the city at the time.

• The “Jefferson family” DNA used in the 1998 test came from descendants of Jefferson's uncle, which the scholars said means any one of two dozen Jefferson men living in Virginia at the time Eston was conceived could have been the father.

• Oral tradition from Eston Hemings’ family initially said he was not the son of the president, but rather of an “uncle” – which the scholars think is a reference
to Randolph Jefferson, the president’s brother, who would have been referred to as “uncle” by Jefferson’s daughters.

Ultimately, there is no way to completely prove or disprove the claims that Jefferson fathered six children with Hemings.

But “The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy” questions years of accepted wisdom on the matter pokes holes at the paradox of the freedom-touting third president
owning and sleeping with his slaves and brings to light serious questions about slavery and race in America.

Did he or didn’t he? We’ll never know. But we’re glad the debate is getting Americans talking about important – albeit often uncomfortable – issues in our country’s history.

The Real Fascists Next Door

Hitler, animal lover, with his dog Blondi.

If you read the recent post, “The Fascists Next Door,” you would see that serious people at the University of Virginia — people who get paid actual salaries, not people who store their worldly belongings in stolen grocery carts — peddle the notion that middle-class Americans are fascists. Not all middle-class Americans, perhaps. Not the ones who think like them. Just those who wave the flag on the 4th of July, believe in the sanctity of the traditional family structure, and/or vote for Republicans. Apparently, such people are rooted in the mythic white-people past that gives rise to racism, sexism, and homophobia — in other words, fascism.

The Brainiacs who espouse such views about fascism, a doctrine that elevates the ideal of the all-powerful state, ignore the part where most middle Americans yearn to curtail the powers of the state. They also overlook the fact the fathers and grandfathers of these middle Americans, in all their toxic masculinity, waded ashore on D-Day into a hail of Nazi bullets on their way to, you know, overthrowing Adolph Hitler. Waving rainbow flags would not have chased the Nazis out of France. Indeed, if America had been counting on the snowflakes who melt from contact with college-campus “microaggressions,” we’d all be speaking German now. Continue reading &rarr

From David A. Leonard

Shall I, with out 1 apology, intrude so far upon your attention, as to state to you the object of this letter? I, with several brothers as well as other friends, are now resolved on what, for two or three years passed, we have had in serious contemplation—that is, to remove into the Western Country. They look to me to make the necesary inquiries. But very few of us, if any, are personally acquainted with any part of that country. What we have heard of that country has strongly prepossessed us to remove thither. As the people who live in the several territories will be generally inclined to speak well of the country they have chosen for their home, we deem ed it advisable to make a little enquiry of the author of ‘Notes on Virginia,’2 where the most inviting situation for 20. or 30 families, may be selected. Among our number may be found farmers, merchants, mechanicks labourers &c. Our general views are agriculture Manufactures, Culture of sheep (the merino) &c! We have been inclined toward the Missouri Ter y but cannot say we are without our fears whether that country be healthful for emigrants from N. England, & whether some part of the Illinois ter y , Indiana Ter y or of the state of Ohio may be preferred. We should therefore feel ourselves under great obligation to you, Sir, for a word of instruction & advice, knowing that you have long contemplated the various local 3 circumstances of our Country & have the most correct judgement where those parts are that are now attended with the most liberal prospects & most inviting to settlers whose objects are like those of ours. We are wishing to fix upon a spot before the ensuing season as many of us have long been determined to remove from N. England. With us, to remove at so great a distance, is indeed a serious & important object this, dear Sir, is our apology for thus presuming upon your kindness to give us some little general advice. Mr R. Easton of St. Louis 4 speaks very well of the Missouri Ter y —Mr Thos. Sloo entertains a very flattering opinion of the Kaskaskia Country. Other gentlemen also speak well of other places. We feel prepared to repose great confidence in what you may please to inform us. Should you not find leisure to reply—Will you be so kind as to name to us the person or persons who could advise on this, to us, so interesting & important a subject.

David Augustus Leonard (1771–ca. 1819), clergyman, author, and merchant, was born in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, and graduated from Rhode Island College (later Brown University) in 1792. During the decade following his ordination as a Baptist evangelist in 1794, he served as a preacher in Massachusetts and New York City, published a number of sermons and orations, and opened a school. In 1805 Leonard moved to Bristol, Rhode Island, where he became a Unitarian and a merchant, edited the Mount Hope Eagle , 1807–08, supported the Republican party, and served for a dozen years as postmaster. In 1817 he relocated for health and financial reasons to Vincennes in the Indiana Territory, but he died insolvent two years later (D. Hamilton Hurd, comp., History of Plymouth County, Massachusetts [1884], 983 Historical Catalogue of Brown University, 1764–1904 [1905], 79 Sprague, American Pulpit description begins William B. Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit , 1857–69, 9 vols. description ends , 6:349–50 Thomas Baldwin, A Sermon delivered at Bridgewater, December 17, 1794, at the Ordination of the Rev. David Leonard to the Work of an Evangelist [Boston, 1795] Longworth’s New York Directory description begins Longworth’s American Almanac, New-York Register, and City Directory , New York, 1796–1842 (title varies cited by year of publication) description ends [1800], 256 New York Mercantile Advertiser , 20 May 1800 Brigham, American Newspapers description begins Clarence S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690–1820 , 1947, 2 vols. description ends , 2:994 DNA: RG 29, CS, R.I., Bristol, 1810 Newport Rhode-Island Republican , 20 Mar. 1810 Providence Gazette, and Moral, Political & Commercial Register , 10 May 1817 Providence Patriot , 20 Nov. 1819 Providence Rhode Island American, and General Advertiser , 28 Jan. 1820).

Rufus easton, a former judge in the Missouri Territory, was elected its delegate to the United States Congress in 1814. Thomas sloo served as a land-claims commissioner in the Illinois Territory’s Kaskaskia District, 1812–13 ( Terr. Papers description begins Clarence E. Carter and John Porter Bloom, eds., The Territorial Papers of the United States , 1934–75, 28 vols. description ends , 14:79, 790, 16:340).

2 . Inconsistent closing double quotation mark editorially changed to single quotation mark.

To George Washington

Your favor of Aug. 31. came to hand yesterday and a confidential conveiance offering, by the way of London, I avail myself of it to acknolege the receipt. I have seen, with infinite pleasure, our new constitution accepted by 11. states, not rejected by the 12th. and that the 13th. happens to be a state of the least importance. It is true that the minorities in most of the accepting states have been very respectable, so much so as to render it prudent, were it not otherwise reasonable, to make some sacrifices to them. I am in hopes that the annexation of a bill of rights to the constitution will alone draw over so great a proportion of the minorities, as to leave little danger in the opposition of the residue and that this annexation may be made by Congress and the assemblies, without calling a convention which might endanger the most valuable parts of the system. Calculation has convinced me that circumstances may arise, and probably will arise, wherein all the resources of taxation will be necessary for the safety of the state. For tho I am decidedly of opinion we should take no part in European quarrels, but cultivate peace and commerce with all, yet who can avoid seeing the source of war in the tyranny of those nations who deprive us of the natural right of trading with our neighbors? The produce of the U.S. will soon exceed the European demand. What is to be done with the surplus, when there shall be one? It will be employed, without question, to open by force a market for itself with those placed on the same continent with us, and who wish nothing better. Other causes too are obvious which may involve us in war and war requires every resource of taxation and credit. The power of making war often prevents it, and in our case would give efficacy to our desire of peace. If the new government wears the front which I hope it will I see no impossibility in the availing ourselves of the wars of others2 to open the other parts of America to our commerce, as the price of our neutrality.

The campaign between the Turks and two empires has been clearly in favor of the former. The emperor is secretly trying to bring about a peace. The alliance between England, Prussia and Holland, (and some suspect Sweden also) renders their mediation decisive wherever it is proposed. They seemed to interpose it so magisterially between Denmark and Sweden, that the former submitted to it’s dictates, and there was all reason to believe that the war in the North-Western parts of Europe would be quieted. All of a sudden a new flame bursts out in Poland. The king and his party are devoted to Russia. The opposition rely on the protection of Prussia. They have lately become the majority in the confederated diet, and have passed a vote for subjecting their army to a commission independant of the king, and propose a perpetual diet, in which case he will be a perpetual cypher. Russia declares against such a change in their constitution, and Prussia has put an army into readiness for marching at a moment’s warning on the frontiers of Poland. These events are too recent to see as yet what turn they will take, or what effect they will have on the peace of Europe. So is that also of the lunacy of the king of England, which is a decided fact, notwithstanding all the stuff the English papers publish about his fevers, his deliriums &c. The truth is that the lunacy declared itself almost at once, and with as few concomitant complaints as usually attend the first developement of that disorder. I suppose a regency will be established, and if it consist of a plurality of members it will probably be peaceable. In this event it will much favor the present wishes of this country, which are so decidedly for peace, that they refused to enter into the mediation between Sweden and Russia, lest it should commit them. As soon as the convocation of the States general was announced, a tranquillity took place thro’ the whole kingdom. Happily no open rupture had taken place in any part of it. The parliaments were re-instated in their functions at the same time. This was all they desired, and they had called for the States general only through fear that the crown could not otherwise be forced to re-instate them. Their end obtained, they began to foresee danger to themselves in the States general. They began to lay the foundations for cavilling at the legality of that body, if it’s measures should be hostile to them. The court, to clear itself of the dispute, convened the Notables who had acted with general approbation on the former occasion, and referred to them the forms of calling and organizing the States-general. These Notables consist principally of nobility and clergy, the few of the tiers etat among them being either parliament-men, or other privileged persons. The court wished that in the future States general the members of the Tiers-etat should equal those of both the other orders, and that they should form but one house, all together, and vote by persons, not by orders. But the Notables, in the true spirit of priests and nobles, combining together against the people, have voted by 5 bureaux out of 6. that the people or tiers etat shall have no greater number of deputies than each of the other orders separately, and that they shall vote by orders: so that two orders concurring in a vote, the third will be overruled for it is not here as in England where each of the three branches has a negative on the other two. If this project of theirs succeeds, a combination between the two houses of clergy and nobles, will render the representation of the Tiers etat merely nugatory. The bureaux are to assemble together to consolidate their separate votes but I see no reasonable hope of their changing this. Perhaps the king, knowing that he may count on the support of the nation and attach it more closely to him, may take on himself to disregard the opinion of the Notables in this instance, and may call an equal representation of the people, in which precedents will support him. In every event, I think the present disquiet will end well. The nation has been awaked by our revolution, they feel their strength, they are enlightened, their lights are spreading, and they will not retrograde. The first states general may establish 3. important points without opposition from the court. 1. their own periodical convocation. 2. their exclusive right of taxation (which has been confessed by the king.) 3. The right of registering laws and of previously proposing amendments to them, as the parliaments have by usurpation been in the habit of doing. The court will consent to this from it’s hatred to the parliaments, and from the desire of having to do with one rather than many legislatures. If the states are prudent they will not aim at more than this at first, lest they should shock the dispositions of the court, and even alarm the public mind, which must be left to open itself by degrees to successive improvements. These will follow from the nature of things. How far they can proceed, in the end, towards a thorough reformation of abuse, cannot be foreseen. In my opinion a kind of influence, which none of their plans of reform take into account, will elude them all I mean the influence of women in the government. The manners of the nation allow them to visit, alone, all persons in office, to sollicit the affairs of the husband, family, or friends, and their sollicitations bid defiance to laws and regulations. This obstacle may seem less to those who, like our countrymen, are in the precious habit of considering Right, as a barrier against all sollicitation. Nor can such an one, without the evidence of his own eyes, believe in the desperate state to which things are reduced in this country from the omnipotence of an influence which, fortunately for the happiness of the sex itself, does not endeavor to extend itself in our country beyond the domestic line.

Your communications to the Count de Moustier, whatever they may have been, cannot have done injury to my endeavors here to open the W. Indies to us. On this head the ministers are invincibly mute, tho’ I have often tried to draw them into the subject. I have therefore found it necessary to let it lie till war or other circumstances may force it on. Whenever they are in war with England, they must open the islands to us, and perhaps during that war they may see some price which might make them agree to keep them always open. In the mean time I have laid my shoulder to the opening the markets of this country to our produce, and rendering it’s transportation a nursery for our seamen. A maritime force is the only one by which we can act on Europe. Our navigation law (if it be wise to have any) should be the reverse of that of England. Instead of confining importations to home-bottoms or those of the producing nation, I think we should confine exportations to home bottoms or to those of nations having treaties with us. Our exportations are heavy, and would nourish a great force of our own, or be a tempting price to the nation to whom we should offer a participation of it in exchange for free access to all their possessions. This is an object to which our government alone is adequate in the gross. But I have ventured to pursue it here, so far as the consumption of our productions by this country extends. Thus in our arrangements relative to tobacco, none can be received here but in French or American bottoms. This is emploiment for near 2000 seamen, and puts nearly that number of British out of employ. By the arret of Dec. 1787. it was provided that our whale oils should not be received here but in French or American bottoms, and by later regulations all oils but those of France and America are excluded. This will put 100 English whale vessels immediately out of employ, and 150. ere long: and call so many of French and American into service. We have had 6000 seamen formerly in this business, the whole of whom we have been likely to lose. The consumption of rice is growing fast in this country, and that of Carolina gaining ground on every other kind. I am of opinion the whole of the Carolina rice can be consumed here. It’s transportation employs 2500. sailors, almost all of them English at present, the rice being deposited at Cowes and brought from thence here. It would be dangerous to confine this transportation to French and American bottoms the ensuing year, because they will be much engrossed by the transportation of wheat and flour hither, and the crop of rice might lie on hand for want of vessels: but I see no objections to the extension of our principle to this article also, beginning with the year 1790. However before there is a necessity of deciding on this I hope to be able to consult our new government in person, as I have asked of Congress a leave of Absence for 6. months, that is to say from April to November next. It is necessary for me to pay a short visit to my native country, first to reconduct my family thither, and place them in the hands of their friends, and secondly to place my private affairs under certain arrangements. When I left my own house I expected to be absent but 5. months, and I have been led by events to an absence of 5. years. I shall hope therefore for the pleasure of personal conferences with your Excellency on the subjects of this letter and others interesting to our country, of getting my own ideas set to rights by a communication of yours, and of taking again the tone of sentiment of my own country which we lose in some degree after a certain absence. You know doubtless of the death of the Marquis de Chastellux. The Marquis de la Fayette is out of favor with the court, but high in favor with the nation. I once feared for his personal liberty. But I hope him on safe ground at present.—On the subject of the whale fishery I inclose you some observations I drew up for the ministry here, in order to obtain a correction of their Arret of Sep. last, whereby they had involved our oils with the English in a general exclusion from their ports. They will accordingly correct this, so that our oils will participate with theirs in the monopoly of their markets. There are several things incidentally introduced which do not seem pertinent to the general question. They were rendered necessary by particular circumstances the explanation of which would add to a letter already too long. I will trespass no further then, than to assure you of the sentiments of sincere attachment and respect with which I haye the honor to be your Excellency’s most obedt. humble servant,

From Robert Smith

As the Governor of Massachussetts has in a letter to the Secretary at War renewed his application respecting the Cannon and other Stores Obtained from that State in the year 1798, I consider it proper to send to you the enclosed Copies of letters, which will give you a view of the part of the Case for which this Department has been responsible.

The Books and papers of this Department have been carefully examined and I cannot find that the demand and refusal have ever been made as stated in the resolutions of the Legislature of that State. Neither is it presumeable that the Government of the United States would have refused to return the Cannon as, it seems, they were not fit for a Man of War and could not be used in the frigate Constitution for which they had been borrowed.

With great respect, I have the honor to be Sir, Your Ob. Ser

For previous efforts by Governor Caleb Strong to secure payment for ordnance and stores provided by Massachusetts to the United States in 1798, see Vol. 38:63–4, 340–1, 350. Strong’s 5 Apr. 1803 letter to the secretary at war has not been found, but it enclosed a 5 Mch. resolution by the Massachusetts legislature authorizing the governor to propose referring the claim to the U.S. circuit court in Massachusetts. If the United States refused the suggestion, then Strong was to accept “any reasonable proposals which the government of the United States may offer as a substitute” and to secure a final settlement on the most advantageous terms possible. In his 16 Apr. reply to Strong, Henry Dearborn repeated his earlier position that the United States could only be held responsible for such articles that were deemed either necessary for the defense of Boston or actually used by the federal garrison. Dearborn had previously stated that the value placed by Massachusetts on the articles in question was far too high and suggested that they instead be appraised by a third party. Dearborn now proposes that Captain Nehemiah Freeman, the commander at Fort Independence, join with an artillery officer from Boston to determine a just valuation. Regarding the cannon and shot loaned to the navy, Dearborn has been informed that the secretary of the navy has written Strong on the subject “and will take the necessary measures for adjusting the business” ( Resolves, &c. of the General Court of Massachusetts. Begun and Held at Boston, on Wednesday, the Twenty-Sixth Day of May, Anno Domini, 1802, and Continued by Adjournment to Tuesday, March 8, 1803 [Boston, 1803], 64–5 Dearborn to Strong, 16 Apr. 1803, Lb in DNA : RG 107, MLS ).


His father was Peter Jefferson, a planter, slaveholder, and surveyor in Albemarle County (Shadwell, Virginia). [1] When Colonel William Randolph, an old friend of Peter Jefferson, died in 1745, Peter assumed executorship and personal charge of Randolph's estate in Tuckahoe as well as his infant son, Thomas Mann Randolph. That year the Jeffersons relocated to Tuckahoe, where they lived for the next seven years before returning to their home in Albemarle in 1752. Peter Jefferson was appointed to the colonelcy of the county, an important position at the time. [2] After he died in 1757, his son Thomas Jefferson inherited his estate, including about 20-40 slaves. They comprised the core of his labor force when he started to build Monticello as a young man.

Thomas's paternal grandfather and great-grandfather were also named Thomas. [3] His grandfather, Thomas Jefferson (1677-1731) resided at a settlement called Osbornes in what is now Chesterfield County, Virginia. [4] Jefferson's great grandfather was a planter of Henrico County [4] [5] and his wife was Mary Branch. [Note 1] Mary was the granddaughter of Christopher Branch, a member of the House of Burgesses. Thomas was a tobacco farmer who owned a couple slaves, surveyor, and "gentleman justice". He purchased land along James River in 1682 [7] and lived in the Flowerdieu, also Flowerdew Hundred of Henrico County. [Note 2] Thomas' grandfather died in 1697. [7]

There is conflicting information about Jefferson's heritage [Note 3] and specifically the parents of Thomas' great grandfather. [Note 4] There are also unproven allegations that were made about Jefferson's heritage during an 18th-century Presidential campaign. [Note 5]

Within a few generations, the Jeffersons rose from that of a middling planter who struggled against low tobaccos prices beginning in the 1680s to that of the country elite and to the very pinnacle of society. [ citation needed ] The plantation-based economy of the Jeffersons and their peers relied on acquisition of slaves from West Africa and West Central Africa, primarily from the Bight of Biafra and Angola. In 1784, Jefferson published Notes on the State of Virginia where he stated that enslaved individuals made up to a third to a half of the inhabitants of most Piedmont counties of Virginia. [4]

Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743 (April 2, 1743 O.S.) [Note 6] at the family home in Shadwell, Goochland County, Virginia, now part of Albemarle County. [26] His mother was Jane Randolph, daughter of Isham Randolph, a ship's captain and sometime planter, and his wife. Peter and Jane married in 1739. [27] Thomas Jefferson had appeared to have little interest in and indifference to his ancestry he stated that he only knew that his paternal grandfather lived. [28]

Before the widower William Randolph, an old friend of Peter Jefferson, died in 1745, he appointed Peter as guardian to manage his Tuckahoe Plantation and care for his four children. That year the Jeffersons relocated to Tuckahoe, where they lived for the next seven years before returning to Shadwell in 1752. Here Thomas Jefferson recorded his earliest memory, that of being carried on a pillow by a slave during the move to Tuckahoe. [29] Peter Jefferson died in 1757 and the Jefferson estate was divided between Peter's two sons Thomas and Randolph. [30] John Harvie Sr. then became Thomas' guardian. [31] Thomas inherited approximately 5,000 acres (2,000 ha 7.8 sq mi) of land, including Monticello and between 20–40 slaves. He took control of the property after he came of age at 21. [32]

On October 1, 1765, when Jefferson was 22, his oldest sister Jane died at the age of 25. [33] He fell into a period of deep mourning, as he was already saddened by the absence of his sisters Mary, who had been married several years to John Bolling III, [34] and Martha, who in July had wed Dabney Carr. [33] Both lived at their husbands' residences. Only Jefferson's younger siblings Elizabeth, Lucy, and the two toddlers, were at home. He drew little comfort from the younger ones, as they did not provide him with the same intellectual engagement as the older sisters had. [33] According to the historian Ferling, while growing up Jefferson struggled with loneliness and abandonment issues that eventually developed into a reclusive lifestyle as an adult. [35]

Education Edit

Jefferson began his childhood education under the direction of tutors at Tuckahoe along with the Randolph children. [36]

In 1752, Jefferson began attending a local school run by a Scottish Presbyterian minister. At the age of nine, Jefferson began studying Latin, Greek, and French he learned to ride horses, and began to appreciate the study of nature. He studied under the Reverend James Maury from 1758 to 1760 near Gordonsville, Virginia. While boarding with Maury's family, he studied history, science and the classics. [37]

At age 16, Jefferson entered the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, and first met the law professor George Wythe, who became his influential mentor. For two years he studied mathematics, metaphysics, and philosophy under Professor William Small, who introduced the enthusiastic Jefferson to the writings of the British Empiricists, including John Locke, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton. [38] He also improved his French, Greek, and violin. A diligent student, Jefferson displayed an avid curiosity in all fields [39] and graduated in 1762 with highest honors. [ citation needed ] Jefferson read law while working as a law clerk for Wythe. During this time, he also read a wide variety of English classics and political works. Jefferson was admitted to the Virginia bar five years later in 1767. [40]

Throughout his life, Jefferson depended on books for his education. He collected and accumulated thousands of books for his library at Monticello. When Jefferson's father Peter died Thomas inherited, among other things, his large library. [41] A significant portion of Jefferson's library was also bequeathed to him in the will of George Wythe, who had an extensive collection. Always eager for more knowledge, Jefferson continued learning throughout most of his life. Jefferson once said, "I cannot live without books." [42]

Marriage and family Edit

After practicing as a circuit lawyer for several years, [43] Jefferson married the 23-year-old widow Martha Wayles Skelton. The wedding was celebrated on January 1, 1772 at Martha's home, an estate called 'The Forest' near Williamsburg, Virginia. [44] Martha Jefferson was described as attractive, gracious and popular with their friends she was a frequent hostess for Jefferson and managed the large household. They were said to have a happy marriage. She read widely, did fine needle work and was an amateur musician. Jefferson played the violin and Martha was an accomplished piano player. It is said that she was attracted to Thomas largely because of their mutual love of music. [44] [45] One of the wedding gifts he gave to Martha was a "forte-piano". [46] During the ten years of their marriage, she had six children: Martha Washington, called Patsy, (1772–1836) Jane (1774–1775) a stillborn or unnamed son in 1777 Mary Wayles (1778–1804), called Polly Lucy Elizabeth (1780–1781) and Lucy Elizabeth (1782–1784) [47] [Note 7] . Two survived to adulthood. [46]

After her father John Wayles died in 1773, Martha and her husband Jefferson inherited his 135 slaves, 11,000 acres and the debts of his estate. These took Jefferson and other co-executors of the estate years to pay off, which contributed to his financial problems. Among the slaves were Betty Hemings and her 10 children the six youngest were half-siblings of Martha Wayles Jefferson, as they are believed to have been children of her father, [Note 8] and they were three-quarters European in ancestry. The youngest, an infant, was Sally Hemings. As they grew and were trained, all the Hemings family members were assigned to privileged positions among the slaves at Monticello, as domestic servants, chefs, and highly skilled artisans. [50]

Later in life, Martha Jefferson suffered from diabetes and ill health, and frequent childbirth further weakened her. A few months after the birth of her last child, Martha died on September 6, 1782. Jefferson was at his wife's bedside and was distraught after her death. In the following three weeks, Jefferson shut himself in his room, where he paced back and forth until he was nearly exhausted. Later he would often take long rides on secluded roads to mourn for his wife. [45] [46] As he had promised his wife, Jefferson never remarried.

Jefferson's oldest daughter Martha (called Patsy) married Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr. in 1790. They had 12 children, eleven of whom survived to adulthood. She suffered severe problems as Randolph became alcoholic and was abusive. When they separated for several years, Martha and her many children lived at Monticello with her father, adding to his financial burdens. Her oldest son, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, helped her run Monticello for a time after her father's death. She had the longest life of Jefferson's children by Martha. [46]

Mary Jefferson (called Polly and Maria) married her first cousin John Wayles Eppes in 1797. As a wedding settlement, Jefferson gave them Betsy Hemmings, the 14-year-old granddaughter of Betty Hemings, and 30 other slaves. [51] The Eppes had three children together, but only a son survived. Frail like her mother, Maria died at the age of 25, several months after her third child was born. Who also died, and only her son Francis W. Eppes survived to adulthood, cared for by slaves, his father and, after five years, a stepmother. [51] [52]

Monticello Edit

In 1768, Jefferson started the construction of Monticello located on 5,000 acres of land on and around a hilltop. What would soon become a mansion started as a large one room brick house. Over the years Jefferson designed and built additions to the house where it took on neoclassical dimensions. The house soon become his architectural masterpiece. The construction was done by Jefferson and his slave laborers, some of whom were master carpenters. Much of the fine furniture in the house was built by his slaves, who were also very skilled designers and craftsmen. [43] Jefferson moved into the South Pavilion (an outbuilding) in 1770, where his new wife Martha joined him in 1772. Monticello would be his continuing project to create a neoclassical environment, based on his study of the architect Andrea Palladio and the classical orders. [53]

While Minister to France during 1784–1789, he had an opportunity to see some of the classical buildings with which he had become acquainted from his reading, as well as to discover the "modern" trends in French architecture then fashionable in Paris. In 1794, following his service as Secretary of State (1790–93), he began rebuilding Monticello based on the ideas he had acquired in Europe. The remodeling continued throughout most of his presidency (1801–09). [54] The most notable change was the addition of the octagonal dome. [55]

Lawyer and House of Burgesses Edit

Jefferson handled many cases as a lawyer in colonial Virginia, and was very active from 1768 to 1773. [56] Jefferson's client list included members of Virginia's elite families, including members of his mother's family, the Randolphs. [56]

Beside practicing law, Jefferson represented Albemarle County in the Virginia House of Burgesses [57] His friend and mentor George Wythe served at the same time. Following the passage of the Coercive Acts by the British Parliament in 1774, Jefferson wrote a set of resolutions against the acts, which were expanded into A Summary View of the Rights of British America, his first published work. Previous criticism of the Coercive Acts had focused on legal and constitutional issues, but Jefferson offered the radical notion that the colonists had the natural right to govern themselves. [58] Jefferson argued that Parliament was the legislature of Great Britain only, and had no legislative authority in the colonies. The paper was intended to serve as instructions for the Virginia delegation of the First Continental Congress, but Jefferson's ideas proved to be too radical for that body. [ citation needed ]

Declaration of Independence Edit

Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, a formal document which officially proclaimed the dissolution of the American colonies from the British Crown. The sentiments of revolution put forth in the Declaration were already well established in 1776 as the colonies were already at war with the British when the Declaration was being debated, drafted and signed. [59] [60]

Before the Declaration was drafted, Jefferson served as a delegate from Virginia to the Second Continental Congress beginning in June 1775, soon after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. He sought out John Adams who, along with his cousin Samuel, had emerged as a leader of the convention. [61] Jefferson and Adams established a lifelong friendship and would correspond frequently Adams ensured that Jefferson was appointed to the five-man committee to write a declaration in support of the resolution of independence. [62] Having agreed on an approach, the committee selected Jefferson to write the first draft. His eloquent writing style made him the committee's choice for primary author the others edited his draft. [63] [64] During June 1776, the month before the signing, Jefferson took notes of the Congressional debates over the proposed Declaration in order to include such sentiments in his draft, among other things justifying the right of citizens to resort to revolution. [65] Jefferson also drew from his proposed draft of the Virginia Constitution, George Mason's draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and other sources.

The historian Joseph Ellis states that the Declaration was the "core of [Jefferson]'s seductive appeal across the ages". [66] After working for two days to modify the document, Congress removed language that was deemed antagonistic to friends in Britain and Jefferson's clause that indicted the British monarchy for imposing African slavery on the colonies. This was the longest clause removed. [65] Congress trimmed the draft by about one fourth, wanting the Declaration to appeal to the population in Great Britain as well as the soon to be United States, while at the same time not wanting to give South Carolina and Georgia reasons to oppose the Declaration on abolitionist grounds. Jefferson deeply resented some of the many omissions Congress made. [65] [67] On July 4, 1776, Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence and distributed the document. [68] Historians have considered it to be one of Jefferson's major achievements the preamble is considered an enduring statement of human rights that has inspired people around the world. [69] Its second sentence is the following:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

This has been called "one of the best-known sentences in the English language", [70] containing "the most potent and consequential words in American history". [71] The passage came to represent a moral standard to which the United States should strive. This view was notably promoted by Abraham Lincoln, who based his philosophy on it, and argued for the Declaration as a statement of principles through which the United States Constitution should be interpreted. [72] Intended also as a revolutionary document for the world, not just the colonies, the Declaration of Independence was Jefferson's assertion of his core beliefs in a republican form of government. [65] The Declaration became the core document and a tradition in American political values. It also became the model of democracy that was adopted by many peoples around the world. Abraham Lincoln once referred to Jefferson's principles as "..the definitions and axioms of a free society..". [73]

Virginia state legislator and Governor Edit

After Independence, Jefferson desired to reform the Virginia government. [74] In September 1776, eager to work on creating the new government and dismantle the feudal aspects of the old, Jefferson returned to Virginia and was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates for Albemarle County. [75] Before his return, he had contributed to the state's constitution from Philadelphia he continued to support freehold suffrage, by which only property holders could vote. [76] He served as a Delegate from September 26, 1776 – June 1, 1779, as the war continued. Jefferson worked on Revision of Laws to reflect Virginia's new status as a democratic state. By abolishing primogeniture, establishing freedom of religion, and providing for general education, he hoped to make the basis of "republican government." [76] Ending the Anglican Church as the state (or established) religion was the first step. Jefferson introduced his "Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom" in 1779, but it was not enacted until 1786, while he was in France as US Minister. [77]

In 1778 Jefferson supported a bill to prohibit the international slave trade in Virginia the state was the first in the union to adopt such legislation. This was significant as the slave trade would be protected from regulation for 20 years at the federal level under the new Constitution in 1787. Abolitionists in Virginia expected the new law to be followed by gradual emancipation, as Jefferson had supported this by opinion, but he discouraged such action while in the Assembly. Following his departure, the Assembly passed a law in 1782 making manumission easier. As a result, the number of free blacks in Virginia rose markedly by 1810: from 1800 in 1782 to 12,766 in 1790, and to 30,570 by 1810, when they formed 8.2 percent of the black population in the state. [78]

He drafted 126 bills in three years, including laws to establish fee simple tenure in land, which removed inheritance strictures and to streamline the judicial system. In 1778, Jefferson's "Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge" and subsequent efforts to reduce control by clergy led to some small changes at William and Mary College, but free public education was not established until the late nineteenth century after the Civil War. [79] Jefferson proposed a bill to eliminate capital punishment in Virginia for all crimes except murder and treason, but his effort was defeated. [80] In 1779, at Jefferson's behest, William and Mary appointed his mentor George Wythe as the first professor of law at an American university. [81]

In 1779, at the age of thirty-six, Jefferson was elected Governor of Virginia by the two houses of the legislature, as was the process. [82] The term was then for one year, and he was re-elected in 1780. As governor in 1780, he transferred the state capital from Williamsburg to Richmond.

He served as a wartime governor, as the united colonies continued the Revolutionary War against Great Britain. In late 1780, Governor Jefferson prepared Richmond for attack by moving all arms, military supplies and records to a foundry located five miles outside of town. General Benedict Arnold, who had switched to the British side in 1780, learned of the transfer and moved to capture the foundry. Jefferson tried to get the supplies moved to Westham, seven miles to the north, but he was too late. He also delayed too long in raising a militia.

With the Assembly, Jefferson evacuated the government in January 1781 from Richmond to Charlottesville. They began to meet at his home of Monticello. The government had moved so rapidly that he left his household slaves in Richmond, where they were captured as prisoners of war by the British and later exchanged for soldiers. In January 1781, Benedict Arnold led an armada of British ships and, with 1600 British regulars, conducted raids along the James River. Later Arnold would join Lord Cornwallis, whose troops were marching across Virginia from the south.

In early June 1781, Cornwallis dispatched a 250-man cavalry force commanded by Banastre Tarleton on a secret expedition to capture Governor Jefferson and members of the Assembly at Monticello. [82] Tarleton hoped to surprise Jefferson, but Jack Jouett, a captain in the Virginia militia, thwarted the British plan by warning the governor and members of the Assembly. [83] Jefferson and his family escaped and fled to Poplar Forest, his plantation to the west. Tarleton did not allow looting or destruction at Monticello by his troops.

By contrast, when Lord Cornwallis and his sizeable number of troops later occupied Elkhill, a smaller estate of Jefferson's on the James River in Goochland County, they stripped it of resources and left it in ruins. According to a letter by Jefferson about Elkhill, British troops destroyed all his crops, burned his barns and fences, slaughtered or drove off the livestock, seized usable horses, cut the throats of foals and, after setting fires, left the plantation a waste. They captured 27 slaves and held them as prisoners of war. At least 24 died in the camp of diseases, [84] a chronic problem for prisoners and troops in an era of poor sanitation.

Jefferson believed his gubernatorial term had expired in June, and he spent much of the summer with his family at Poplar Forest. [83] The members of the General Assembly had quickly reconvened in June 1781 in Staunton, Virginia across the Blue Ridge Mountains. They voted to reward Jouett with a pair of pistols and a sword, but considered an official inquiry into Jefferson's actions, as they believed he had failed his responsibilities as governor.

The inquiry ultimately was dropped, yet Jefferson insisted on appearing before the lawmakers in December to respond to charges of mishandling his duties and abandoning leadership at a critical moment. He reported that he had believed it understood that he was leaving office and that he had discussed with other legislators the advantages of Gen. Thomas Nelson, a commander of the state militia, being appointed the governor. [83]

(The legislature did appoint Nelson as governor in late June 1781.)

Jefferson was a controversial figure at this time, heavily criticized for inaction and failure to adequately protect the state in the face of a British invasion. Even on balance, Jefferson had failed as a state executive, leaving his successor, Thomas Nelson, Jr. to pick up the pieces. [85]

He was not re-elected again to office in Virginia. [74]

Notes on the State of Virginia Edit

In 1780 Jefferson as governor received numerous questions about Virginia, posed to him by François Barbé-Marbois, then Secretary of the French delegation in Philadelphia, the temporary capital of the united colonies, who intended to gather pertinent data on the American colonies. Jefferson's responses to Marbois' "Queries" would become known as Notes on the State of Virginia (1785). Scientifically trained, Jefferson was a member of the American Philosophical Society, which had been founded in Philadelphia in 1743. He had extensive knowledge of western lands from Virginia to Illinois. In a course of five years, Jefferson enthusiastically devoted his intellectual energy to the book he included a discussion of contemporary scientific knowledge, and Virginia's history, politics, and ethnography. Jefferson was aided by Thomas Walker, George R. Clark, and U.S. geographer Thomas Hutchins. The book was first published in France in 1785 and in England in 1787. [86]

It has been ranked as the most important American book published before 1800. The book is Jefferson's vigorous and often eloquent argument about the nature of the good society, which he believed was incarnated by Virginia. In it he expressed his beliefs in the separation of church and state, constitutional government, checks and balances, and individual liberty. He also compiled extensive data about the state's natural resources and economy. He wrote extensively about the problems of slavery, miscegenation, and his belief that blacks and whites could not live together as free people in one society.

Member of Congress and Minister to France Edit

Following its victory in the war and peace treaty with Great Britain, in 1783 the United States formed a Congress of the Confederation (informally called the Continental Congress), to which Jefferson was appointed as a Virginia delegate. As a member of the committee formed to set foreign exchange rates, he recommended that American currency should be based on the decimal system his plan was adopted. Jefferson also recommended setting up the Committee of the States, to function as the executive arm of Congress. The plan was adopted but failed in practice.

Jefferson was "one of the first statesmen in any part of the world to advocate concrete measures for restricting and eradicating Negro slavery." [87] Jefferson wrote an ordinance banning slavery in all the nation's territories (not just the Northwest), but it failed by one vote. The subsequent Northwest Ordinance prohibited slavery in the newly organized territory, but it did nothing to free slaves who were already held by settlers there this required later actions. Jefferson was in France when the Northwest Ordinance was passed. [88]

He resigned from Congress when he was appointed as minister to France in May 1784.

The widower Jefferson, still in his 40s, was minister to France from 1785 to 1789, the year the French Revolution started. When the French foreign minister, the Count de Vergennes, commented to Jefferson, "You replace Monsieur Franklin, I hear," Jefferson replied, "I succeed him. No man can replace him." [89]

Beginning in early September 1785, Jefferson collaborated with John Adams, US minister in London, to outline an anti-piracy treaty with Morocco. Their work culminated in a treaty that was ratified by Congress on July 18, 1787. Still in force today, it is the longest unbroken treaty relationship in U.S. history. [90] Busy in Paris, Jefferson did not return to the US for the 1787 Constitutional Convention.

He enjoyed the architecture, arts, and the salon culture of Paris. He often dined with many of the city's most prominent people, and stocked up on wines to take back to the US. [91] While in Paris, Jefferson corresponded with many people who had important roles in the imminent French Revolution. These included the Marquis de Lafayette, and the Comte de Mirabeau, a popular pamphleteer who repeated ideals that had been the basis for the American Revolution. [92] His observations of social tensions contributed to his anti-clericalism and strengthened his ideas about the separation of church and state. [ citation needed ]

Jefferson's eldest daughter Martha, known as Patsy, went with him to France in 1784. His two youngest daughters were in the care of friends in the United States. [82] To serve the household, Jefferson brought some of his slaves, including James Hemings, who trained as a French chef for his master's service.

Jefferson's youngest daughter Lucy died of whooping cough in 1785 in the United States, and he was bereft. [85] In 1786, Jefferson met and fell in love with Maria Cosway, an accomplished Italian-English artist and musician of 27. They saw each other frequently over a period of six weeks. A married woman, she returned to Great Britain, but they maintained a lifelong correspondence. [85]

In 1787, Jefferson sent for his youngest surviving child, Polly, then age nine. He requested that a slave accompany Polly on the trans-Atlantic voyage. By chance, Sally Hemings, a younger sister of James, was chosen she lived in the Jefferson household in Paris for about two years. According to her son Madison Hemings, Sally and Jefferson began a sexual relationship in Paris and she became pregnant. [93] She agreed to return to the United States as his concubine after he promised to free her children when they came of age. [93]

Secretary of State Edit

In September 1789 Jefferson returned to the US from France with his two daughters and slaves. Immediately upon his return, President Washington wrote to him asking him to accept a seat in his Cabinet as Secretary of State. Jefferson accepted the appointment.

As Washington's Secretary of State (1790–1793), Jefferson argued with Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury, about national fiscal policy, [94] especially the funding of the debts of the war. Jefferson later associated Hamilton and the Federalists with "Royalism," and said the "Hamiltonians were panting after . crowns, coronets and mitres." [95] Due to their opposition to Hamilton, Jefferson and James Madison founded and led the Democratic-Republican Party. He worked with Madison and his campaign manager John J. Beckley to build a nationwide network of Republican allies. Jefferson's political actions and his attempt to undermine Hamilton nearly led Washington to dismiss Jefferson from his cabinet. [96] Although Jefferson left the cabinet voluntarily, Washington never forgave him for his actions, and never spoke to him again. [96]

The French minister said in 1793: "Senator Morris and Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton . had the greatest influence over the President's mind, and that it was only with difficulty that he [Jefferson] counterbalanced their efforts." [97] Jefferson supported France against Britain when they fought in 1793. [98] Jefferson believed that political success at home depended on the success of the French army in Europe. [99] In 1793, the French minister Edmond-Charles Genêt caused a crisis when he tried to influence public opinion by appealing to the American people, something which Jefferson tried to stop. [99]

Jefferson tried to achieve three important goals during his discussions with George Hammond, British Minister to the U.S.: secure British admission of violating the Treaty of Paris (1783) vacate their posts in the Northwest (the territory between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River north of the Ohio) and compensate the United States to pay American slave owners for the slaves whom the British had freed and evacuated at the end of the war. Chester Miller notes that after failing to gain agreement on any of these, Jefferson resigned in December 1793. [100]

Election of 1796 and Vice Presidency Edit

In late 1793, Jefferson retired to Monticello, from where he continued to oppose the policies of Hamilton and Washington. The Jay Treaty of 1794, led by Hamilton, brought peace and trade with Britain – while Madison, with strong support from Jefferson, wanted "to strangle the former mother country" without going to war. [101] "It became an article of faith among Republicans that 'commercial weapons' would suffice to bring Great Britain to any terms the United States chose to dictate." [101] Even during the violence of the Reign of Terror in France, Jefferson refused to disavow the revolution because "To back away from France would be to undermine the cause of republicanism in America." [102] As vice president, Jefferson conducted secret talks with the French, in which he advocated that the French government take a more aggressive position against the American government, which he thought was too close to the British. [103] He succeeded in getting the American ambassador expelled from France.

As the Democratic-Republican presidential candidate in 1796, Jefferson lost to John Adams, but had enough electoral votes to become Vice President (1797–1801). One of the chief duties of a Vice president is presiding over the Senate, and Jefferson was concerned about its lack of rules leaving decisions to the discretion of the presiding officer. Years before holding his first office, Jefferson had spent much time researching procedures and rules for governing bodies. As a student, he had transcribed notes on British parliamentary law into a manual which he would later call his Parliamentary Pocket Book. Jefferson had also served on the committee appointed to draw up the rules of order for the Continental Congress in 1776. As Vice President, he was ready to reform Senatorial procedures. Prompted by the immediate need, he wrote A Manual of Parliamentary Practice, a document which the House of Representatives follows to the present day. [104]

With the Quasi-War underway, the Federalists under John Adams started rebuilding the military, levied new taxes, and enacted the Alien and Sedition Acts. Jefferson believed that these acts were intended to suppress Democratic-Republicans rather than dangerous enemy aliens, although the acts were allowed to expire. Jefferson and Madison rallied opposition support by anonymously writing the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which declared that the federal government had no right to exercise powers not specifically delegated to it by the states. [105] Though the resolutions followed the "interposition" approach of Madison, Jefferson advocated nullification. At one point he drafted a threat for Kentucky to secede. [Note 9] Jefferson's biographer Dumas Malone argued that had his actions become known at the time, Jefferson might have been impeached for treason. [103] In writing the Kentucky Resolutions, Jefferson warned that, "unless arrested at the threshold," the Alien and Sedition Acts would "necessarily drive these states into revolution and blood." [103] The historian Ron Chernow says, "[H]e wasn't calling for peaceful protests or civil disobedience: he was calling for outright rebellion, if needed, against the federal government of which he was vice president." [106]

Chernow believes that Jefferson "thus set forth a radical doctrine of states' rights that effectively undermined the constitution." [106] He argues that neither Jefferson nor Madison sensed that they had sponsored measures as inimical as the Alien and Sedition Acts. [106] The historian Garry Wills argued, "Their nullification effort, if others had picked it up, would have been a greater threat to freedom than the misguided [alien and sedition] laws, which were soon rendered feckless by ridicule and electoral pressure." [107] The theoretical damage of the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions was "deep and lasting, and was a recipe for disunion". [106] George Washington was so appalled by them that he told Patrick Henry that if "systematically and pertinaciously pursued", they would "dissolve the union or produce coercion." [106] The influence of Jefferson's doctrine of states' rights reverberated to the Civil War and beyond. [108]

According to Chernow, during the Quasi-War, Jefferson engaged in a "secret campaign to sabotage Adams in French eyes." [109] In the spring of 1797, he held four confidential talks with the French consul Joseph Letombe. In these private meetings, Jefferson attacked Adams, predicted that he would only serve one term, and encouraged France to invade England. [109] Jefferson advised Letombe to stall any American envoys sent to Paris by instructing them to "listen to them and then drag out the negotiations at length and mollify them by the urbanity of the proceedings." This toughened the tone that the French government adopted with the new Adams Administration. [109] Due to pressure against the Adams Administration from Jefferson and his supporters, Congress released the papers related to the XYZ Affair, which rallied a shift in popular opinion from Jefferson and the French government to supporting Adams. [109]

Why Thomas Jefferson Created His Own Bible

Great religious books are often inseparable from tales of their discovery. Whether it is Joseph Smith unearthing the golden plates that would become the Book of Mormon, or Bedouin shepherds stumbling upon the cave-hidden jars that yielded the Dead Sea Scrolls, part of the significance of some sacred texts is derived from stories presenting the possibility that they might have never been known at all.

The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth—popularly known as the Jefferson Bible—is another such book. Completed by Thomas Jefferson 200 years ago this summer, the infamous cut-and-paste Bible remained all but forgotten for the better part of a century before an act of Congress brought about its publication in 1904. Since then, it has been as controversial as it has been misunderstood.

The 86-page book, now held in the collections of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, is bound in red Morocco leather and ornamented with gilt tooling. It was crafted in the fall and winter months of 1819 and 1820 when the 77-year-old Jefferson used a razor to cut passages from six copies of the New Testament—two in Greek and Latin, two in French and two in English—and rearranged and pasted together the selected verses, shorn of any sign of the miraculous or supernatural in order to leave just the life and teachings of Jesus behind. Jefferson, who had suffered great criticism for his religious beliefs, once said that the care he had taken to reduce the Gospels to their core message should prove that he was in fact, a “real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.”

In the fall and winter months of 1819 and 1820, the 77-year-old Jefferson cut passages from six copies of the New Testament, pasting together selected verses to create this 86-page bound volume. (NMAH)

While certain members of the Jefferson family were aware that this highly redacted compendium of scripture had served as their esteemed forbearer’s nightly reading at Monticello, we would likely not know more about it if not for the work of a pair of men who happened to have the skills, interests and connections necessary to appreciate and make something of what they had found.

The first, Cyrus Adler, was the son of a Arkansas Jewish shopkeeper who, in a quintessentially American story of reinvention, ended up first a professor of Semitic languages at Johns Hopkins University and later one of the most influential public historians of his generation. He helped found the American Jewish Historical Society, and eventually became an advisor on religious issues to U.S. presidents.

Before reaching such heights of influence, Adler served from 1888 to 1908 as a curator, librarian and director of the division of religion at the Smithsonian Institution, which tasked him with seeking out and collecting unique examples of the material culture of American religion.

Several years before, while still completing his doctoral studies, he had been hired to catalogue a private library. “In 1886 I was engaged, when a fellow at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, in cataloguing a small but very valuable Hebrew library,” he wrote. “Amongst the books were two copies of the New Testament, mutilated.” The two highly edited English New Testaments he discovered also came with a note indicating they had once been the property of Thomas Jefferson, who had used them to make an abridged version of the Gospels.

In his new role at the Smithsonian, Adler was well positioned to approach the Jefferson family and make inquiries about this rumored book. He learned that upon the 1892 death of Jefferson’s granddaughter Sarah Randolph, the redacted scripture had come into the possession of her daughter, Carolina Ramsey Randolph. After Adler made her an offer of $400, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth joined the growing collections of the Smithsonian’s national museum.

Adler was not singularly responsible for delivering the book to the world, however.

The Jefferson Bible

The Jefferson Bible, Smithsonian Edition is the first high-resolution, color facsimile of Thomas Jefferson's distillation of what he considered the original moral doctrines of Jesus.

It would be Iowa Congressman John Fletcher Lacey who would begin to tell the story of the Jefferson Bible in the first spring of the new century. Lacey had been giving the collection of Jefferson’s books purchased by Congress in 1815 a “careful examination” when he thought to inquire about the whereabouts of the Bible.

In the search that followed, Lacey recounted that he nearly ransacked the Library of Congress, but the book was nowhere to be found. Only upon asking for the assistance of the Librarian of Congress did he learn that the volume would be found not in the shelves serving the Capitol, but elsewhere on the National Mall.

“A few days later,” an account published in 1904 recalled, “Mr. Lacey sought the librarian” Adler at the Smithsonian and “queried him concerning this mysterious volume.” Adler met with Lacey, showing him the Bible and before long Lacey had brought it to the attention of the House Committee on Printing, urging his colleagues to consider having this long-forgotten collection of Gospel extracts reproduced. With only a little persuasion, the next stage of the life of the Life and Morals had begun.

Lacey next set forth a bill calling for the U.S. government to fund the printing of 9,000 copies, 3,000 for use in the Senate, 6,000 for use in the House, to be reproduced “by photolithographic process,” and with an introduction “not to exceed 25 pages,” which would be written by Adler. The estimate expense for this project was $3,227. But the proposal sank.

When Lacey took to the House floor to defend the notion on May 10, 1902, his own party leveled pointed criticism. Fellow Republican Charles H. Grosvenor of Ohio had apparently not heard the news of the book’s discovery. When the Speaker of the House David B. Henderson announced the bill to be introduced, Grosvenor called out simply: “Mr. Speaker, what is this?”

“Congress has published all the works of Thomas Jefferson with the exception of this volume,” Lacey responded, “and that was not published because it was not then in the Congressional Library.”

Apparently dissatisfied with this response, Grosvenor asked again for his colleague to explain what exactly the book was, and why it was so important.

"Morals of Jesus of Nazareth as compiled by Thomas Jefferson,” Lacey answered. “It makes a small volume, compiled textually from the four Gospels. This is a work of which there is only one copy in the world and should it be lost, it would be a very great loss.”

Grosvenor was not convinced. “Would the gentleman consent to put Dillingworth's spelling book as an appendix to the work?” he said mockingly, referring to a perennial text used by school children throughout the 19th century.

“That would be very amusing,” Lacey replied, “but this is really one of the most remarkable contributions of Thomas Jefferson.”

Cyrus Adler (Above: by Samuel Johnson Woolf, 1938) purchased the book The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth from Jefferson's great granddaughter Carolina Ramsey Randolph. (National Portrait Gallery, gift of the artist's daughters, Muriel Woolf Hobson and Dorothy Woolf Ahern)

The sparring continued with Lacey defending his proposition. “The Government owns this manuscript, and it is the only copy in the world.”

“I wish it had never been found,” was Grosvenor’s final retort, while Lacey read into the record his appreciation of the book, and justification for its publication.

“Though it is a blue-penciled and expurgated New Testament, it has not been prepared in any irreverent spirit,” Lacey declared. “The result is a consolidation of the beautiful, pure teachings of the Saviour in a compact form, mingled with only so much of narrative as a Virginia lawyer would hold to be credible in those matter-of-fact days… No greater practical test of the worth of the tenets of the Christian religion could be made than the publication of this condensation by Mr. Jefferson.”

The bill passed, but the debate continued. Some members of Congress balked when they came to believe Lacey’s intention was to produce an annotated version of Jefferson’s redacted text. For those who had been initially ambivalent, the possibility of framing a historical document with an element that might amount to government-sponsored biblical criticism was too much to bear.

Meanwhile, news that the U.S. government would soon be in the Bible printing business ignited public alarm over Jefferson’s religious ideas such as had not been seen in nearly a century. “The so-called Jefferson Bible seems bound to make trouble," the Chicago Inter Ocean warned. "This is the more remarkable from the fact that it has been forgotten for nearly a century… So completely had the Jefferson Bible been forgotten that when the House of Representatives passed a resolution recently to print 9,000 copies comparatively few of the present generation knew that such a book existed.”

Now that they had been reminded, many of this generation wondered why this book should find publication at the public’s expense eight decades after its creation. Christian ministers were the loudest voices against the proposal. Across the country, all denominations opposed it.

Kerr Boyce Tupper of Philadelphia’s First Baptist Church immediately took to his pulpit to condemn the Jefferson Bible. Yet in doing so he took a unique tack. He argued that the U.S. government was Christian in character and should not abet such obviously un-Christian activities. “Ours is confessedly and conspicuously a Christian government,” he declared, “and Jefferson’s Bible, if rightly represented, is essentially an unchristian work.”

Elsewhere the prospect of the Jefferson Bible’s publication pit minister against minister. A meeting of the national Presbyterian Preacher’s Association convened to draft a statement of formal protest became mired in so much disagreement that it was forced to declare it had to “obtain further information before officially condemning the statesman's annotated book.” The group’s proposed resolution would have declared the publication of the Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth “a direct, public and powerful attack on the Christian religion” but the lively debate that ensued created only further confusion.

"If the people cannot look to us for unflagging vigilance in opposing the assailants of God’s Word,” the Rev. I. L. Overman argued, “to whom can they turn?”

In response, the Rev. Dr. J. Addison Henry made an appeal for pragmatism: "I have heard that the Jefferson work does not contain a single derogatory word against the Christian religion. Let us remember that ‘he who is not against us is for us.’ This so-called revised bible may help us.”

Iowa Congressman John Fletcher Lacey introduced a bill for the U.S. government to fund the printing of 9,000 copies of the Jefferson Bible. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA)

Members of the American Jewish community also saw the congressional printing of the Life and Morals problematic. The Jewish Exponent of Philadelphia published a statement of protest, and the journal Jewish Comment declared, “This is not the affair of government in this country and every Jew should be on the alert to safeguard against such acts of unwisdom.”

Among the most strident critics of the government’s proposed Bible printing project were not just ministers and rabbis, but publishers. “The preachers generally oppose the publication of the ‘Bible’ by the government, and so do the publishers, the latter wanting the job for themselves,” the Richmond Dispatch reported. “They wish to secure the printing privilege for general sale. They are, therefore, reinforcing the clergymen who are memorializing Congress to rescind its action.”

With both the religious establishment and the publishing industry agitating against Lacey’s well-meaning endeavor, members of Congress suddenly were on the defensive regarding a bill none anticipated would be controversial. “Mr. Jefferson has been unjustly criticized in regard to this very book, and in justice to him it should be made public,” the chairman of the House Committee on Printing, Rep. Joel Heatwole of Minnesota, told the Washington Post. He claimed that the idea of publication initially had not been that of the Committee, but of “frequent requests… for the publication of the book, these requests coming largely from ministers of the Gospel on the one hand, and people interested in the memory of Thomas Jefferson on the other hand.”

Perhaps missing the point that many critics simply did not want government involved in the business of publishing religious books, Heatwole added, “No one that examines this little volume will rise from his perusal without having a loftier idea of the teachings of the Saviour.”

Lacey, for his part, was astonished by the uproar. “There isn’t even a semi-colon in it that is not found in the Bible,” he said. Though many complaints had reached his office, he had also received requests for copies from preachers from all over the country. Yet ultimately it was the former that proved impossible to ignore.

Within two weeks of introducing the bill and speaking eloquently on its behalf, Lacey presented a resolution proposing to rescind its passage, and offering to pursue publication with private companies rather than the Government Printing Office. The odd coalition of those opposed to the publication seemed to have won the day.

In the end, however, the storm passed. Lacey’s bill to rescind approval of publication was never taken up by the House. Publication of the Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth by the U.S. Government Printing Office was scheduled for 1904.

Meanwhile, the bookish Adler did his best to stay out of the limelight and steer clear of the controversy. When the first copies of the edition published by Congress appeared, its title page read:

The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth :
Extracted textually from the Gospels in

Greek, Latin, French, and English
by Thomas Jefferson

A bit abashed, Adler made sure that subsequent print runs would shorten the last line to simply “with an introduction.” He was proud of the work he had done to bring the Jefferson Bible to the world, but he had also seen the backlash publishing controversial works could bring. And besides, he said, “I felt that Jesus Christ and Thomas Jefferson were sufficient names for one title-page.”

Excerpt from The Jefferson Bible: A Biography by Peter Manseau. Copyright � by the Smithsonian Institution. Published by Princeton University Press. Reprinted by permission.

About Peter Manseau

Peter Manseau is is the Lilly Endowment Curator of American Religious History at the National Museum of American History.

In the House of Delegates, the 12th. of June 1781.

Resolved that at the next Session of Assembly An enquirey be made into the Conduct of the Executive for the last twelve Months.

Teste, John Beckley C.h.d.
a Copy
John Beckley C.h.d.

Among other items of business performed by the diminished General Assembly this day were the following, in this order: a committee of the House met with a committee from the Senate, examined the ballots cast for “a Governor or Chief Magistrate of the Commonwealth for the ensuing year … and found a majority of votes in favor of Thomas Nelson, jun. Esq.” the House adopted the resolution printed above the House and Senate jointly elected William Cabell, Samuel Hardy, and Samuel McDowell members of the Council “in the room of those who have resigned” and the House resolved “That the Executive be desired to present to Captain John Jouett, an elegant sword and pair of pistols, as a memorial of the high sense which the General Assembly entertain of his activity and enterprize, in watching the motions of the enemy’s cavalry on their late incursion to Charlottesville, and conveying to the Assembly timely information of their approach, whereby the designs of the enemy were frustrated, and many valuable stores preserved” ( JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , May 1781, 1828 edn., p. 15). As Malone remarks, the proceedings of this day “marked the nadir of the entire public career of Thomas Jefferson” ( Jefferson , i , 361). For a confidential account by a participant who strongly supported TJ, see Archibald Cary’s letter of 19 June, below. See also Randolph’s “Essay,” written in 1809 or earlier, which flatly states that “Colo. George Nicholas and Mr. Patrick Henry were those who censured Mr. Jefferson” ( VMHB description begins Virginia Magazine of History and Biography , 1893- description ends , xliv [1936], 321).

Though this point was later lost sight of, the term the executive used in the resolution was clearly intended to embrace the members of the Council as well as the Governor moreover, Nicholas himself (in his letter to TJ of 31 July) used the expression “persons entrusted with the administration.” So far as attending to duty is concerned, the inquiry would have been much more appropriately directed toward the conduct of the members of Council alone. During the first half of 1781 TJ could not obtain a full board (four members besides the Governor) between 4 and 19 Jan., 13 and 20 Feb., 25 Apr. and 10 May the last full meeting of the Council during TJ’s governorship occurred on the last-mentioned date ( Va. Council Jour. , ii , 271–3, 292–6, 341–6). Two members of Council resigned during these hectic months (see Joseph Prentis to TJ, 8 Apr., and Dudley Digges to TJ, 14 May) and one person declined to serve (see John Tyler to TJ, 1 Apr.). After the junction of the British armies at Petersburg, the situation may be summed up in a phrase used by Betsy Ambler, daughter of Councilor Jacquelin Ambler: “everybody scampering.” Miss Ambler in this same letter found the Governor’s precipitate flight to Carter’s Mountain “laughable,” but her very next letter describes how her father slept in a coach guarded by a slave these nights and how the family were carried hither and yon at every rumor of the enemy’s approach (“An Old Virginia Correspondence,” Atlantic Monthly , lxxxiv [1899], 537–9). During these alarms and excursions the late president of the Council, Dudley Digges, was captured (R. H. Lee to Virginia Delegates in Congress, 12 June 1781, below) and the sole member present and active from 1 to 12 June was William Fleming, whom TJ on 13 May had urgently summoned to Charlottesville in order to “make a Board.”

By some remarkable oversight (perhaps indicating that the anti-Jefferson group were not really interested in attaching blame to anyone but the former Governor), the members of TJ’s executive board who had remained in office did not receive notice of the resolution of inquiry until the middle of July. (There had been a full board meeting on 20 June at Staunton, and on 23 June the Assembly had adjourned until October. The Council sat at Charlottesville from 2 July.) Under date of 16 July the following entry appears in Va. Council Jour. , ii , 356:

“This day the following resolution of the House of Delegates, passed at Staunton, the 12th of June last was received under cover directed to David Jameson, William Fleming, Andrew Lewis, George Webb and Jaquelin Ambler esquires.

“’Resolved that at the next session of Assembly an inquiry be made into the conduct of the executive for the last twelve months.’

“The underwritten members, who till now were strangers to such a resolution having passed, think it their bounden duty to declare, that conscious of the rectitude of their intentions through the course of the most arduous and expensive attendance on public business, however unsuccessful their endeavours may have been, they are very ready and willing to have their public conduct enquired into with the most scrupulous exactness:—That as they cannot but feel most sensibly this implied censure on them, so they should not, from motives of delicasy alone, if there were no other, continue their attendance at the Board, at least till the result of the intended enquiry shall have convinced their fellow Citizens that their honest and best endeavors have not been wanting to serve their country, but that a secession of the members, to whom the fore-mentioned resolution was addressed would leave the State without a legal Executive at a time when the want of one may be productive of the most fatal consequences.

“Signed in the minutes by David Jameson Andrew Lewis and Jaquelin Ambler.” (George Webb and William Fleming did not sign because they were not present at this meeting of Council.)

With respect to TJ’s partners in the executive office during his governorship the matter of the inquiry seems to have ended here. They were never called upon to defend themselves, and TJ, who correctly judged himself to be the target of the critics in the legislature, did not feel it necessary to defend them.

79. A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge

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, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts, which history exhibiteth, that, possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes And whereas it is generally true that that people will be happiest whose laws are best, and are best administered, and that laws will be wisely formed, and honestly administered, in proportion as those who form and administer them are wise and honest 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 other accidental condition or circumstance but the indigence of the greater number disabling them from so educating, at their own expence, those of their children whom nature hath fitly formed and disposed to become useful instruments for the public, it is better that such should be sought for and educated at the common expence of all, than that the happiness of all should be confided to the weak or wicked:

Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, that in every county within this commonwealth, there shall be chosen annually, by the electors qualified to vote for Delegates, three of the most honest and able men of their county, to be called the Aldermen of the county and that the election of the said Aldermen shall be held at the same time and place, before the same persons, and notified and conducted in the same manner as by law is directed for the annual election of Delegates for the county.

The person before whom such election is holden shall certify to the court of the said county the names of the Aldermen chosen, in order that the same may be entered of record, and shall give notice of their election to the said Aldermen within a fortnight after such election.

The said Aldermen on the first Monday in October, if it be fair, and if not, then on the next fair day, excluding Sunday, shall meet at the court-house of their county, and proceed to divide their said county into hundreds, bounding the same by water courses, mountains, or limits, to be run and marked, if they think necessary, by the county surveyor, and at the county expence, regulating the size of the said hundreds, according to the best of their discretion, so as that they may contain a convenient number of children to make up a school, and be of such convenient size that all the children within each hundred may daily attend the school to be established therein, distinguishing each hundred by a particular name which division, with the names of the several hundreds, shall be returned to the court of the county and be entered of record, and shall remain unaltered until the increase or decrease of inhabitants shall render an alteration necessary, in the opinion of any succeeding Aldermen, and also in the opinion of the court of the county.

The electors aforesaid residing within every hundred shall meet on the third Monday in October after the first election of Aldermen, at such place, within their hundred, as the said Aldermen shall direct, notice thereof being previously given to them by such person residing within the hundred as the said Aldermen shall require who is hereby enjoined to obey such requisition, on pain of being punished by amercement and imprisonment. The electors being so assembled shall choose the most convenient place within their hundred for building a school-house. If two or more places, having a greater number of votes than any others, shall yet be equal between themselves, the Aldermen, or such of them as are not of the same hundred, on information thereof, shall decide between them. The said Aldermen shall forthwith proceed to have a school-house built at the said place, and shall see that the same be kept in repair, and, when necessary, that it be rebuilt but whenever they shall think necessary that it be rebuilt, they shall give notice as before directed, to the electors of the hundred to meet at the said school-house, on such day as they shall appoint, to determine by vote, in the manner before directed, whether it shall be rebuilt at the same, or what other place in the hundred.

At every of these schools shall be taught reading, writing, and common arithmetick, and the books which shall be used therein for instructing the children to read shall be such as will at the same time make them acquainted with Græcian, Roman, English, and American history. At these schools all the free children, male and female, resident within the respective hundred, shall be intitled to receive tuition gratis, for the term of three years, and as much longer, at their private expence, as their parents, guardians or friends, shall think proper.

Over every ten of these schools (or such other number nearest thereto, as the number of hundreds in the county will admit, without fractional divisions) an overseer shall be appointed annually by the Aldermen at their first meeting, eminent for his learning, integrity, and fidelity to the commonwealth, whose business and duty it shall be, from time to time, to appoint a teacher to each school, who shall give assurance of fidelity to the commonwealth, and to remove him as he shall see cause to visit every school once in every half year at the least to examine the schollars see that any general plan of reading and instruction recommended by the visiters of William and Mary College shall be observed and to superintend the conduct of the teacher in every thing relative to his school.

Every teacher shall receive a salary of by the year, which, with the expences of building and repairing the schoolhouses, shall be provided in such manner as other county expences are by law directed to be provided and shall also have his diet, lodging, and washing found him, to be levied in like manner, save only that such levy shall be on the inhabitants of each hundred for the board of their own teacher only.

And in order that grammar schools may be rendered convenient to the youth in every part of the commonwealth, Be it farther enacted, that on the first Monday in November, after the first appointment of overseers for the hundred schools, if fair, and if not, then on the next fair day, excluding Sunday, after the hour of one in the afternoon, the said overseers appointed for the schools in the counties of Princess Ann, Norfolk, Nansemond and Isle-of-Wight, shall meet at Nansemond court house those for the counties of Southampton, Sussex, Surry and Prince George, shall meet at Sussex court-house those for the counties of Brunswick, Mecklenburg and Lunenburg, shall meet at Lunenburg court-house those for the counties of Dinwiddie, Amelia and Chesterfield, shall meet at Chesterfield court-house those for the counties of Powhatan, Cumberland, Goochland, Henrico and Hanover, shall meet at Henrico court-house those for the counties of Prince Edward, Charlotte and Halifax, shall meet at Charlotte court-house those for the counties of Henry, Pittsylvania and Bedford, shall meet at Pittsylvania court-house those for the counties of Buckingham, Amherst, Albemarle and Fluvanna, shall meet at Albemarle courthouse those for the counties of Botetourt, Rockbridge, Montgomery, Washington and Kentucky, shall meet at Botetourt courthouse those for the counties of Augusta, Rockingham and Greenbrier, shall meet at Augusta court-house those for the counties of Accomack and Northampton, shall meet at Accomack court-house those for the counties of Elizabeth City, Warwick, York, Gloucester, James City, Charles City and New-Kent, shall meet at James City court-house those for the counties of Middlesex, Essex, King and Queen, King William and Caroline, shall meet at King and Queen court-house those for the counties of Lancaster, Northumberland, Richmond and Westmoreland, shall meet at Richmond court-house those for the counties of King George, Stafford, Spot-sylvania, Prince William and Fairfax, shall meet at Spotsylvania court-house those for the counties of Loudoun and Fauquier, shall meet at Loudoun court-house those for the counties of Culpeper, Orange and Louisa, shall meet at Orange court-house those for the counties of Shenandoah and Frederick, shall meet at Frederick court-house those for the counties of Hampshire and Berkeley, shall meet at Berkeley court-house and those for the counties of Yohogania, Monongalia and Ohio, shall meet at Monongalia courthouse and shall fix on such place in some one of the counties in their district as shall be most proper for situating a grammar school-house, endeavouring that the situation be as central as may be to the inhabitants of the said counties, that it be furnished with good water, convenient to plentiful supplies of provision and fuel, and more than all things that it be healthy. And if a majority of the overseers present should not concur in their choice of any one place proposed, the method of determining shall be as follows: If two places only were proposed, and the votes be divided, they shall decide between them by fair and equal lot if more than two places were proposed, the question shall be put on those two which on the first division had the greater number of votes or if no two places had a greater number of votes than the others, as where the votes shall have been equal between one or both of them and some other or others, then it shall be decided by fair and equal lot (unless it can be agreed by a majority of votes) which of the places having equal numbers shall be thrown out of the competition, so that the question shall be put on the remaining two, and if on this ultimate question the votes shall be equally divided, it shall then be decided finally by lot.

The said overseers having determined the place at which the grammar school for their district shall be built, shall forthwith (unless they can otherwise agree with the proprietors of the circumjacent lands as to location and price) make application to the clerk of the county in which the said house is to be situated, who shall thereupon issue a writ, in the nature of a writ of ad quod damnum, directed to the sheriff of the said county commanding him to summon and impannel twelve fit persons to meet at the place, so destined for the grammar school house, on a certain day, to be named in the said writ, not less than five, nor more than ten, days from the date thereof and also to give notice of the same to the proprietors and tenants of the lands to be viewed, if they be to be found within the county, and if not, then to their agents therein if any they have. Which freeholders shall be charged by the said sheriff impartially, and to the best of their skill and judgment to view the lands round about the said place, and to locate and circumscribe, by certain metes and bounds, one hundred acres thereof, having regard therein principally to the benefit and convenience of the said school, but respecting in some measure also the convenience of the said proprietors, and to value and appraise the same in so many several and distinct parcels as shall be owned or held by several and distinct owners or tenants, and according to their respective interests and estates therein. And after such location and appraisement so made, the said sheriff shall forthwith return the same under the hands and seals of the said jurors, together with the writ, to the clerk’s office of the said county and the right and property of the said proprietors and tenants in the said lands so circumscribed shall be immediately devested and be transferred to the commonwealth for the use of the said grammar school, in full and absolute dominion, any want of consent or disability to consent in the said owners or tenants notwithstanding. But it shall not be lawful for the said overseers so to situate the said grammar schoolhouse, nor to the said jurors so to locate the said lands, as to include the mansion-house of the proprietor of the lands, nor the offices, curtilage, or garden, thereunto immediately belonging.

The said overseers shall forthwith proceed to have a house of brick or stone, for the said grammar school, with necessary offices, built on the said lands, which grammar school-house shall contain a room for the school, a hall to dine in, four rooms for a master and usher, and ten or twelve lodging rooms for the scholars.

To each of the said grammar schools shall be allowed out of the public treasury, the sum of pounds, out of which shall be paid by the Treasurer, on warrant from the Auditors, to the proprietors or tenants of the lands located, the value of their several interests as fixed by the jury, and the balance thereof shall be delivered to the said overseers to defray the expence of the said buildings.

In these grammar schools shall be taught the Latin and Greek languages, English grammar, geography, and the higher part of numerical arithmetick, to wit, vulgar and decimal fractions, and the extraction of the square and cube roots.

A visiter from each county constituting the district shall be appointed, by the overseers, for the county, in the month of October annually, either from their own body or from their county at large, which visiters or the greater part of them, meeting together at the said grammar school on the first Monday in November, if fair, and if not, then on the next fair day, excluding Sunday, shall have power to choose their own Rector, who shall call and preside at future meetings, to employ from time to time a master, and if necessary, an usher, for the said school, to remove them at their will, and to settle the price of tuition to be paid by the scholars. They shall also visit the school twice in every year at the least, either together or separately at their discretion, examine the scholars, and see that any general plan of instruction recommended by the visiters of William and Mary College shall be observed. The said masters and ushers, before they enter on the execution of their office, shall give assurance of fidelity to the commonwealth.

A steward shall be employed, and removed at will by the master, on such wages as the visiters shall direct which steward shall see to the procuring provisions, fuel, servants for cooking, waiting, house cleaning, washing, mending, and gardening on the most reasonable terms the expence of which, together with the steward’s wages, shall be divided equally among all the scholars boarding either on the public or private expence. And the part of those who are on private expence, and also the price of their tuitions due to the master or usher, shall be paid quarterly by the respective scholars, their parents, or guardians, and shall be recoverable, if withheld, together with costs, on motion in any Court of Record, ten days notice thereof being previously given to the party, and a jury impannelled to try the issue joined, or enquire of the damages. The said steward shall also, under the direction of the visiters, see that the houses be kept in repair, and necessary enclosures be made and repaired, the accounts for which, shall, from time to time, be submitted to the Auditors, and on their warrant paid by the Treasurer.

Every overseer of the hundred schools shall, in the month of September annually, after the most diligent and impartial examination and enquiry, appoint from among the boys who shall have been two years at the least at some one of the schools under his superintendance, and whose parents are too poor to give them farther education, some one of the best and most promising genius and disposition, to proceed to the grammar school of his district which appointment shall be made in the court-house of the county, on the court day for that month if fair, and if not, then on the next fair day, excluding Sunday, in the presence of the Aldermen, or two of them at the least, assembled on the bench for that purpose, the said overseer being previously sworn by them to make such appointment, without favor or affection, according to the best of his skill and judgment, and being interrogated by the said Aldermen, either on their own motion, or on suggestions from the parents, guardians, friends, or teachers of the children, competitors for such appointment which teachers shall attend for the information of the Aldermen. On which interregatories the said Aldermen, if they be not satisfied with the appointment proposed, shall have right to negative it whereupon the said visiter may proceed to make a new appointment, and the said Aldermen again to interrogate and negative, and so toties quoties until an appointment be approved.

Every boy so appointed shall be authorised to proceed to the grammar school of his district, there to be educated and boarded during such time as is hereafter limited and his quota of the expences of the house together with a compensation to the master or usher for his tuition, at the rate of twenty dollars by the year, shall be paid by the Treasurer quarterly on warrant from the Auditors.

A visitation shall be held, for the purpose of probation, annually at the said grammar school on the last Monday in September, if fair, and if not, then on the next fair day, excluding Sunday, at which one third of the boys sent thither by appointment of the said overseers, and who shall have been there one year only, shall be discontinued as public foundationers, being those who, on the most diligent examination and enquiry, shall be thought to be of the least promising genius and disposition and of those who shall have been there two years, all shall be discontinued, save one only the best in genius and disposition, who shall be at liberty to continue there four years longer on the public foundation, and shall thence forward be deemed a senior.

The visiters for the districts which, or any part of which, be southward and westward of James river, as known by that name, or by the names of Fluvanna and Jackson’s river, in every other year, to wit, at the probation meetings held in the years, distinguished in the Christian computation by odd numbers, and the visiters for all the other districts at their said meetings to be held in those years, distinguished by even numbers, after diligent examination and enquiry as before directed, shall chuse one among the said seniors, of the best learning and most hopeful genius and disposition, who shall be authorised by them to proceed to William and Mary College, there to be educated, boarded, and clothed, three years the expence of which annually shall be paid by the Treasurer on warrant from the Auditors.

Report description begins Report of the Committee of Revisors Appointed by the General Assembly of Virginia in MDCCLXXVI , Richmond, 1784 description ends , p. 53–5. Surprisingly, no MS copy of this famous Bill has been found and no memoranda or scraps of notes such as TJ left respecting other Bills.

The Acts pertaining to the College of William and Mary fell within Pendleton’s share of the revision, but, as TJ explained in his Autobiography, “We thought that … a systematical plan of general education should be proposed, and I was requested to undertake it. I accordingly prepared three Bills for the Revisal, proposing three distinct grades of education, reaching all classes. 1. Elementary schools for all children generally, rich and poor. 2. Colleges for a middle degree of instruction, calculated for the common purposes of life, and such as would be desirable for all who were in easy circumstances. And 3d. an ultimate grade for teaching the sciences generally, and in their highest degree” ( Ford, description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson , “Letterpress Edition,” N.Y., 1892–1899 description ends i , 66). Within a decade after the work of the Committee of Revisors was begun, TJ regarded the Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge as the most important one in the Report (TJ to George Wythe, 13 Aug. 1786). The exalted declaration of purpose in the preamble remains one of the classic statements of the responsibility of the state in matters of education. But what was new and distinctively Jeffersonian in the Bill was not its advocacy of public education, for in this respect it in fact envisaged a combined system of public and private education and, indeed, public education was already in practice and had been for some generations in the systems of common schools of New England. But what was new in the Bill and what stamped its author as a constructive statesman of far-seeing vision was the object of seeking out men of genius and virtue and of rendering them “by liberal education worthy to receive, and able to guard the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens.” This implied the establishment of a ruling élite that would promote public happiness by wisely forming and honestly administering the laws but, though this never became and possibly could not become an explicit object of any democratic society, the important thing about TJ’s Bill was that those “whom nature hath endowed with genius and virtue … should be called to that charge without regard to wealth, birth or other accidental condition or circumstance. ” The Bill recognized natural gradations and disparities among men it saw nothing dangerous or inimical to the liberties of the people in accepting and making use of such a natural aristocracy of virtue and talent and its unique and revolutionary feature, never yet put into practice by any people, was that, in order to permit such a natural aristocracy to flourish freely, it would remove all economic, social, or other barriers that would interfere with nature’s distribution of genius or virtue. (See TJ’s account of this Bill in Notes on Virginia , Ford, description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson , “Letterpress Edition,” N.Y., 1892–1899 description ends iii , 251–5 see also R. J. Honeywell, Educational Work of Thomas Jefferson , Cambridge, Mass., 1931.) A highly interesting contemporary comment on the Bill is that by William Wirt: “Among other wise and highly patriotic bills which are proposed, there is one for the more general diffusion of knowledge. After a preamble, in which the importance of the subject to the republic is most ably and eloquently announced, the bill proposes a simple and beautiful scheme, whereby science (like justice under the institutions of our Alfred) would have been ‘carried to every man’s door.’ Genius, instead of having to break its way through the thick opposing clouds of native obscurity, indigence and ignorance, was to be sought for through every family in the commonwealth the sacred spark, wherever it was detected, was to be tenderly cherished, fed and fanned into a flame its innate properties and tendencies were to be developed and examined, and then cautiously and judiciously invested with all the auxiliary energy and radiance of which its character was susceptible. What a plan was here to give stability and solid glory to the republic! If you ask me why it has never been adopted, I answer, that as a foreigner, I can perceive no possible reason for it, except that the comprehensive views and generous patriotism which produced the bill, have not prevailed throughout the country, nor presided in the body on whose vote the adoption of the bill depended. I have new reason to remark it, almost every day, that there is throughout Virginia, a most deplorable destitution of public spirit, of the noble pride and love of country. Unless the body of the people can be awakened from this fatal apathy unless their thoughts and their feelings can be urged beyond the narrow confines of their own private affairs unless they can be strongly inspired with the public zeal, the amor patriœ of the ancient republics, the national embellishment, and the national grandeur of this opulent state, must be reserved for very distant ages” (William Wirt, Letters of a British Spy , 10th edn., N.Y., 1832, p. 231–2 originally published in 1803).

TJ apparently finished the Bill late in the autumn of 1778, for on 18 Dec. 1778 he wrote to Pendleton about it (his letter is missing, but see Pendleton’s reply under date of 11 May 1779). On 15 Dec. 1778 leave was given by the House for the presentation of a Bill “for the more general diffusion of knowledge,” and Richard Parker and George Mason were ordered to prepare it the Bill was presented by Parker on the next day, whereupon the House “ Ordered , That the public printer do forthwith print and forward four copies of the said act to each county within this Commonwealth” ( JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , Oct. 1778, 1827 edn., p. 117, 120). It is very doubtful whether this order to print the Bill was actually executed if it was, no copy of it has been found (see Edmund Pendleton to TJ, 11 May 1779 and notes thereon). The Bill was again presented on 12 June 1780, but no further action was taken until, on 31 Oct. 1785, Madison brought it up along with other bills of the Report of the Committee of Revisors. It was considered by the House 6 Dec., was amended 20 Dec., and on 21 Dec. was actually passed by the House under a new title, “An act, directing the mode of appointing aldermen.” But, on being referred to the Senate, the Bill died ( JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , May 1780, 1827 edn., p. 14, 44 same, Oct. 1785, 1828 edn., p. 12–15, 74–5, 100, 101). Madison reported a year later, when TJ’s Bill was again considered, that the system was carefully considered but not adopted because of the cost involved (Madison to TJ, 4 Dec. 1786 see also Madison to TJ, 22 Jan. 1786).

Madison did not bring in Bill No. 79 with the others reported on 1 Nov. 1786 but it was brought up two weeks later, and, as Madison reported to TJ, it “went through two readings by a small majority and was not pushed to a third one” (Madison to TJ, 15 Feb. 1787 JHD description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia (cited by session and date of publication) description ends , Oct. 1786, 1828 edn., p. 44). The plan for establishing public schools was not carried to completion until 1796 when the Assembly passed an “Act to Establish Public Schools” ( Shepherd, description begins Samuel Shepherd, The Statutes at Large of Virginia, from October Session 1792, to December Session 1806, Inclusive … (New Series,) Being a Continuation of Hening description ends ii , 3–5) which retained some of the phraseology of TJ’s Bill, especially that providing for the election of aldermen. However, the 1796 Act provided only for primary schools, and the determination of the expediency of establishing such schools was left entirely to the aldermen of each county, borough, or corporation.

Thomas Jefferson: Governor of Virginia, Part II

Jefferson’s term as Governor ended on June 2, 1781, a dangerous and chaotic time for Virginia. General Cornwallis had heard of the General Assembly’s move to Charlottesville and quickly dispatched Lt. Col. Banastre Tarlton’s cavalry unit to capture members. Jefferson had already retired to nearby Monticello. In the confusion and disruption of normal government activity, the Assembly was unable to elect a new Governor, and so the state remained leaderless for almost a week.

When the Assembly did meet, it initiated an official inquiry into Governor Jefferson’s actions. Ultimately, the inquiry would go nowhere, but the criticism would shadow Jefferson for the rest of his life.

After Benedict Arnold’s attack on Richmond in January, Jefferson remained worried about the limited state resources and growing British threats.

He wrote to Congress: “The fatal want of arms puts it out of our power to bring a greater force into the field than will barely suffice to restrain the adventures of the pitiful body of men they have at Portsmouth. Should any others be added to them, this country will be perfectly open to them by land as well as by water.” (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Huntington, February 8, 1781. Text from the Digital Edition of the Thomas Jefferson Papers.)

In late April 1781, Jefferson and Virginia faced an uncertain future. The militia was proving difficult to organize, and so the British found little opposition. General Cornwallis received orders to move east and join Generals Phillips and Arnold’s force of 3,000 based at Portsmouth in southeast Virginia. Arnold moved toward Richmond on the south side of the James River. The British expected Richmond to be undefended as it had been in January, but the Marquis de Lafayette had raced his 1,200 soldiers from Alexandria to meet them.

On the evening of April 29, the two armies were separated only by the width of the James River. At dinner, an American soldier from Connecticut identified Phillips and Arnold, who were on the beach across the river surveying the landscape with a spyglass. Nearby Virginia riflemen saw them too and asked for Lafayette’s permission to fire at them. Lafayette refused, “declaring that he would meet the enemy openly in the field but would authorize nothing like assassination.”

Jefferson wrote to Washington, reporting that the armies of Cornwallis and Arnold had come together. He pleaded with Washington for his “personal aid”:

We are too far removed from the other scenes of war, to say whether the main force of the Enemy be within this State, but I suppose they cannot any where spare so great an Army [together, Arnold and Cornwallis had about 7,000 troops] for the operations of the field: Were it possible for this Circumstance to justify in Your Excellency a determination to lend us Your personal aid, it is evident from the universal voice that the presence of their beloved Countryman, whose talents have been so long successfully employed in establishing the freedom of kindred States, to whose person they have still flattered themselves they retained some right, and have ever looked up as their dernier resort in distress, that your appearance among them I say would restore full confidence of salvation, and would render them equal to whatever is not impossible. Letter from Jefferson to George Washington, May 28, 1781. Text from the Digital Edition of the Thomas Jefferson Papers

While Jefferson was appealing to Washington to make a bold strategic move towards the south, Cornwallis had learned that the Virginia General Assembly had moved to Charlottesville and Jefferson had gone to Monticello. Cornwallis dispatched Lt. Colonel Tarleton’s cavalry on a secret expedition to capture Jefferson and members of the Assembly.

Fortunately for the Virginians, Jack Jouett of the militia thwarted the British plan by riding 40 miles through the night to give warning, allowing Jefferson and his family to escape to Poplar Forest. Only seven Assembly members were captured. The Assembly reconvened on June 7 in Staunton, VA.

Jefferson’s term had expired on June 2, but the Assembly had not yet had an opportunity to choose a replacement. Some members did not realize what had happened, and others felt that Jefferson should have stayed in place until his successor was named. Forced to move for the second time in a matter of weeks and with no defense ready to protect the state, many were upset, and Jefferson was an obvious target for their anger.

On June 8, Benjamin Harrison of Virginia, who had been staying at Monticello at the time of Tarleton’s raid, wrote to Joseph Jones: “We have now no Executive in the State. For want of a Senate the governor will act no more, and the remainder of the council will not get together. I hope we shall set these matters right next week” (Letters of Joseph Jones, ed. W. C. Ford, 1889). Four days later, the Assembly elected Gen. Thomas Nelson as the new Governor, a choice previously recommended by Jefferson.

At the urging of Jefferson’s former mentor and friend Patrick Henry, the young delegate George Nicholas introduced a resolution calling for “an inquiry be made into the conduct of the Executive of this State for the last twelve months.”

Henry and Jefferson had grown apart in recent years, and Nicholas had come under Henry’s influence. The Assembly voted for the resolution and sent notice to Jefferson at Poplar Forest.

During the summer, Lafayette delivered an appointment from the Continental Congress requesting that Jefferson travel to Paris to join the American peace commissioners John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. With regret, Jefferson turned down the appointment so he could prepare his defense to the Assembly.

Jefferson wrote 15 years later in his diary:

The nonsense which has been uttered on the coup de main of Tarlton on Charlottesville is really so ridiculous that it is almost ridiculous seriously to notice it . . . when a neighbor rode up full speed to inform me that a troop of horse was then ascending the hill to the house . . . , after a short delay . . . I mounted my horse, and I went thro’ the woods. . . . Would it be believed, were it not known, that this flight from a troop of horse . . . has been the subject, with party writers, of volumes of reproach on me, serious or sarcastic? That it has been sung in verse . . . forgetting the noble example of the hero of La Mancha, and his windmills, I declined a combat, singly against a troop, in which victory would have been so glorious? Forgetting, themselves, at the same time, that I was not provided with the enchanted arms of the knight, nor even with his helmet of Mambrino. Text from the Digital Edition of the Thomas Jefferson Papers.

In this account and others, Jefferson’s reaction to news of Tarleton’s troop was calm and deliberate. A neighbor, Christopher Hudson, notified Jefferson of the imminent arrival of the British cavalry at Monticello.

I immediately proceeded to Monticello, where I found Mr. Jefferson, perfectly tranquil, and undisturbed. At my earnest request he left his house which was Surrounded in Ten Minutes at farthest by a troop of Light-horse. I was convinced his Situation was truly critical since there was only one Man (his gardener) upon the Spot. Deposition of Christopher Hudson respecting Tarleton’s Raid in June 1781, July 26, 1805. Text from the Digital Edition of the Thomas Jefferson Papers.

Tarleton had a reputation for mistreating civilians and destroying property, but according to Jefferson, he hardly touched his Monticello home, though he did burn several barns.

The attacks on his service as Governor upset Jefferson and haunted him throughout his political career and almost to his grave. While he waited for the day to defend himself before the Virginia Assembly, the Americans won the decisive victory at Yorktown, and any strong feelings against Jefferson dissolved. When the new Assembly convened, no one would speak against him. The former Governor chose instead to serve as prosecutor and defense attorney, posing charges that others had been alleged previously and answered the same.

In a more reflective moment, the Assembly chose to praise Jefferson instead of chastise him:

The Assembly wish . . . in the strongest manner to declare the high opinion which they entertain of Mr. Jefferson’s Ability, Rectitude, and Integrity as cheif Magistrate of this Commonwealth, and mean by thus publicly avowing their Opinion, to obviate all future, and to remove all former unmerited Censure. Resolution of the Virginia General Assembly, December 12, 1781. Text from the Digital Edition of the Thomas Jefferson Papers.

Jefferson made mistakes as Governor, the most important being his departure from the Governor’s chair at the expiration of his second term before the Assembly had elected his replacement and while the state was in the midst of crisis. He admitted his shortcomings in military matters, so perhaps it was a mistake to even assume the office of Governor during a time of war.

On the other hand, the war had not reached Virginia when Jefferson was elected. The state’s resources were depleted to the war in the north for five years, and the militia system at home was vulnerable to an attack of British regulars. During that period, the war had been fought mostly in New York, New Jersey, the New England states, and Canada. As his efforts and writings (and those of others) show, Jefferson was neither an inactive nor inattentive Governor.

Further reading: Flight from Monticello: Thomas Jefferson at War, by Michael Kranish, Oxford University Press, 2010

Watch the video: Thomas Jefferson Memorial on a sunny day


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