Selected Documents

Overview

In this section, we offer examples of the variety of documents we work with and of the value that editorial scholarship adds to the text. Accurate transcriptions and clear annotation help a reader to make sense of a document and to understand it in its historical context. Included here is a diverse selection of documents written by or to Jefferson that can be browsed chronologically or topically. We have also chosen letters highlighting Jefferson’s many roles as statesman, politician, and president, as well as friend, family member, and plantation owner. For common abbreviations and repository symbols used, see the summary of our editorial methodTo filter by topic, check a box in the menu listing in the left margin.

Quote from Jefferson's First InaugurialPage from Thomas Jefferson's First Inaugural Address, 4 March 1801
Credit:  Library of Congress, Manuscript Division

Editor Julian P. Boyd noted the "transcendent importance of this charter of national liberties," the most famous document drafted by Jefferson.

Jefferson wrote this letter as a private citizen expressing his criticism of the Federalist party. Its subsequent unauthorized publication, often appearing out of context, haunted him for the rest of his life.

Jefferson wrote these resolves to challenge the constitutionality of the Alien and Sedition Acts and suggested the possibility of a state's authority to nullify federal law.

Jefferson's opinions on education and the improvability of the human mind are expressed in this letter to a young student who asked his advice on a proper course of study.

Jefferson is informed of the electoral tie between him and fellow Republican candidate Aaron Burr. The selection of the next president will be determined by vote in the House of Representatives.

Jefferson sends to a plantation owner and naturalist in Mississippi his observations on weather and climate, rainbows, and Indian vocabularies.

Jefferson updates his friends in Virginia on the suspenseful electoral impasse after repeated balloting in the House of Representatives. Not until the 36th ballot taken five days later did Jefferson know he had been selected the next president of the United States.

A long-time friend freely communicates her sentiments, offers her opinions on John Adams, and congratulates Jefferson on his election as president.

Jefferson expresses his political creed in this statement of republican principles with his unifying and conciliatory exhortation, "we are all republicans: we are all federalists."

A Connecticut gentleman cautions Jefferson that both political parties expect to share in the plums of political appointment.

In his reply to Boardman, Jefferson offers no comment on political appointments, but acknowledges receipt of a sermon on religious freedom and articulates the rights of conscience.

Some Connecticut merchants challenge the removal of a Federalist collector at New Haven and the subsequent appointment of a Republican whom they deemed inadequately qualified for the position. They interpret Jefferson's inaugural address as implying presidential appointments would be merit-based without regard to party.

Jefferson clarifies misunderstandings over his removal policies, acknowledging the burden of presidential appointments and the reality of political parties.

Jefferson comments on the "dreadful operation" he must perform in finding offices for members of his party who feel that they had been denied jobs and influence in previous administrations.

The Danbury Baptists congratulate the new president and express their belief in religious liberty as a matter between God and individuals.

Jefferson's response to the Danbury Baptists is a classic expression on the place of religion in American civil society with its invocation of a "wall of separation between church and state."

Jefferson sends his cabinet members his thoughts on "the mode & degrees of communication" by which the business of government should be conducted, taking as his model the administrative example of George Washington.

Jefferson forwards a request of the Virginia legislature to send rebellious slaves to Sierra Leone.

Jefferson addresses a Seneca leader as “brother,” praises his efforts at social and economic improvement, and discusses a sale of land by the Senecas.

Jefferson outlines policies for a consolidation of settlement along the Mississippi River that will require some Indians to live within greatly reduced borders and some to relinquish claims to land east of the river.

Jefferson solicits congressional support for extending external commerce, especially by funding an exploration of the Missouri River and the territory beyond it. He suggests an appropriation of $2,500 to advance "the geographical knowledge of our own continent" and to find a route to the Pacific Ocean.

Jefferson relies on his French friend to help maintain peaceful relations between the United States and France, informs him of James Monroe's appointment as a special envoy, and stresses the importance of the Mississippi and the American right of deposit at New Orleans.

Jefferson's granddaughter accepts his invitation to become a correspondent, requests he send a French dictionary, and updates him on the schooling of her siblings.

Jefferson responds to his granddaughter's request for a French dictionary and his grandson's wish for a book of geography.

Jefferson actively participates in the landscape design of the federal city, offering suggestions on the best placement of trees along Pennsylvania Avenue.

Jefferson intends to draw up an outline comparing the doctrines of Jesus with those of other moral philosophers.

Jefferson’s son-in-law reports that one of the enslaved teenage workers at the Monticello nailery has struck another with a hammer.

Jefferson asks that an enslaved teenage worker responsible for an attack at the nailery at Monticello be sold to a slave buyer from Georgia, thereby making “an example of him in terrorem to others.”

Jefferson gives Meriwether Lewis a letter of credit authorizing him to draw on the U.S. government for whatever funds or resources may be needed for a westward exploratory expedition.

A merchant whose store was broken into (but nothing stolen) and 51 other residents of Alexandria petition the president for clemency for Samuel Miller, a journeyman shoemaker who has been sentenced to death for the burglary.

After conversing with Jefferson and considering Article 4, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, Nicholas argues that no amendment is necessary for the acquisition of Louisiana. He advises the president against issuing a public opinion that an amendment is needed.

Although Jefferson maintains that a “safe & precise” interpretation would require amending the Constitution before adding new territory to the union, he gives up his insistence on an amendment for Louisiana.

Jefferson’s younger daughter was expecting her third child when her father wrote her this letter touching on a variety of topics.

Following a discussion with Aaron Burr about their political relationship, Jefferson made this detailed record for his files.

Jefferson informs Gerry that he will seek a second term as president to help consolidate his party's gains and resist the "unbounded calumnies" of diehard Federalists.