About Our Project
Since the publication of Volume 1 by Princeton University Press in 1950, the Papers of Thomas Jefferson editorial project at Princeton University has been producing a comprehensive scholarly edition of Jefferson’s documentary record. The edition provides, in chronological sequence and with supplementary annotation, authoritative texts of the correspondence and other papers written by Jefferson and received by him. Jefferson is well known for his authorship of iconic American texts such as the Declaration of Independence and his 1801 Inaugural Address, yet his papers contain thousands of other manuscripts. His papers form a vast documentary web, a rich resource of information about how people lived their lives in the British colonial world, through the revolutionary era, and in the early national period of the United States. In these documents we learn about social relationships, economic activities, governance and law, farming and gardening, transportation, science, learning, and many other topics. Jefferson’s enslavement of hundreds of individuals, his attitudes about race, and his failure to address the problem of slavery cannot be excused. One does not, however, need to place him at the center of inquiry to take advantage of the deep and broad content of his papers.
As the first modern historical documentary edition, the project initially assembled photocopies of every known extant letter or Jefferson-related paper, approximately 70,000 items gathered from 900 repositories and private collections worldwide. The largest collections are at the Library of Congress, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the University of Virginia, the National Archives, and the Missouri History Museum Library and Research Center. The edition is comprehensive in scope, with the Princeton editors bearing the responsibility for the letters and papers during the period from 1760 through the end of Jefferson’s presidency on March 3, 1809. Our colleagues at the Papers of Thomas Jefferson Retirement Series, working at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies in Virginia, are publishing Jefferson’s papers from March 1809 to his death in 1826. Volume 1, with documents from the period 1760–1776, appeared in 1950, and Volume 47, covering a part of the year 1805, will be published in 2023. We currently anticipate that the final volume will be Volume 61 and that the edition’s work will be completed in the mid-2030s.
About this Site
Our website offers information about the background and methodology of the project. Please visit the Project History for more information about how the project started and developed, and the Editorial Practice section for a breakdown of how we present and annotate the documents.
We have provided a small number of document visualizations in the Exhibits section, and a curated selection of recommended writings under Featured Documents. We also encourage you to view the external resources listed under Explore More. For stories about our experiences editing and interesting documents we have encountered along the way, check out the project’s occasional blog posts at the Revolving Desk.