Explore Documents By Theme
America on a Global Stage
The United States was finding its place on the global stage, balancing economic needs with tensions created by European wars, especially between England and France. The Barbary wars become the United States’ first foreign military conflict. How did the early United States and the Jefferson administration respond to and participate in empire building and the contest for power and authority on the world stage?
Elections & Political Parties
Documents in this section address state and national elections and political organizing. Following independence, many Americans adopted differing views of the relationship between the federal government and the states, and of new economic and foreign policies. These spurred the growth of political parties, culminating in the tumultuous election of 1800 and the passage of the 12th Amendment to the Constitution.
This section considers the changing relations between the United States and Native American nations. The Lewis and Clark expedition increased contact between the eastern government and western Native peoples. Federal officials attempted to obtain land and postal rights of way in the Louisiana Territory. These documents shed light on diverse Native American nations, including leaders who interacted with Jefferson and peoples whose lives were affected by settlers pushing west. Topics include territorial expansion, treaty negotiations, threats to culture and sovereignty, and encroachments on Native lands.
Science & Technology
Jefferson and his correspondents expressed curiosity about science, innovation, and the human influence on the natural environment. Documents in this section show his interest in technological developments, from agricultural implements like the moldboard plough to writing contraptions like the polygraph. Jefferson kept abreast of scientific developments when president of the American Philosophical Society.
Childhood and Family
Ideas of family are expanded and considered in this section. Some documents reveal Jefferson’s affection for his children and grandchildren and active interest in their education. Others show parents soliciting Jefferson’s intervention in appointments for their children, enslaved individuals trying to maintain connections in the face of separation from kin, and parental loss in the wake of the death of a child.
This section includes documents that point to economic and social ideas behind national expansionism, especially the Louisiana Purchase. Topics include the development of infrastructure, postal roads, urban growth, territorial expansion, and statehood.
Punishments & Pardons
Individuals convicted of crimes in federal court and in the City of Washington appealed to the president for pardons. Pardons provide a brief glimpse into the lives of the petitioners and their families. This section also includes material on the treatment of enslaved persons punished for transgressions, which included running away.
Slavery & Race
What were the contradictions between the principles of freedom enshrined in documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the realities of chattel slavery? How did efforts to end American participation in the international slave trade affect individuals during Jefferson’s presidency? In the nation’s capital, abroad, at his home and nailery at Monticello, how did Jefferson’s views on slavery evolve as he encountered enslaved individuals as a plantation owner, and anti-slavery advocates, politicians, and international correspondents as a public figure?
The Business of Government
As president, Jefferson served as the head of the executive branch as well as of his party. How did government function? How did checks and balances, the separation of powers, and the rule of law reveal the era’s civic ideals in theory and/or practice?
These documents explore the value of education in an informed citizenry. Topics include Jefferson’s instruction as a young college student and lawyer, and his interest in recommending reading lists, purchasing books for libraries, supporting local academies, and developing a rigorous curriculum at the military academy, planting the seeds for his later foundation of the University of Virginia.
Throughout American history, ideas of national identity have coexisted with regional and group identities. How did ideas of freedom, democracy, citizenship, diversity, and individualism define the American experience?
Jefferson valued the freedom to practice (or not practice) one’s religious beliefs, and he considered that right to be a requirement in a functioning American democracy. Jefferson’s correspondence shows his encounters with Danbury Baptists, his stand against fast day proclamations and state-supported churches, his views on the separation of church and state, his reflections on the doctrines of Jesus, his communications with religious groups, and his tolerance of non-Christian religions.
Society & Social Identity
Although denied the full rights of citizens and with their concerns often buried in the archive, women and their stories illuminate diverse experiences of Americans in the Jeffersonian republic. Although limited by the perspectives of Jefferson’s correspondents, these selections allude to the experiences of enslaved women, workers, and middle-class widows as well as more advantaged women.