Back in the 1920s, when the nascent Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation (my current employer, now called the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc., and not to be confused with the Monticello Association or the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association) was trying to scrape together the cash to purchase Monticello from Jefferson Monroe Levy, they found themselves a little short. So they conceived a cunning plan, of course – they woul
A while ago, I was perusing the Memorandum Books, which Marie Kimball very eloquently (but somewhat over-optimistically) described as “candid tattlers of Jefferson’s every move,” when I spotted something curious.
1776 Aug. 8. Pd. Dowig for mourning ring 45/ thimble 4/6.
Sometimes we get inexplicable rashes of questions. There was the "Jefferson wanting Indians to wear pants" one a few weeks ago (which remains unexplicated). This past week it's been people asking us if Sally Hemings is buried under the Hampton Inn. In a disappointing case of fiction being stranger than truth, we don't have any evidence to s
The Internet, it seems, is a breeding ground for spurious Jefferson quotations. I suppose I shouldn't complain about this, since I secretly (okay, it's not a secret now) enjoy hunting the wily Jefferson Quotation. Most of the time they turn out not to be Jefferson quotations at all. I will ruminate on that at some future point, but for now I want to highlight an interesting case in point.
One of our informants encountered a story, related by one Thomas Bloomer Balch, a Presbyterian minister writing about a visit to Monticello ca. 1839, and remembering his childhood in the D.C. area (published in "Picturesque Narratives. South West Range," The Christian World vol. 3 (August 1843)). Reverend Balch remembers that during Mr.
A question from a patron prompted me to take another look at the quotation, "dissent is the highest form of patriotism." This is probably one of the most frequent quotation questions for us, but I haven't taken a fresh look at it for several years. Google Books has revolutionized the way I search for TJ quotations (which usually turn out to be non-TJ quotations, more often than not), and in this case it helped us pinpoint earlier origins for this quotation. The general gist is that we can now trace this quotation back to at least the Vietnam era, when it seems to have been
A patron asked us about a very unusual quotation the other day: apparently someone, sometime said that Thomas Jefferson was "...a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father..."; this was supposedly a comment made by Jefferson's political opponents in the election of 1800. But who actually said this? One of my neighbors in grad school once gushed that librarians were "like wolverines, man! I mean, you ask them a question and they just WON'T LET GO until they answer it!" He wasn't kidding.
Sometimes it seems an uphill battle, disabusing people of the notion that Jefferson is the source of every smart, catchy thing ever said. I was reassured this week to find out that I'm not alone in my efforts. An intrepid blogger became suspicious of a supposed Jefferson quote that has risen to the surface during the recent financial upheaval, and decided to do some hard-core investigation. By sheer chance, I had recently run this particular non-quotation down
Sometimes it's a little scary how persistent apocryphal stories about Jefferson are. Case in point: the perennial (for us) question, "Did Thomas Jefferson shoot someone on the White House lawn?" There's no evidence that he did, and strangely enough, the source of this particularly bizarre story seems to be the movie Swordfish.
For my Fake TJ Stories files, and for the edification of our 6 devoted readers, I offer the following Reference Question Tale:
It is claimed, by websites and other sources various and sundry, that Thomas Jefferson, upon hearing of a meteorite crash in Connecticut in 1807 and its subsequent reportage by two professors at Yale, scoffed that it "was easier to believe that two Yankee professors could lie than to admit that stones could fall from heaven."
I know: again with the quotations! We are experiencing a strange swell in quotation questions, however, so it's pretty much all I have to talk about these days. There's one in particular that is bugging me, so I thought I'd throw it out to our 6 loyal readers in case there's a chance others can help crack this one.
After a long, ridiculous search that made my head hurt real bad, I made a discovery that I hope will save many people from similar experiences: the nice people at Swem Library at the College of William and Mary have put Jefferson's "Notes on a Tour of English Gardens" up on their website. In full color! (Warning: massive files!)
I've just laboriously sussed out the farthest points north, south, east and west Jefferson ever traveled and put it up on the Encyclopedia here. I find this handy when people ask us if, say, TJ ever visited Las Vegas, to be able to say, "nope, sorry, the farthest west he ever got was..." (Okay, no one has ever asked us if he visited Vegas, but it could happen.)
One of our alert former fellows brought Hillary Clinton's quotation of Jefferson during her recent Secretary of State confirmation hearings to my attention. Of course I can't help myself from checking to make sure that famous people quoting TJ have actually gotten their quotes correct, because a) I'm a stickler, and b) someone else will surely ask about it.
A few days ago I set up a Google Alert to let me know when any new material appeared on the Internet (or technically speaking, in Google's index of the Internet) with the phrase "Thomas Jefferson." Amidst all the reportage of Thomas Jefferson High School's basketball triumph over West Diddlyfunk and so forth, in each day's update is a huge preponderance of blogs, columns and news articles that quote Jefferson.
Most quotations we're asked about sound nothing like Thomas Jefferson, but since I can't pin down their true source, they sort of hang frustratingly out there in Quotation Limbo. So it gives me great satisfaction to be able to actually run one to ground once in a while. I just laid this one to rest:
"My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government."
Increasingly I'm coming to believe that I'm totally wasting my time in assiduously searching all sorts of websites, databases and books to figure out whether or not Thomas Jefferson is the source of a given quote. Really (I tell myself), if it quacks like a duck, it's most likely a duck. Or, in my case, if it sounds like a Hallmark card or a self-help book, it's probably not from the pen of Thomas Jefferson.
Just to entertain you, here are some of my favorite silly quotes that people have attributed to Jefferson:
Several years ago, a visitor to Monticello emailed me and asked about something they'd seen in the Jefferson family graveyard, just a short walk down from Mulberry Row: Thomas Jefferson's gravestone seemed to be covered with coins. What's that about?
If you've been following this blog, or even talking to me on a regular basis, you know that we went through an extraordinarily obnoxious patch a year or so ago in which we were getting fake Jefferson quotation questions about every 4 minutes or so. This seemed to be largely due to some sort of chain-email thing that was making the rounds, although we've always done quite a brisk business in quotation debunking. Some day I will compile some actual statistics on this, but off the top of my head I would venture to say that at least half of the questions we answer are to do with quo
We are having some calamitous (for Virginia) weather lately - an astonishingly brutal winter altogether so far, in fact. I'm told the kids are calling it "Snowpocalypse," or "Snowtorious B.I.G." So I thought it would be nice to shamelessly mooch off some splendid research done by one of my colleagues and bring you a snow-themed post in honor of this snowy weekend; something to do for about 3 minutes while you're snowed in, or, if you are not snowed in, something to feel real good about.
We get a lot of questions from the public asking us to verify quotations as Jeffersonian or not, but these almost always concern only a single quotation. The other week I got a query from an inquiring person that contained not one, but 10 quotations. The source of the query was a sort of chain-email calling Jefferson a "prophet" - an appellation I suspect he would not in fact like very much - and listing 10 purported Jefferson quotations.
Everybody loves countdowns, right? Right. So, I’ve come up with my own list of things people get wrong about Jefferson, based on my extensive observation of the stuff people put on the Internet or ask us about. Here goes:
Much as I love debunking Jefferson quotations that were probably made up by college students last week on Facebook, it’s somewhat more intellectually stimulating to revisit some venerable old spurious quotes. There’s a whole slew of these that are routinely attributed to Jefferson and various others, and you’ll see most of them dealt with in all the standard quotation references. Whatever the apparent vintage of the spurious quote, however, I find that it behooves me to keep searching for them at regular intervals. Those heroic scanne