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.
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
Picking up a recent Economist magazine, an article discusses how desalination of the oceans for usable water is becoming less expensive these days. San Diego has built a large plant, as have a few Australian cities. What does this have to do with Jefferson? It is science related, thus there's a good chance there is a connection. Jefferson worked on Jacob Isaac’s patent on a desalination process back in the early 1790s. Take a look at the entry in our Jefferson Encyclopedia for
It was announced this week that the Homestead Resort in Bath County intends to restore the historic bathhouses that surround their famed mineral pools (now called the Jefferson Pools). Thomas Jefferson is just one of the thousands of Virginians, aristocratic and ordinary, who have sought the comforts of the waters over the course of two and a half centuries. In his Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson wrote of the "Warm spring" that was to become the resort:
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.
Part of my work for the Jefferson Encyclopedia is to canvass the Information Files here at the library. I look for research reports and documentary references that Monticello researchers have done over the years. Many people never knew that there was information out there on a particular topic. What is marvelous is that the information finally gets uncovered and, in many cases, for the first time in years. Take for example a recent entry on Denmark. Not a popular topic to be sure, but the
Reading a recent New York Timesarticle on the future of reading and video games was interesting. Many people are struggling with the questions of how video games affect reading and how games are trying to help non-readers read more in their lives. Jefferson, of course, did not have to face the choices that modern young people do today, but his message of reading and education came to mind as I read the article. He said to John Adams that he has "...a canine appetite for reading." He certa
Well, "It's the economy, stupid" is back in this election year in a big way! So, I have to bring up Jefferson's debt in the course of making us feel a little better. He loved to spend the money and he made some unwise decisions, and his family paid a big price for it.
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
In the October 27th issue of Newsweek, you can read an article entitled "It's Not Easy Bein' Blue" and Jefferson is mentioned. The author argues that for the most part we are a center-right country and it has been like that for a lot longer than we may think. Jefferson is part of the "staple tenets of the central faith in American political ideologies" like private property, individual choice over government mandate, and individual opportunity.
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.
Our new project at the Jefferson Encyclopedia centers around heirloom seeds and plants from the Center for Historic Plants. With the kind help of Peggy (CHP director), we are putting in her information on hundreds of plants, many related to Jefferson. It is a great way to learn more about Jefferson's botanical interests. When we can, we add a link to the Museum Shop in case readers want to order seeds, and at the very least, we link to CHP, so people can
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.
Well, A Summary View is away for Christmas, but in our absence, we invite you to have a gander (ha ha!) at our Christmas article in the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia. We wish everyone a lovely and peaceful "season of mince pies!"
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.)
Well, I've missed our President's actual inauguration by several days, but I'd like to belatedly commemorate the occasion by offering an intriguing historical tidbit about - yes! - Jefferson's first inauguration.
I'm eagerly delving into a book that arrived just today: Antonio Molina, Patriarch of the Anthony Mullins Family: An American History, compiled by Marjorie O'Brien Casteel. Who is Antonio Molina, AKA Anthony Mullins (or "little Anthony," as Jefferson called him)? Mullins was one of the men brought to Virginia in 1773 by Philip Mazzei, friend and neighbor of Jefferson and collaborator in hi
Well, it took me all day but I plowed through all of the Google Alerts I've gotten in the past week (even the weekend ones, that's how dedicated I am), just as I said I would, and came up with the following numbers: A total of 22 websites quoted TJ in some form or fashion. (Mind you, the Alert catches only new material cropping up on the Web, not material that's already there.) The total quotes used came to 85, 35 of which were spurious. So if you choose to take my sampling
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."
I've been curiously watching the flutterings about this in the news for the past week or so - the Seattle Atheists are running a bus ad campaign featuring quotations by Jefferson and some other people. (You can see images of all three ads here.) Before anybody asks, that is in fact a genuine Jefferson quote - it's from a letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787.
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:
A new intriguing book on the shelves: Impossible Engineering: Technology and Territoriality on the Canal du Midi, by Chandra Mukerji (Princeton, 2009). This dovetails nicely with one of our new TJ Encyclopedia articles, which features (among other useful pieces of information), an itinerary of Jefferson's travels through southern France and Italy - during which, yes, he visited the Canal du Midi. He rather liked it:
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
This blog entry came up in my Google Alert a few days ago - its main focus is actually a cathedral in Saigon, but it incidentally mentions a fascinating little episode in Jefferson's life of which I was heretofore unaware.
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