Editions of Jefferson's Writings

Since Thomas Jefferson's death in 1826, many different compilations of his writings have been published. These compilations vary drastically in comprehensiveness and accuracy. A brief description of the major published editions of Jefferson's writings follows.

Contents

Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies: 4 volumes (1829, 1830)

The Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies: from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson was the first publication of Thomas Jefferson's papers after his death, and the only one available until Henry A. Washington's edition was published in 1853-1854. It was initially published by F. Carr in Charlottesville in 1829, with subsequent editions published in London, Boston, and Paris. The documents included were selected, transcribed and edited by Thomas Jefferson Randolph (Thomas Jefferson's oldest grandson), with the help of his mother and sisters, in an effort to take control of their grandfather's legacy and as a means to relieve some of the debt they'd been left with upon his death. They were somewhat successful in the first endeavor and not very successful in the second. The Memoir contains only a tiny portion of Jefferson's total body of correspondence and other papers, and was carefully edited by his family to avoid controversial subjects; they also made occasional errors in their transcriptions.

Availability

  • Print: See this title's record in Open WorldCat to locate a set of the Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies in a library near you.
  • Online: Both the 1829 and 1830 editions of Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies are available in Google Books (see our records for the 1829 and 1830 editions in the Thomas Jefferson Portal for links to all four volumes); the 1829 edition is available in the Hathi Trust Digital Library.

H. A. (Henry Augustine) Washington Edition: 9 volumes (1853-1854)

Titled The Writings of Thomas Jefferson: Being his Autobiography, Correspondence, Reports, Messages, Addresses, and Other Writings, Official and Private: Published by the Order of the Joint Committee of Congress on the Library, from the Original Manuscripts, Deposited in the Department of State, this was the first major edition of Jefferson writings, published by Taylor & Maury in Washington, D.C. It included only papers resident at the Library of Congress, and of those, only letters and documents considered to be "public" by staff at the Library of Congress. Unfortunately, this edition was done in a relatively hasty manner and the end product suffers from flawed transcriptions. Washington was also known to bowdlerize Jefferson's writings.

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Ford Edition: 10 volumes (1892) and 12 volumes (1904)

Paul Leicester Ford's Writings of Thomas Jefferson, first published in New York and London by Putnam in 1892, was a relatively high-quality presentation of Jefferson's writings, especially given the documentary editing standards of the time. Ford included not only manuscripts from the Library of Congress, but also documents from other repositories. Some annotations are included. A commemorative edition of this work, titled The Works of Thomas Jefferson, was published (also in New York and London by Putnam) in 12 volumes after Ford's murder in 1902. The commemorative edition presents the same content as the earlier 10-volume edition, but wider margins necessitated two more volumes.

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Lipscomb-Bergh Edition: 20 volumes (1903-1907)

The Lipscomb-Bergh edition, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, was published between 1903 and 1907 and represented something of a step backward from Ford in terms of editorial quality. The Lipscomb-Bergh edition (so named for its primary editors, Andrew Adgate Lipscomb and Albert Ellery Bergh) used the 1853-54 Washington edition of Jefferson's writings as a basis, and so suffers from many of the same editorial flaws. It also contains little to no annotations or other supporting information for the documents.

The Lipscomb-Bergh edition has several different imprints, including the Memorial Edition (1903-4), Library Edition (1903-4), and the Definitive Edition (1905, 1907). These imprints are not known to differ from each other in content.

The Lipscomb-Bergh edition does offer the interesting feature of an original essay in each volume, by various authors including Thomas Jefferson Coolidge and William Jennings Bryan, and examining topics such as "Jefferson's Contribution to a Free Press," and "Jefferson as a Geographer." 

Availability

  • Print: See this title's record in Open WorldCat to locate a set in a library near you.
  • Online: The "Definitive Edition" imprint of Lipscomb-Bergh is available in the Hathi Trust Digital Library.

Princeton Edition: 42 volumes to date (1950- )

The Princeton edition, titled The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, represents by far the most comprehensive and scholarly edition of Jefferson's writings. The project was conceived at the time of the bicentennial celebration of Jefferson's birth in 1943, and the first volume was published in 1950. This edition attempts to print all incoming and outgoing correspondence, and also includes other types of Jefferson documents according to the editors' discretion.

Unlike earlier editions, the Princeton edition presents faithful transcriptions of the documents (although in the early years of the project, some minor "corrections" of Jefferson's capitalization and punctuation were routinely included). This edition is also well-annotated, including information about extant copies of the documents, their locations, and contextual information that may help the reader better understand the documents. In the early years of its publication, and increasingly as the project progressed, the Princeton edition included long editorial notes accompanying certain documents or groups of documents. These amounted, in many cases, to scholarly essays by Julian Boyd and his staff.

In 2004, a companion editorial project, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series was founded at Monticello to work simultaneously on editing Jefferson's retirement-era correspondence (1809-1826). Both projects are expected to be complete sometime between 2025 and 2030, having published a total of approximately 80 volumes.

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