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Featured Letters

Currently Featured Letter: A Gift of Honey

Throughout his retirement Thomas Jefferson received gifts of agricultural samples and writings due to his well-known interest in agricultural improvements and domestic manufacturing. The letter below concerned itself with beekeeping and was accompanied by a tumblerful of honey. The newspaper article enclosed with the letter described the practice of placing hive boxes side by side, with aligned openings at the top and bottom of each box. In order to avoid disturbing the bees, Read more »

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Learn more about the complex and important work of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series.


Phil Mancusi's picture
Hi, looking for a little help. I'm looking for a letter between Jefferson and Adams that would highlight their differences in government. Perhaps something that mentions strong central government vs states rights. I'm putting together lesson plans for my 8th grade history class for next year and am looking for a primary source on this subject between these two. Any ideas?
524126844@facebook's picture
The following quote has been attributed by some to Thomas Jefferson, but I am skeptical of its authenticity. "To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his father's has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it." Are these words really those of Thomas Jefferson, and if so, where and when did he state them? I'm looking for real historical evidence, not a link to a politically motivated website or blog.
Kevin McKague
aberkes's picture
Kevin, this quote is from Jefferson's prospectus for his translation of Destutt de Tracy's <i>Treatise on Political Economy</i>, communicated to Joseph Milligan in a letter of April 6, 1816. There's a reference to this quotation in our debunking of a different quotation, at The text this quotation appears in has not yet been published by the <i>Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series</i>, but you can see Jefferson's retained copy of the prospectus in the Thomas Jefferson Papers at the Library of Congress, online at
Anna Berkes
John McClaughry's picture
I read TJ's letter to Milligan 4/16/16 in Koch & Peden's "Life and selected Writings of TJ" (it's not included in the three other letters selections I have). The Milligan letter contains J's prospectus for Tracy's work in full, but it does not include the quote in question, and there are no ellipses shown.. I checked the link and the quote is there in J's hand - but I'm not clear what I'm looking at. Did J write this, but not send it to Milligan for publication?
John McClaughry
aberkes's picture
John, according to the Retirement Papers editors, the quotation appears in an "Addition to Note for Destutt de Tracy’s Treastise on Political Economy," ca. 18 May 1816. He enclosed this addition in a letter to Joseph Milligan of 18 May 1816, with instructions for its placement in the published work. Both letters will be published in the forthcoming volume 10 of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, which will be available early in 2014.
Anna Berkes
lfrancavilla's picture
These letters are so much fun and a real hodge-podge sometimes, showing just how varied Jefferson&#039;s retirement-era correspondence could be. In Jefferson&#039;s day anyone could write to him whether they knew him or not, which really shows just how accessible the public expected him to be. Let&#039;s say you&#039;ve got a wager with a friend, or come out of a tavern late one night to see something strange in the sky, or you want some money - just drop Jefferson a line. Why not? And the letters Jefferson&#039;s family members wrote to each other are so revealing, too. Only through them do we know how difficult a trip from Monticello to Poplar Forest could be, not to mention trying to get to Natural Bridge!
Lisa at the PTJRS
aberkes's picture
Not only was TJ dealing with massive debt and deteriorating health during his retirement; but every crank, drunk, huckster, and salesperson within a thousand miles was writing to him. Which makes for highly amusing reading, for us!
Anna Berkes
etay's picture
Apart from the well established Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series documentary project, the Family Letters Project is another example of the pioneering scholarship that is undertaken at Monticello at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies. By making freely available to the public full-text searchable transcriptions of letters from Jefferson’s family members, my colleagues from the Retirement Series are making accessible such a rich body of primary source material that would otherwise remain untapped in this area of research. I love reading each new featured letter on this site, and am looking forward to more !
Endrina Tay
bself's picture
Keep this one checked out – the folks at the Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series pick some great letters to feature, which truly are a window into the mind of Jefferson.
Bob Self
bhughes's picture
This site offers a regularly changing glimpse into Jefferson the prodigious letter writer. At any given time, viewers might find a copy of his original musings on atmospheric phenomena, wagering, a trying trip to Natural Bridge or a humorous rejection of yet another request that he buy or sign a subscription list for a proposed publication.
Bob Hughes


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