Foreword to Volume Two, Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series

Detail from spine of Volume 2, Retirement SeriesThe 519 documents printed in this volume cover the period from 16 November 1809 to 11 August 1810. During these nine months Thomas Jefferson remained busy tying up loose ends from the close of his public career. The Marquis de Lafayette urged Jefferson to help him establish his title to lands just north of New Orleans that Congress had granted him in 1804. In a lengthy memorandum he explained that his participation in the American and French revolutions had devastated his finances and emphasized his need to borrow against the value of his American possessions in order to make ends meet. At the behest of President James Madison, Jefferson asked his Albemarle County neighbor James Monroe whether he would accept an appointment as governor of the Louisiana Territory. Although Monroe rejected the proposal, it helped end a political feud between Madison and Monroe that had arisen over the question of who was to succeed Jefferson as president. The controversy over the seizure in 1807 of the Batture Sainte Marie at New Orleans as public property also loomed large during this period. As soon as he became aware that he was being sued by the claimant, Edward Livingston, Jefferson hired a team of experienced attorneys to defend himself; obtained exhaustive official documentation to support his arguments; received detailed comments about the case from Orleans territorial governor William C. C. Claiborne, Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin, Madison, and William Wirt; composed a lengthy legal brief outlining the evidence for the use of his lawyers (a work that would ultimately serve as the basis for his 1812 monograph on the case); and recommended that the successor to Cyrus Griffin, the ailing federal judge for the District of Virginia, be Governor John Tyler, a man whom Jefferson thought would favor his interpretation of the case more than the other magistrate who would hear it, Chief Justice John Marshall.

Jefferson had other legal entanglements. Samuel Scott complicated Jefferson's sale of his Ivy Creek lands in Campbell County by claiming part of the tract. Disagreements with Eli Alexander over the terms of his lease and with John Harvie over the ownership of a parcel of land near Monticello both required intense negotiations before being resolved. Furthermore, Jefferson found himself drawn into attempts to settle the estate of his Milton neighbor John Peyton, to help unravel the remaining issues associated with the estates of Bathurst Skelton and John Wayles, and to obtain the money owed to Meriwether Lewis's servant John Pernier.

In addition, Jefferson received letters on a multitude of other topics. William Lambert sent him both a statistical examination of the moon's latitude, longitude, and hourly velocity and his "Ode for the Fourth of July." Robert Fulton submitted a piece he had written about torpedoes (mines) and submarine explosions, which he predicted would curtail Britain's domination of the seas, and a diagram of a new type of hydraulic ram. The Quaker George Churchman implored Jefferson to act to improve the lot of the "unhappy people descended from an African Stock," and Gideon Fitz and Godefroi Du Jareau respectively forwarded designs for a windmill and a machine for raising water. In July 1810 the noted French économiste Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours mailed Jefferson a lengthy manuscript proposing that the United States replace its reliance on import duties with a single tax on land values. Du Pont argued that this change was necessary because American industrialization would eventually cause its citizens to import fewer and fewer finished goods from abroad. By this reasoning the revenue the United States derived from import duties would eventually dry up.

The range of Jefferson's own correspondence is likewise impressive. He suggested to his son-in-law Congressman John Wayles Eppes a way for the House of Representatives to limit debate on important matters. In a letter to William Baldwin, Jefferson composed and then deleted sections criticizing organized Christianity and accusing the Society of Friends of hypocrisy, if not treason. He asked the Richmond silversmith John Le Tellier to prepare a set of eight tumblers according to his specifications in a style now commonly known as the Jefferson Cup. Jefferson continued to experience financial difficulties and obtained short-term relief by arranging to loan himself $4,500 from money he was managing for Tadeusz Kosciuszko. He proposed, along with Madison, to distribute merino sheep as a public service to every county in Virginia, and he discussed his thoughts about the university as an "academical village" in a letter to the trustees of an abortive lottery to benefit East Tennessee College. Jefferson inquired into the schooling of his grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, drew up an extensive list of books on agriculture that his friend and Albemarle County neighbor Wilson Cary Nicholas had probably requested to guide purchases for the Library of Congress, and expressed satisfaction that he was spending much of his time outdoors directing the operation of his various farms.

 


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