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Project Description

The Retirement Series is creating the definitive edition of Thomas Jefferson’s letters and papers covering the period from 1809 to 1826 in both letterpress and digital form. Jefferson’s retirement is the least studied and yet one of the most fascinating periods of his life. During these years, spent primarily at Monticello, he founded the University of Virginia, and in selling his own unrivaled book collection, he began the transformation of the Library of Congress into a great cultural institution. But he also had time to ponder and distill his final word on the multiplicity of topics that interested him, with his extensive, thought-provoking exchanges with John Adams being only one of the richer examples. 

This scholarly enterprise is sponsored by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and housed at the Foundation’s Jefferson Library under the auspices of the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies. Publication in 2004 of the first of an estimated twenty-three volumes in the Retirement Series was a milestone in The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, the definitive edition of the papers of the author of the Declaration of Independence and third president of the United States. The original project began in 1943 with the goal of printing, noting, or otherwise accounting for “everything legitimately Jeffersonian by reason of authorship or of relationship,” as Julian P. Boyd, the first editor, put it. Nearly fifty volumes, covering much of the earlier period of Jefferson’s life and including related topical materials, have been prepared in an ongoing effort located at Princeton University and published since 1950 by Princeton University Press.  Highlights of the Retirement Series portion of the project include:

  • The publication of eleven volumes (through 2014) containing over 6,000 accurately transcribed and annotated documents. A new volume comes out every year, and the anticipated completion date for the project is 2026.
  • Two-thirds of the documents written by Jefferson are being published for the first time, and the figure for letters he received is even higher.
  • This work is already transforming Jefferson studies. The publication of each volume will inevitably inspire new and path-breaking scholarship.
  • Two digital versions of the first volumes of the Retirement Series greatly aid the Thomas Jefferson Foundation’s long-term goal of bringing Jefferson’s ideas to the widest possible national and international audience. A subscription edition released by the University of Virginia Press includes links from the index, while a freely accessible version with less robust searching tools has been issued in collaboration with the National Archives. New volumes are added on a regular basis, and both versions are part of a larger platform containing hundreds of thousands of documents from the American founding era.

The documents printed in The Papers of Thomas Jefferson reproduce original spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. Annotation accounts for the location of each known text, describes significant additions and deletions, gives the relationship between documents for which more than one text survives, explains obscure terms and events, and briefly identifies correspondents. A full index is also included at the end of each volume, and a cumulative index is available on this site

Jefferson Quotes & Family Letters is a growing, online companion to the volumes of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series. The content presented as part of this collection includes full, searchable transcriptions of a rich body of correspondence to and between members of Jefferson’s immediate and extended family; documents on the early years of the University of Virginia; material relating to Jefferson’s death; and an extensive, searchable, and fully verified collection of quotes by and about Thomas Jefferson.


bsawyer's picture
Including private correspondences as well as business and government writings, the Papers project is a huge undertaking that provides a fantastic tool for scholars and the public alike.
Beth Sawyer


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