Researching Thomas Jefferson: An Introductory Guide

This guide is designed to provide an overview of the basic sources on Thomas Jefferson.

Primary Sources

Manuscript Collections

Published Editions of Jefferson's Papers

Other Jefferson Documents (Account Books, Declaration of Independence, etc.)

Jefferson's Libraries

Secondary Sources


Primary Sources

Manuscript Collections

The original manuscripts of Thomas Jefferson's papers are scattered among more than 900 different repositories. The largest collections reside at the Library of Congress, the University of Virginia, and Massachusetts Historical Society. Please see our list of major collections of Jefferson papers.

Many of the larger collections of Jefferson manuscripts are available on microfilm.  Click here for a list of the Jefferson Library's microfilm holdings of Jefferson manuscripts.

Increasingly, many of the libraries and archives housing Jefferson manuscripts are making them available online:

  • Library of Congress: Provides scanned black-and-white images of most documents in the Thomas Jefferson Papers collection. Transcriptions are provided for some documents.
  • Massachusetts Historical Society: Provides color images of selected documents in the Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Papers, including a draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson's Farm and Garden Books, a large collection of architectural drawings, and Jefferson's draft of Notes on the State of Virginia.  Full transcriptions are available for the Farm and Garden Books.
  • College of William and Mary, Swem Library: Swem Library provides color scans of their collection of approximately 700 Jefferson letters and other documents.  
  • The Gilder Lehrman Institute: The Gilder Lehrman Institute owns approximately 300 Jefferson letters. Color images and transcriptions are available.

Several collections of manuscripts from Thomas Jefferson's extended family are also available online:

  • Family Letters Digital Archive: This side project of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series provides transcriptions of over 400 letters exchanged between Jefferson's children and grandchildren, but excludes documents written to or by Jefferson himself.
  • Nicholas Philip Trist Papers, 1765-1903: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill holds a collection of approximately 6,000 documents from Nicholas Philip Trist, Thomas Jefferson's grandson-in-law and personal secretary, and his extended family.  Large portions of this collection have now been digitized.

Published Editions of Jefferson's Papers

There are several major published editions of Jefferson's papers:

  1. Washington, H. A. (ed.).  The Writings of Thomas Jefferson.  Washington, D.C.: Taylor & Maury, 1853-54.  9 vols.   Full text available in the Hathi Trust Digital Library.
  2. Ford, Paul Leicester (ed.). The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. New York, London: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1892-99. 10 vols. A commemorative edition of Ford's compilation, titled The Works of Thomas Jefferson (also called the "Federal Edition,") was published in 1904 and consisted of 12 volumes. The 12-volume version is available online from the Liberty Fund's Online Library of Liberty; the 10-volume versions is available in the Hathi Trust Digital Library.
  3. Lipscomb, Andrew A. (ed.). The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. Washington, D.C.: Issued under the auspices of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association of the United States, 1905. There are several versions of this edition, including the Library Edition (1903-4), Memorial Edition (1903-4), and Definitive Edition (1905), which do not differ significantly in content.  The Definitive edition is available online in the Hathi Trust Digital Library.
  4. Boyd, Julian (ed.). The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950-, and Looney, J. Jefferson (ed.). The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004- . The Papers of Thomas Jefferson and Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series are considered the definitive editions of Jefferson's papers, and are by far the most comprehensive.  Both are now available online (for a fee) through the University of Virginia Press's Rotunda imprint; a free version (formatted slightly differently) is available through the National Archives' Founders Online project.  Indexes for volumes 27-37 and Retirement Series volumes 1-7 are also freely available online.

The Washington, Ford, and Lipscomb-Bergh editions, as well as most volumes of the Princeton edition are collectively searchable in the Jefferson Library's Thomas Jefferson: Papers collection in the Hathi Trust Digital Library.  For more information on the different published editions of Jefferson's papers, see our article on the subject in the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia.

Other Jefferson Documents

The following Jefferson documents have also been published, many of them multiple times; the editions considered most definitive are listed here.

Account Books:  Bear, James A., Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton, eds. Jefferson's Memorandum Books : Accounts, With Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767-1826. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997.  2 vols.  The Memorandum Books also contain other information such as wine lists and some weather records.

Anas: The Anas, referring to a series of memoranda that Jefferson kept during the 1790s, have historically been treated as a cohesive group of documents and published together, most notably in Franklin B. Sawvel, (ed.), The Complete Anas of Thomas Jefferson (New York: Round Table Press, 1903).  The Anas were also published in the Washington, Ford and Lipscomb-Bergh editions of Jefferson's writings.  The Princeton Papers of Thomas Jefferson are publishing the Anas documents individually, in chronological order with Jefferson's other letters.  The first of these documents appears in volume 22, along with an editorial note explaining Princeton's treatment of the Anas.

Architectural Drawings: Fiske Kimball's Thomas Jefferson, Architect contains facsimile images of the drawings at Massachusetts Historical Society; Frederick Doveton Nichols' Thomas Jefferson's Architectural Drawings provides a listing of all known drawings.

Autobiography: Jefferson's Autobiography has been published in the Washington, Ford and Lipscomb-Bergh editions; the Ford transcription has also been published as a stand-alone volume by the University of Pennsylvania Press, with a new introduction by Michael Zuckerman.  The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series will also be publishing Jefferson's Autobiography in a future volume.  Click here to search for other editions of Jefferson's Autobiography in the Thomas Jefferson Portal.

The "Jefferson Bible": Adams, Dickinson W., ed. Jefferson's Extracts From the Gospels: "The Philosophy of Jesus" and "The Life and Morals of Jesus." Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, c1983.  Find a copy in a library near you; or, search for other editions of the "Jefferson Bible" and books and articles about it in the Thomas Jefferson Portal.

Declaration of Independence: Boyd, Julian (ed.). The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950-.  Volume 1, pp. 413-433 treats the Declaration comprehensively, including an editorial note and multiple drafts and amended versions of the text.  There are many other excellent published treatments of the Declaration as well, including John Hazelton's Declaration of Independence: Its History (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1906), and Julian Boyd's The Declaration of Independence: The Evolution of the Text as Shown in Facsimiles of Various Drafts by its Author, Thomas Jefferson (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1945); click here to search for other sources on the Declaration in the Thomas Jefferson Portal.

Farm Book: Betts, Edwin Morris, ed. Thomas Jefferson's Farm Book: With Commentary and Relevant Extracts From Other Writings. Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1999. View the manuscript online on the Massachusetts Historical Society website; or, find a copy in a library near you.

Garden Book: Betts, Edwin Morris, ed. Thomas Jefferson's Garden Book, 1766-1824, With Relevant Extracts From His Other Writings. Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1999. View the manuscript online on the Massachusetts Historical Society website; or, find a copy in a library near you.

Legal Commonplace Book: Chinard, Gilbert, ed. The Commonplace Book of Thomas Jefferson: A Repertory of his Ideas on Government. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins Press and Paris: Les Presses Universitaires de France, 1926.  Find in a library near you.

Literary Commonplace Book: Wilson, Douglas L., ed. Jefferson's Literary Commonplace Book. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, c1989.  Find in a library near you.

Notes on the State of Virginia:  William Peden, ed., Notes on the State of Virginia.  Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1954. Find in a library near you; or click here to search the Thomas Jefferson Portal for other editions of Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia.

Parliamentary Manual: Howell, Wilbur Samuel, ed. Jefferson's Parliamentary Writings: "Parliamentary Pocket-Book" and A Manual of Parliamentary Practice. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, c1988.  Click here to search for other editions of Jefferson's Parliamentary Manual in the Thomas Jefferson Portal.

 

Jefferson's Libraries

Jefferson owned thousands of books throughout his lifetime, and the various incarnations of his library are documented in a number of different lists. For information on Jefferson's libraries, visit the website of our Thomas Jefferson's Libraries Project.

Secondary Sources

Our online catalog, the Thomas Jefferson Portal, is the most comprehensive source available for bibliographic records representing published and unpublished material on Thomas Jefferson and his world.  For specific reading suggestions by topic, please see our Suggested Reading List.

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