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.
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 Jefferson's 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.
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.
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.
The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, sometimes known as the "Lipscomb-Bergh" edition, was sponsored by the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association and published between 1903 and 1907. It represented something of a step backward from Ford in terms of editorial quality. Edited by Andrew Adgate Lipscomb and Albert Ellery Bergh, this edition used the 1853-1854 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 annotation or other supporting information for the documents.
The Lipscomb-Bergh edition has several different imprints, including the Memorial Edition (1903-1904), Library Edition (1903-1904), 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 examines topics such as "Jefferson's Contribution to a Free Press" and "Jefferson as a Geographer."
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 "notes" 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 (18 volumes to date) was founded at Monticello to work simultaneously on editing Jefferson's retirement-era correspondence (1809-1826). Both projects are expected to be complete between 2025 and 2030, having published a total of approximately 80 volumes.
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