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Highlights from Volume 7 (on the radio, too!)

Eric Johnson

Tune in to Charlottesville—Right Now! with Coy Barefoot this evening at 5 p.m. on News Radio 1070 WINA to hear Jeff Looney, editor-in-chief of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series discuss the recent release of Volume 7 of the Retirement Series. You can listen through the web at the WINA website, and we'll link to the broadcast once it is archived.

Jeff has given us a preview:

PTJ:RS Volume 7The 526 documents printed in this volume run from 28 November 1813 to 30 September 1814. During this period Jefferson reviews the extant sources on the 1765 Stamp Act crisis to aid William Wirt, a Patrick Henry scholar; records his largely positive impressions of George Washington; and updates a reading list for law students that he had initially drawn up forty years earlier. In the spring of 1814 Jefferson becomes a trustee of the Albemarle Academy, the earliest direct ancestor of the University of Virginia. He is soon actively involved in planning for its establishment, helping to draft rules for governance of the academy’s trustees and propose funding options, and he lays out an expansive vision for its future as an institution of higher learning.

Jefferson also exchanges ideas on collegiate education with such respected scholars as Thomas Cooper and José Corrêa da Serra. Jefferson’s wide-ranging correspondence also includes a temperate response to a lengthy letter from Miles King urging the retired president to reflect on his personal religion, and a diplomatic but noncommittal reply to a proposal by Edward Coles that the author of the Declaration of Independence employ his prestige to help abolish slavery. Having learned of the British destruction late in August 1814 of the public buildings in Washington, Jefferson offers his massive book collection as a replacement for the Library of Congress. The nucleus for one of the world’s great public libraries is formed early in 1815 when the nation purchases Jefferson’s 6,707 volumes.

Interesting documents in Volume 7:

A New Source for Sugar
Thomas Jefferson to Andre Thouin, 14 Dec. 1813, 7:54–5, (StEdNL and DLC).
Thanks him for seeds, offers him some from Lewis & Clark, and discusses the sugar beet and the possibility that it will rival sugar cane.

Mince Pie Season
Thomas Jefferson to Mary Lewis, 25 Dec. 1813, 7:78 (MHi).
Declines to buy the proffered barrel of brandy but asks for some apples, and if possible a basket now, “as accommodated to the season of mince pies.”

George Washington Remembered
Thomas Jefferson to Walter Jones, 2 Jan. 1814, 7:100–4 (ViHi and DLC).
A memoir of George Washington. Not without its own political slant, but still fond and at times moving.

The Limits of Patents
Thomas Jefferson to Oliver Evans, 16 Jan. 1814, 7:1313 (DLC).
Discusses and rejects broad claims for patent rights that would enable people who saw new possible uses of existing inventions to patent these new uses.

Nuanced Support for Bible Societies
Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Greenhow, 31 Jan. 1814, 7:178 (DLC).
Donates $50 to the Bible Society of Virginia, taking the opportunity to say that his own religion forbids “intermeddling” with the religion of those in other countries while agreeing that the four evangelists document the most “pure & sublime system of morality.”

A Defense of Linnaeus
Thomas Jefferson to John Manners, 22 Feb. 1814, 7:207–11 (DLC).
A long and interesting discussion of scientific taxonomy, agreeing that Linnaeus has some faults but coming down on that system as the best available and stressing the need for science to agree on one and move forward. Great comment about the platypus as “an amusing example of the anomalies by which Nature sports with our schemes of classification.”

War News from Mrs. Trist
Elizabeth Trist to Thomas Jefferson, 5 Mar. 1814, 7:226–8 (MHi)
Chatty letter about the war as it affects her family and friends, including the situation in New Orleans.

An Aversion to Hume and Blackstone
Thomas Jefferson to Horatio G. Spafford, 17 Mar. 1814, 7:248–9 (NjMoHP; DLC)
Discusses the failure of merchants, clergy, and lawyers to support the war. Harsh words for priests as opponents of liberty and lawyers as dupes of Hume and Blackstone, the former of whom has done more harm than Bonaparte.

Pumpkins for Livestock
Thomas Jefferson to David Gelston, 3 Apr. 1814, 7:282 (private owners and MHi)
Thanks him for pumpkin seed and discusses his own extensive use of pumpkins as livestock feed.

A Plea for Freedom of the Press
Thomas Jefferson to Nicolas G. Dufief, 19 Apr. 1814, 7:303–5 (DLC)
Expresses his indignation that a publisher is being sued for blasphemy and observes that the end result will be widespread publicity for and reading of a book that would otherwise have been little noticed.

An Error to be Corrected Every 3,600 Years
William Lambert to Thomas Jefferson, 24 June 1814, 7:436–7 (PPAmP)
Calculates that an additional leap day will be needed every 3,600 years. Not immediately pressing, but he wants the honor of the discovery to be credited to the United States.

A Superior Apple
Thomas Jefferson to James Mease, 29 June 1814, 7:444–5 (NNGL; DLC)
Expatiates on the history and superior qualities of the Talliaferro apple, which makes excellent cider and is also “very refreshing as an eating apple.”

An Aversion to Plato
Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 5 July 1815, 7:451–5 (MHi; DLC)
Derides the sophistries of Plato, compares them unfavorably to the simple moral truths of Christ, and calls for broad, enlightened education.

A Proposed Recruitment of African American Troops
William Duane’s Notes on the Expediency of Using Black Troops, enclosed in Duane to Thomas Jefferson, 11 Aug. 1814, 7:532–4 (DLC)
Suggests that using black soldiers would take away a powerful weapon that Britain counts on using against us, and can be done safely if managed well, comparing it to the British use of sepoys in India.

An Eyewitness describes the Battle of Bladensburg
James W. Wallace to Thomas Jefferson, 29 Aug. 1814, 7:621–4 (DLC)
Wallace gives a full description of the American rout, including his own reaction to the danger of battle.

A Cautious Statement on Religion
Thomas Jefferson to Miles King, 26 Sept. 1814, 7:705–6 (DLC)
A very mild and affectionate explanation of his unwillingness to accept King’s religious views, his own desire to meddle with no one’s beliefs and to be left to his own without molestation, and his view that by different paths all may eventually meet in heaven.

A Year’s Brewing of Beer
Thomas Jefferson to Richard Randolph, 27 Sept. 1814, 7:713 (MHi)
Orders four gross quart jugs to hold his year’s supply of “malt strong beer.”

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