Jefferson began writing each of his grandchildren as soon as he or she learned to read, and he expected letters in return.
After his morning routine, Thomas Jefferson settled into a lengthy period of letter-writing: "From sun-rise to one or two o'clock," he noted, "I am drudging at the writing table." Jefferson wrote almost 20,000 letters in his lifetime, among them, scholarly musings to colleagues, affectionate notes to his family, and civil responses to admirers. He wrote John Adams that he suffered "under the persecution of letters," calculating that he received 1,267 letters in the year 1820, "many of them requiring answers of elaborate research, and all to be answered with due attention and consideration."
A "Full and Genuine Journal"
In 1823 Jefferson wrote that "The letters of a person, especially one whose business has been chiefly transacted by letters, form the only full and genuine journal of his life." His surviving letters give insight into Jefferson's vast interests and reveal much about his personality.
Interested in every branch of applied science and math, Jefferson corresponded with scientists around the world. He also wrote to the leading horticulturists, exchanging information about various climates, and requesting new seeds and plantings for Monticello and other American gardens. He corresponded frequently with his friend and presidential successor, James Madison, advising him on such diverse topics as the War of 1812 and appropriate wines to be served at the President's House. Although his close relationship with second President John Adams suffered a rift, in their later years the two resumed a correspondence and rekindled their warm friendship. And while he was pleased to have left behind the "splendid misery" of the presidency, he continued to write Virginia's political leaders, working to establish public education, both on the primary and secondary levels, with the most notable result being the creation of the University of Virginia.