The papers of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), diplomat, architect, scientist, and third president of the United States, held in the Library of Congress Manuscript Division, consist of approximately 27,000 items, making it the largest collection of original Jefferson documents in the world. Dating from the early 1760s through his death in 1826, the Thomas Jefferson Papers consist mainly of his correspondence, but they also include his drafts of the Declaration of Independence, drafts of Virginia laws; his fragmentary autobiography; the small memorandum books he used to record his spending; the pages on which for many years he daily recorded the weather; many charts, lists, tables, and drawings recording his scientific and other observations; notes; maps; recipes; ciphers; locks of hair; wool samples; and more.
The collection documents Jefferson’s whole life, both public and personal--as a delegate to the second Continental Congress, Virginia legislator and governor, diplomat and residence in France, secretary of state, and president. The purchase of Louisiana, the expedition of Lewis and Clark, the building of Washington, D.C. as the national capital, and Jefferson’s profound engagement with science and technology are all documented here. Jefferson’s family life at Monticello is reflected in correspondence with his daughters, Martha (Patsy) Jefferson Randolph (1776-1836) and Mary (Maria) Jefferson Eppes (1778-1804), and his grandchildren, and in household accounts kept by his wife, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson (1748-1782). Some aspects of the lives of Jefferson’s slaves, including members of the Hemings family of Monticello, including James Hemings (1765-1821), a brother of Sally Hemings, who trained as a French chef in Paris, can be traced in these papers. The twenty-one volumes of legal and legislative records from colonial Virginia, 1606-1737, that Jefferson collected, are divided between this collection and one held by the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress.
Notable correspondents include Abigail Adams, John Adams, Joel Barlow, Aaron Burr, François Jean de Chastellux, José Francisco Correia da Serra, Maria Cosway, Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours, Alexander Hamilton, Jean Antoine Houdon, Alexander von Humboldt, Tadeusz Kościuszko, the Marquis de Lafayette, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Pierre Charles L'Enfant, Meriwether Lewis, James Madison, James Monroe, Charles Willson Peale, Joseph Priestley, David Rittenhouse, Benjamin Rush, William Short, Samuel Harrison Smith, J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, William Thornton, John Trumbull, Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes, C.-F. Volney, Caspar Wistar, and George Washington.
Description of Series
The Thomas Jefferson Papers are divided into ten series as follows:
- Series 1: General Correspondence, 1651-1827
Incoming letters and copies of outgoing letters, drafts of state papers and memoranda, Jefferson's "anas," and other papers. Arranged chronologically with enclosures following covering letter. Undated manuscripts are arranged by subject at the end of the series.
- Series 2: Horatio Gates Letterbook, 1780-1781
Copies of letters made by Jefferson from General Horatio Gates’s Revolutionary War letterbook relating to Gates’s southern campaign. Arranged chronologically.
- Series 3: District of Columbia Miscellany, 1790-1808
Chiefly Jefferson's correspondence with the commissioners of the District of Columbia and other officials relating to the District, including some memoranda by Jefferson. Arranged chronologically.
- Series 4: Account Books, 1767-1782
Jefferson's day-by-day accounts for the periods 1767-1770, 1773, and 1779-1782, the last two kept in volumes of the Virginia Almanac. Arranged chronologically. (The 1767-1770 volume, on deposit at the Library of Congress at the time the microfilm was made, is now at the University of Virginia.)
- Series 5: Commonplace Books, 1758-1772
Thomas Jefferson’s legal commonplace book, 1762-1767, compiled while he was studying law, contains notes and extracts on important legal cases and precedents. An alphabetical list of legal terms and definitions is in the back of the book. His literary commonplace book, 1758-1772, contains his copied extracts from literary works, mostly poetry; and philosophy, some in Greek. The keeping of commonplace books was common practice in the eighteenth century. These two volumes are among the earliest surviving records of Jefferson’s thought. For more information see: Gilbert Chinard, ed. The Commonplace Book of Thomas Jefferson (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1926) and Douglas L. Wilson, ed. Jefferson's Literary Commonplace Book. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989).
- Series 6: Randolph Family Manuscripts, 1790-1889
Consists of nearly three hundred pages of miscellaneous papers, 1790-1889, belonging to Thomas Jefferson’s daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph (1772-1836), her husband, Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr. (1767-1828), and their family, including sons-in-law Joseph Coolidge, Jr. (1798-1879), husband of their daughter Ellen, and Nicholas P. Trist (1800-1874), who married their daughter Virginia. The material consists of letters, poetry, notes, lists, printed material, and a commonplace book assembled by the Randolph’s daughter Cornelia Jefferson Randolph (1799-1871). Included are copies and extracts from letters by Thomas Jefferson; condolences received at Jefferson’s death from James Monroe and Lydia Sigourney; a eulogy on Jefferson by Nicholas Biddle; correspondence with Jefferson’s biographer, Henry S. Randall; letters to Martha Randolph from Dolley Madison; and letters from Frances Wright and the Marquis de Lafayette to Martha Randolph during Lafayette’s 1824-1825 trip to the United States. This material is part of a 1917 acquisition. It is arranged chronologically.
- Series 7: Miscellaneous Bound Volumes, 1768-1829
Notes and writings on weather, Virginia history, law, plantation matters, a catalog of his library, and other documents, and clippings with subject annotation by Jefferson. Arranged by volume number as follows:
- Vol. 1, Notes of Legal Cases Tried in Virginia Courts and Household Accounts
This one volume served three purposes over time. The first thirty-one pages contain Jefferson’s notes on legal cases heard in the Virginia General Court for the April 1768, October 1768, and April 1769 terms. Following these notes are a series of household accounts for Monticello in the hand of Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson (1748-1782), wife of Thomas Jefferson. These accounts start on February 10, 1772, and conclude with an entry on April 29, 1782, made shortly before the birth of their sixth child, Lucy Elizabeth, on May 8. Martha Jefferson's health declined rapidly after Lucy's birth, and she did not resume her record keeping before her death on September 6, 1782. At the end of the volume and meant to be read by turning the book over and flipping the pages in the opposite direction are household accounts, 1805-1808, of Jefferson’s granddaughter Anne Cary Randolph (1791-1826), daughter of Martha Jefferson Randolph and Thomas Mann Randolph. Anne lived at Monticello when Jefferson was president. These pages are described in greater detail in the essay, Anne Cary Randolph’s Household Accounts, 1805-1808. When volume 1 was microfilmed, the Anne Cary Randolph accounts were filmed first, and the remaining two sections were rotated and filmed to follow them. This online presentation restored the images to a sequence that more closely matches the original volume.
- Vol. 2, Weather Record, 1776-1818
Thomas Jefferson's meteorological observations in Philadelphia and at Monticello and Poplar Forest; also notes on scientific experiments and on plants grown on his estate, and his description of the September 17, 1811, solar eclipse.
- Vol. 3, Historical Notes on Virginia
Jefferson made these Historical Notes on Virginia in 1781 while gathering material for his responses to queries about Virginia from François Henri Barbé-Marbois, secretary of the French legation in Philadelphia, which he later (1785) published under the title Notes on the State of Virginia.
- Vol. 4, Manual of Parliamentary Practice (Washington, 1801)
As vice president of the United States from 1797 to 1801, Thomas Jefferson had the duty of presiding over the United States Senate. With the assistance of John James Beckley, clerk of the House of Representatives, he compiled a notebook or pocketbook of rules and precedents of parliamentary practice. Jefferson originally planned to leave a manuscript copy with the Senate for the use of his successors and solicited comments on it from knowledgeable friends, such as George Wythe and Edmund Pendleton. However, before leaving office as vice president, Jefferson decided to have the manual printed by his friend Samuel H. Smith. Smith published the first of many editions of A Manual of Parliamentary Practice for the Use of the Senate of the United States in Washington City in 1801. In an 1809 letter to John W. Campbell, Jefferson wrote that he did not include the Manual of Parliamentary Practice in his writings "because it was a mere compilation, into which nothing entered of my own, but the arrangement, and a few observations necessary to explain that and some of the cases." William S. Howell has edited a scholarly edition of Jefferson's parliamentary writings, which was published in 1988 by Princeton University Press as part of the second series of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. A revised edition of the Manual is still in use today, though in the House of Representatives rather than in the Senate.
- Vol. 5, “Notes on Salkeld's Reports,” “An Act Further to Amend the Judicial System of the United States,” and “An Act to Punish Certain Offences against the United States”
William Salkeld (1515-1671) was an English legal writer and sergeant-at-law, known for his diligent work as a reporter of legal cases. His Reports of Cases Adjudged in the Court of King's Bench, 1689-1712 (1717-18) became a standard authority for precedents at the King's Bench. Salkeld was also one of the author-translators of Creswell Levinz's Reports of Cases in the King's Bench, 1660-1697 (1722). Like most law students in eighteenth-century Britain and its colonies, Jefferson took notes from Salkeld's Reports on the King's Bench cases, looking for precedents and practices that he would find useful in his own case work. Also included in this volume are drafts of two bills in an unknown handwriting, "An act further to amend the judicial system of the United States" and "An act to punish certain offences against the United States."
- Vol. 6, List of the Post-Offices in the United States (Washington, D.C., 1803)
A book of the locations of post offices existing in 1803, with distances from Washington and annotations by Jefferson.
- Vol. 7, Jefferson's Second Library
A catalog of the personal library that Jefferson accumulated after the sale of his first library to Congress. This second library was offered for sale at public auction on February 27, 1829.
- Vol. 8, Jefferson's inscribed flyleaves from Cicero's De Re Publica (Boston, 1823)
Jefferson's inscribed flyleaves from an edition of Cicero's De Re Publica published in Boston in 1823. The inscriptions are to Thomas Jefferson Smith, son of Samuel Harrison Smith, an old friend and political ally. The inscriptions include a poem and "A Decalogue of Canons for observation in practical life."
- Vol. 9, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth (Washington, D.C., 1904)
This facsimile reproduction of Jefferson's original compilation (now in the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution) was published in Washington in 1904. Jefferson used excerpts from the New Testaments in four languages to create a compilation of what he considered to be Jesus' most authentic actions and teachings. He probably prepared the "Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth" in 1820.
- Vol. 10, Clippings (not yet digitized)
- Series 8: Virginia Records, 1606-1737
Twenty-one volumes of seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Virginia colonial records collected and copied by Jefferson and retained as part of his personal library. Half of these volumes are held in the Manuscript Division with Jefferson’s papers, and the rest are in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. For more information, see the overview of the Virginia Records, 1606-1737, under the Articles and Essays tab.
- Series 9: Collected Manuscripts, 1783-1822
Letters and notes collected by the Library since 1920. Arranged chronologically.
- Series 10: Addenda, 1781-1829
Since the Thomas Jefferson Papers were microfilmed in 1974 additional material has been added to the collection. These items are included in this series. For a detailed description of these items, see the Scope and Contents section of the Finding Aid. Although the items in Series 10 were not microfilmed, selected originals were subsequently digitized and are viewable on this website.
Some of Jefferson’s papers are supplemented on this website by transcriptions from the published editions listed below and from others supplied by Manuscript Division specialist Gerard Gawalt (since retired). There are some discrepancies with dates and other text between documents in the published editions and the manuscript images. This is because in some cases editors transcribed a different draft than the one the Library of Congress owns. In other cases archivists at the Library of Congress and editors of the published editions arrived at different interpretations of dates, correspondents, or other data. The published editions listed below were the source of the transcriptions used on the Library’s Web site. They were chosen because they are out of copyright or otherwise in the public domain. For citations to the modern editions of Jefferson’s papers, see the bibliography in Related Resources.
- Fitzpatrick, John C., ed. The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799. 39 vols. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1931-1944. Reprint, New York: Greenwood Press, 1970. (John C. Fitzpatrick was chief of the Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, in the 1930s and 1940s when he edited The Writings of George Washington; he included transcriptions of documents from the Jefferson Papers in this edition of the Washington Papers.)
- Ford, Paul Leicester, ed. The Works of Thomas Jefferson in Twelve Volumes. New York and London: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904.
- Kingsbury, Susan Myra, ed. Records of the Virginia Company. Volumes I and II: Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1906; volumes III and IV, 1933, 1935.
- Mathew, Thomas. The Beginning, Progress and Conclusion of Bacon's Rebellion in Virginia in the Years 1675 & 1676. Washington: Peter Force, 1835. (Transcribed by Jefferson and originally published in the Richmond Virginia Enquirer, September 1, 5, and 8, 1804.)
- Padover, Saul K., ed. Thomas Jefferson and the National Capital. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1946.
Special thanks to Gerard W. Gawalt, Specialist in Early American History, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (retired), for providing transcriptions of Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson's Household Accounts in Series 7 and for authoring the accompanying essay. He provided transcriptions of correspondence between Jefferson and William Short, as well as many other transcriptions used throughout this online collection.