This exhibition focuses on the written legacy of Thomas Jefferson. It traces Jefferson's intellectual development from his earliest days in the Piedmont to an ever-expanding realm of influence in republican Virginia, the American Revolutionary government, the creation of the American nation, and the revolution in individual rights in America and the world — even as he held people in bondage at Monticello.
By featuring Jefferson's written legacy from throughout his life, the exhibition reveals the evolution in Jefferson's thinking. It also shows that his ideas were not always consistent nor were his words always sublime. The exhibition reveals a man keenly interested in expressing his ideas and his beliefs on varied subjects over the span of many decades and from differing perspectives. In the end, Jefferson's fame and influence transcend the complexities and the contradictions. In fact, the exhibition demonstrates vividly that Jefferson's words and his thoughts—his written legacy—endure and continue to influence political, intellectual, and social developments in this country and throughout the world.
Thomas Jefferson is composed of nine sections. The first eight contain more than 150 items drawn primarily from the unparalleled Jefferson manuscript collection in the Library of Congress and augmented by key loans from cultural institutions across the country. Among the many rare objects in these sections are two that have been re-joined for the first time in nearly sixty years: the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence and the desk on which Jefferson wrote that draft. The ninth and final section of the exhibition displays Jefferson's library, which has been reassembled for the first time since a fire on December 24, 1851, destroyed nearly two-thirds of the 6,487 volumes Congress had purchased from Jefferson in 1815. This exhibition marks the first time that the volumes have been assembled in one place in the categories devised by Jefferson himself.
In several places throughout the exhibition, audio-visual and digital stations provide opportunities to learn more about Jefferson's words and influence and the holdings in his library.
The serpentine walls of this exhibition are based on the design specified by Thomas Jefferson for the landscaping of the University of Virginia.
The use of serpentine walls on the grounds of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville reveals at least three of Thomas Jefferson's strengths--his frugality as a builder, his interest in horticulture, and his ingenuity
Building a wall that curves uses twenty five percent fewer bricks than building a straight wall because a curved wall supports itself and can be only one brick thick instead of the two-brick thickness required to keep a straight wall standing.
And, once built, a serpentine wall provides the gardener with locations that provide light or shade at particular times of day or seasons of the year, whichever might be best for a unique or delicate plant set out in that location.