Scope and arrangement
The Thomas Jefferson papers, dated 1766-1826, cover Jefferson's career as a statesman, lawyer, and plantation owner. It is a synthetic collection of largely autograph material, combining gifts and purchases from multiple sources. The bulk of the collection consists of outgoing correspondence, 1766 and 1783-1826, with a few incoming letters. Letters concern Jefferson's thoughts on the formation of a new government, naval and shipping issues, the growth and sale of tobacco on his plantation, and personal and business matters. Correspondents include John Page, James Madison, James Monroe, Edmund Pendleton, Robert Purviance, and Noah Webster. Additional documents in the collection consist of legal documents, drafts, notes, autographs and other items.
Correspondence dating prior to his appointment as Secretary of State in 1790, including letters to Edmund Pendleton of Virginia, pertain primarily to the development of government in the newly sovereign United States, foreign intelligence, the shipment of goods to and from the West Indies, and his service as Minister to France and his travels to France. Letters dated while he held the office of Secretary of State consist mostly of notices of acts of Congress that were sent to state governors. These notices originally contained enclosures of legislation which are not present here. Some personal correspondence from this era is also present, notably a 1790 letter to Noah Webster offering his opinions on Webster's essays. Correspondence dating from his presidential and vice presidential tenures consists mainly of outgoing invitations and letters of thanks. Letters discussing Jefferson's business affairs, particularly the management of his plantation, the growth and sale of tobacco, and his legal work are interspersed throughout the correspondence, especially during the late presidential and post-presidential period. An 1817 letter to James Monroe is a letter of recommendation, and his 1826 letter to Madison concerns the growth of the University of Virginia. The collection also contains earlier letters documenting Jefferson's friendships with Virginia governor John Page and Robert Purviance of Maryland.
Additional documents notably include Jefferson’s draft of a proposed amendment to the Constitution adding the Louisiana Territory to the United States. The draft contains notes penciled by James Madison and offers insight into constitutional aspects of the Louisiana Purchase. Also of note is Jefferson's 1771 list of books for a private library, suggested for his friend Robert Skipworth.