In 1825, a year before his death, Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Revolutionary War hero Henry Lee to explain his purpose in drafting the Declaration of Independence in 1776. ‘It was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion.’ Third President of the United States, Jefferson was instrumental in the very creation of America – a task that, as R. B. Bernstein writes, was ‘an act of literary conception as much as political action or military struggle’.
This collection, unique to Folio, presents the best of Jefferson’s writings in chronological order: pamphlets, speeches, constitutional drafts and above all correspondence. Here we find letters to George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Paine as well as the ‘Head and Heart’ letter written to Maria Cosway, a married artist whom the widowed Jefferson met in Paris in 1786 while he was Minister to France. These writings help us understand Jefferson the man, from his views on democracy and slavery, to his observations on English gardens and French wines, and the names he proposed for the western states (Michigania, Metropotamia and Cherronesus). Above all, they show how much thought Jefferson devoted to America’s future, and how carefully he tried to safeguard his nation’s political inheritance. ‘It can never be too often repeated, that the time for fixing every essential right on a legal basis is while our rulers are honest, and ourselves united.’
R. B. Bernstein is the author of what was described by the New York Times as ‘the best biography of Jefferson ever written’. In his introduction, he explains why Jefferson was outstanding among the other theorists of the American Revolution, recasting it as ‘not just a vital event for his countrymen but a model for humanity everywhere’. The binding design shows a detail of the original Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776.