Jefferson's Books at Washington University

  • Thomas Jefferson twice collected a library of books. The first (some 6,487 volumes) became the foundation for the Library of Congress after the British burned Washington in 1814. He immediately started buying books again (confessing to John Adams I cannot live without books) and collected 1,600 more before he died. Now it turns out that Washington University in St. Louis has discovered 74 volumes from Jefferson’s second collection. See The New York Times (21-Feb-2011).
JDN | 23-Feb-2011

Jefferson was in most respects a typical slaveholder. Although he always condemned slavery, he did own one of the largest slave populations in Virginia. Upon the division of his father-in-law’s estate in 1774 he became, in fact, the second-largest slaveholder in Albemarle County. Thereafter the number of his slaves remained around two hundred — with increases through births offset by periodic sales to pay off debts. Jefferson was known to be a good master, reluctant to break up families or to sell slaves except for delinquency or at their own request. Nevertheless, between 1784 and 1794 he disposed of 161 people by sale or gift. It is true that Jefferson was averse to separating young children from their parents; but once slave boys or girls reached the age of ten or twelve and their working lives began, they were no longer children in Jefferson’s mind.

Gordon S. Wood
Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815 (2009)