The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Volume 37: 4 March to 30 June 1802

By McColley, Robert | The Journal of Southern History, August 2012 | Go to article overview
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The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Volume 37: 4 March to 30 June 1802


McColley, Robert, The Journal of Southern History


The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Volume 37: 4 March to 30 June 1802. Edited by Barbara B. Oberg and others. (Princeton and Oxford, Eng.: Princeton University Press, 2010. Pp. 1, 791. $115.00, ISBN 978-0-691-15001-7.)

In 1943 the Thomas Jefferson Bicentennial Commission asked its historian, Julian P. Boyd (1903-1980), librarian of Princeton University, to investigate the processes and resources required to produce a new edition of the writings of Thomas Jefferson. In 1944 Time magazine reported, "The new edition--costs of $344,300 to be shared by the New York Times and Princeton--will consist of 50 richly designed volumes" ("All of Jefferson," Time, 43 [January 3, 1944], 71). The first volume of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson appeared in 1950, followed by nineteen more edited by Boyd and his assistants. The volumes revealed extraordinary care in presenting documents with their original spelling and, wherever possible, noting variants, errors, and corrections. New in degree if not kind were contextual explanations and selected incoming correspondence. The Jefferson project inspired a new generation of superb historical editing, mainly of the papers of political leaders in the early American republic.

Volume 21 served as a cumulative index; all subsequent volumes have had their own. Following Boyd, Charles T. Cullen served as editor in chief for Volumes 22-23, and John Catanzariti for Volumes 24-28. Between 1983 and 1997, the Jefferson Papers brought out a collection called the Second Series, and now sometimes referred to as "special volumes," of works that stand alone: Jefferson's Extracts from the Gospels (edited by Dickinson W. Adams [Princeton, 1983]); Jefferson's Memorandum Books." Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767-1826 (edited by James A. Bear Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton [2 vols.; Princeton, 1997]); Jefferson's Literary Commonplace Book (edited by D. L. Wilson [Princeton, 1989]); and Jefferson's Parliamentary Writings (edited by Wilbur Samuel Howell [Princeton, 1987]). Barbara B. Oberg's editorship began with Volume 29 (Princeton, 2001). She introduced a further improvement--English translations of foreign-language documents in addition to the originals. Meanwhile, J. Jefferson Looney assumed editorial responsibility for The Papers of Thomas Jefferson." Retirement Series (8 vols. to date; Princeton, 2004-), with a separate staff and headquarters in Charlottesville, Virginia. Thus far the Retirement Series has published Jefferson's papers from March 4, 1809, through August 1815. Altogether we now have at this writing some fifty-one volumes of Jefferson's papers from the various projects, which are estimated to be complete in perhaps eighty volumes. Oberg "hopes the project will be finished by July 4, 2026, the bicentennial of Jefferson's death." In an appreciative 2003 essay on the Papers, Mark F. Bernstein reflects, "Those who have labored on the project, in other words, have found themselves crawling through Jefferson's life in something very close to real time" ("History, Letter by Letter," Princeton Alumni Weekly, May 14, 2003).

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