During the summer of 1809, several months after Thomas Jefferson had left the presidency and retired permanently to Monticello, John W. Campbell, a bookseller and printer from Petersburg, Virginia, wrote to him proposing to publish 'a complete edition of your different writings, as far as they may be designed for the public; including the "Notes on Virginia" '. Jefferson was not especially encouraging in his reply to Campbell. He wrote that he intended to revise and enlarge his Notes on Virginia before it could be republished. With regard to the large body of official papers he had generated as a congressman, governor, diplomat, secretary of state, vice president and president, he dismissed interest in these, noting, 'Many of these would be like old newspapers, materials for future historians, but no longer interesting to the readers of the day.' He concluded:
So that on a review of these various materials, I see nothing encouraging a
printer to a re-publication of them. They would probably be bought by
those only who are in the habit of preserving State papers, and who are not
many … I have presented this general view of the subjects which might
have been within the scope of your contemplation, that they might be
correctly estimated before any final decision. They belong mostly to a class
of papers not calculated for popular reading, and not likely to offer profit,
or even indemnification to the re-publisher.1
Jefferson convinced his would-be editor that there would be little or no profit in publishing his writings and the matter died.
John Campbell's approach represents the first attempt to publish Jefferson's papers. It was not to be the last. It seems likely that Jefferson discouraged Campbell for several reasons not mentioned in his dissuading letter. As noted in Chapter 2, Jefferson was reluctant to appear in print during his lifetime and he may have wished that his papers – some of which would be controversial – should be published posthumously.