Thomas Jefferson: Reputation and Legacy

By Francis D. Cogliano | Go to book overview

Conclusion:
Jefferson Survives

On 17 February 1826, Thomas Jefferson, who was then eighty-two years old and in declining health, wrote a letter to his old friend and political ally James Madison. He wrote at length about securing funding, qualified faculty and books for the new University of Virginia. He expressed particular concern that he and Madison should be 'rigorously attentive' to political principles when appointing the university's law professor. Jefferson felt that legal education in the United States was dominated by conservative counter-revolutionaries imbued with 'toryism', as he termed it. The new lawyers, complained Jefferson, 'no longer know what whigism or republicanism means'. By hiring the right law professor, Jefferson believed, the University of Virginia might initiate a revival of republican principles. 'It is in our seminary', he wrote, 'that the vestal flame is to be kept alive; itis thence it is to spread anew over our own and the sister States. If we are true and vigilant in our trust, within a dozen or twenty years a majority of our legislature will be from one school, and many disciples will have carried its doctrines home with them to their several States, and will have leavened thus the whole mass.' Jefferson then complained about the crippling debts that threatened his legacy and his scheme for a lottery of his lands to solve the problem and save his home, Monticello. He concluded his letter to his old friend with a reflection on their life's work:

It has also been a great solace to me, to believe that you are engaged in
vindicating to posterity the course we have pursued for preserving to them,
in all their purity, the blessings of self-government, which we have assisted
too in acquiring for them. If ever the earth has beheld a system of admin-
istration conducted with a single and steadfast eye to the general interest
and happiness of those committed to it, one which, protected by truth, can
never know reproach, it is that to which our lives have been devoted.

Jefferson closed his letter with the plea that his friend 'Take care of me when dead.'1

Jefferson's letter to Madison reflected his concerns in the last months of his life. It reflects on the past and the role played by him and Madison in

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Thomas Jefferson: Reputation and Legacy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Abbreviations xi
  • Introduction - The Estimation of the World 1
  • Chapter 1 - History 19
  • Chapter 2 - The Revolution 44
  • Chapter 3 - Jefferson's Papers 74
  • Chapter 4 - Monticello 106
  • Chapter 5 - Jefferson's Epitaph 137
  • Chapter 6 - Sally Hemings 170
  • Chapter 7 - Slavery 199
  • Chapter 8 - America and the World 230
  • Conclusion - Jefferson Survives 259
  • Index 269
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