Notable Comments on Jefferson (Contemporary)

From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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1784 June 8. (Ezra Stiles). "The Governor is a most ingenuous Naturalist and Philosopher a truly scientific and learned Man, and every way excellent."[1]

1784 August 27. (John Adams to James Warren). "He is old friend with whom I have often had occasion to labour at many a knotty problem, and in whose abilities and steadiness I always found great cause to confide."[2]

1784 December 27. (Marquis de Chastellux). "Let me describe to you a man, not yet forty, tall, and with a mild and pleasing countenance, but whose mind and understanding are ample substitutes for every exterior grace. An American, who without ever having quitted his own country, is at once a musician, skilled in drawing; a geometrician, an astronomer, a natural philosopher, legislator, and statesman. A senator of America, who sat for two years in that famous Congress which brought about the revolution...a governor of Virginia, who filled this difficult station during the invasions of Arnold, of Phillips, and of Cornwallis; a philosopher, in voluntary retirement, from the world, and public business, because he loves the world, inasmuch only as he can flatter himself with being useful to mankind...For no object had escaped Mr. Jefferson; and it seemed as if from his youth he had placed his mind, as he has done his house, on an elevated situation, from which he might contemplate the universe."[3]

1785 January 29. (John Quincy Adams). "He has a great deal of Sensibility."[4]

1785 January 31. (John Adams to Arthur Lee). "My new Partner, is an old Friend and Co-adjutor, whose Character, I stued nine or ten years ago, and which I do not perceive to be altered. The same industry, integrity, and talents remain without diminution. I amy very happy in him, but whether we shall be able to accomplish anything here, I know not."[5]

1785 February 16. (John Quincy Adams). "A man of universal learning and very pleasing manners."[6]

1785 March 11. (John Quincy Adams). "Spent the evening with Mr. Jefferson whom I love to be with, because he is a man of very extensive learning, and pleasing manners."[7]

1785 May 4. (John Quincy Adams). "He is a man of great Judgment."[8]

1785 May 8. (Abigail Adams to Mrs. Richard Cranch). "I shall really regret to leave Mr. Jefferson; he is one of the choice ones of the earth."[9]

1785 December 15. (John Adams to Henry Knox). "You can scarcely have heard a Character too high of my Friend and Colleague Mr. Jefferson, either in point of Power or Virtues. My Fellow Labourer in Congress, eight or nine years ago, upon many arduous Tryals, particularly in the draught of our Declaration of Independence and in the formation of our Code of Articles of War, and Laws for the Army. I have found him uniformly the same wise and prudent Man and Steady Patriot. I only fear that his unquenchable Thirst for knowledge may injure his Health."[10]

1786 October 26. (Marquis de Lafayette to George Washington). "Mr. Jefferson is a most able and respected representative, and such a man as makes me happy to be his aid de camp."[11]

1788. (Thomas Lee Shippen to William Shippen). "Mr. Jefferson is in my opinion without exeption the wisest and most amiable man I have seen in Europe."[12]

1788 May 25. (Marquis de Lafayette to George Washington). "Nothing can excell Mr. Jefferson's abilities, virtues, pleasing temper, and every thing in him that constitutes the great statesman, zealous citizen, and amiable friend."[13]

1789 October 12. (Nathaniel Cutting). "I have found Mr. Jefferson a man of infinite information and sound Judgement, becoming gravity, and engaging affability mark his deportment. His general abilities are such as would do honor to any age or Country."[14]

1793 February 3. (John Adams to Abigail Adams). "I wish somebody would pay his debt of seven thousand pounds to Britain and the debts of all his countrymen, and then I believe his passions would subside, his reason return, and the whole man and his whole state become good friends of the Union and its government."[15]

1796 July 26. (Benjamin Rush to James Currie). Jefferson "is a pure republican, enlightened at the same time in chemistry, natural history, and medicine. He is, in a word, a Citizen of the World and the friend of universal peace and happiness."[16]

1797 June 20. (John Adams]] to Uriah Forrest). "...evidence of a mind soured, yet seeking for popularity, and eaten to a honeycomb with ambition, yet weak, confused, uninformed, and ignorant."[17]

1797 November 3. (John Adams to John Quincy Adams). "You can witness for me how loath I have been to give him up. It is with much reluctance that I am obliged to look upon him as a man whose mind is warped by prejudice and so blinded by ignorance as to be unfit for the office he holds. However wise and scientific as philosopher, as a politician he is a child and the dupe of party!"[18]

1801 April 8. (Du Pont de Nemours to Necker). "Mr. Jefferson is a very rare man. He must be considered among the great governors of nations."[19]

1802-1805. (John Adams, Autobiography). "Mr. Jefferson had been now about a year a member of Congress, but had attended his duty in the House but a very small part of the time and when there had enver spoken in public: and during the whole time I sat with him in Congress, I never heard him utter three sentences together. The most of a spech he ever made in my hearing was a gross insult on religion, in one or two sentences, for which I gave him immediately the reprehension which he richly merited...Mr. Jefferson had the reputation of a masterly Pen..."[20]

1803 December 4. (Du Pont de Nemours to Necker). "And under the government of the excellent Mr. Jefferson, one needs to other protection than the usefulness of one's work."[21]

1804 January 16. (John Adams to William Cunningham). "I wish him no ill. I envy him not. I shudder at the calamities, which I fear his conduct is preparing for his Country: from a mean thirst of popularity, an inordinate ambition, and a want of sincerity."[22]

1804 February 28. (Du Pont de Nemours to Necker). "Mr. Jefferson, who resisted the whole country and risked all his popularity, who ran the risk of not being reelected by refusing to seize Louisiana, an almost limitless country whose land is excellent, will certainly not change his principles after the success of his peaceful negotation..."[23]

1824 November 12-14. (Francis Wright to Julia and Harriet Garnett). "...the greatest of American's surviving veterans. I found the venerable patriot and statesman much what I expected to see him, perhaps rather from the descriptions I had heard and read than from any portrait I had seen--all of which except one exquisite drawing of Stuart's in possession of the family, are decided caricatures. His face has nothing of that elaborate length and breadth of chin invariably attached to it in all the prints and paintings that have come under my observation but exhibits still in its decaying outline, and fallen and withered surface the forms of symmetry and deep impress of character and intellect..."[24]

1826 July 12. (Dabney Carr Jr. to Nicholas Philip Trist). "The loss of Mr. Jefferson is one over which the whole world will mourn. He was one of those ornaments and benefactors of the human race, whose death forms an epoch, and creates a sensation throughout the whole circle of civilized man...To me he has been more than a father, and I have very loved and reverenced him with my whole heart...Taken as a whole, history presents nothing so grand, so beautiful, so peculiarly felicitous in all the great points, as the life and character of Thomas Jefferson."[25]

1843 April 8. (Albert Gallatin to George Plitt and others). "I regret extremely that i should be thus deprived of the opportunity to pay a tribute to the revered memory of him to whom I was united not only by a conformity of political principles, but by the ties of gratitude and of a personal friendship which during a period of thirty years was never interrupted, or even obscured by a single cloud...As one intimately acquainted with him, and who enjoyed his entire confidence, I can bear witness to the purity of his character and to his sincere conviction of the truth of those political tenets which he constantly and openly avowed and promulgated."[26]


  1. >PTJ, 7:303.
  2. Ibid, 7:382.
  3. Ibid, 7:585.
  4. Diary of John Quincy Adams], (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1981), 1:218.
  5. PTJ, 7:383.
  6. Diary of John Quincy Adams], (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1981), 1:224.
  7. Ibid, 1:233.
  8. Ibid, 1:262.
  9. PTJ, 8:181.
  10. Ibid, 7:383.
  11. Ibid, 10:477.
  12. Ibid, 12:504.
  13. Ibid, 14:223.
  14. Ibid, 15:498.
  15. Page Smith. John Adams]. Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1962), 835.
  16. L.H. Butterfield, ed. Letters of Benjamin Rush (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1951), 2:779.
  17. Ibid, 940.
  18. Ibid.
  19. De Staël-Du Pont letters; correspondence of Madame de Staël and Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours and of other members of the Necker and Du Pont families. (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1968), p. 70.
  20. L.H. Butterfield, ed. Diary and autobiography of John Adams. (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1961), 3:335.
  21. Ibid, 186.
  22. Correspondence between the Hon. John Adams, late president of the United States, and the late Wm. Cunningham, Esq. : beginning in 1803, and ending in 1812. (Boston: E.M. Cunningham: True and Greene, printers, 1823), 10-11.
  23. >De Staël-Du Pont letters; correspondence of Madame de Staël and Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours and of other members of the Necker and Du Pont families. (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1968), 204.
  24. Houghton Library Harvard.
  25. Randall, Life, 3:551.
  26. Henry Adams, ed. Writings of Albert Gallatin], (New York: Antiquarian Press, 1960), 2:603.

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