Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Matthew L. Davis and William A. Davis, 21 December 1800

To Matthew L. Davis and William A. Davis

Washington Dec. 21 1800


Your favor of Oct. 14 did not get to my hands till the 3d. of Nov. when the arrangements for my departure to this place engrossed my whole time nor have I been master of the earliest part of it here.

With respect to the Notes on Virginia which you propose to reprint it is not in my power to add to, or alter them at present. the subject would require more time & enquiry than are within my power to [provide.] the most correct edition is the one originally published at Paris. Stockdale’s London edition is tolerably correct. I know nothing of the American editions, not possessing any of them. I think it might be of some use to publish with them a Report of mine on Weights & Measures, made to Congress in 1790. it was printed in N. York by Chiles & Swaine. I have no copy of it here or I would have inclosed it. by getting abroad it might prepare the public mind for adopting something more certain & convenient than the present system of weights & measures.

I am Gentlemen Your most obedt. servt

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); faint; at foot of text: “Messrs. W. L. & W. A. Davis. N. York” (TJ mistakenly wrote W. L. instead of M. L.); endorsed by TJ in ink on verso.

For TJ’s role in the printing of his notes on Virginia and his opinions on the American, Paris, and London editions of the work, see TJ to John Stockdale, 1 Feb. 1787, Stockdale to TJ, 10 July 1787, and TJ to John Riley, 7 Oct. 1809. The printed text based on Stockdale, and including the fourth appendix of 1800, was the version most familiar to TJ’s contemporaries (Notes, ed. Peden description begins Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, ed. William Peden, Chapel Hill, 1955 description ends , xviii).

Weights & measures: Francis Childs and John Swaine published a Report of the Secretary of State, on the Subject of Establishing a Uniformity in the Weights, Measures and Coins of the United States in New York in 1790, and with corrections in 1791 (Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends No. 3760; Evans, description begins Charles Evans, Clifford K. Shipton, and Roger P. Bristol, comps., American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of all Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America from … 1639 … to … 1820, Chicago and Worcester, Mass., 1903–59, 14 vols. description ends No. 23910; Vol. 16:615, 674–5). The Davis brothers published, in 1801, a third American edition of the Notes on the State of Virginia, which did not include the report on weights and measures despite TJ’s suggestion here.

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