Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas H. Palmer to Thomas Jefferson, 22 February 1813

From Thomas H. Palmer

Philadelphia, Feb. 22, 1812 [1813]


Emboldened by your well known zeal for the diffusion of knowledge, especially when it relates to the institutions of our country, I have taken the liberty, though personally a stranger to you, of intruding upon your retirement, to ask some information for a work on which I am at present engaged, to be entitled, a Tabular View of the Constitutions of the U.S. & of the several States. In this it has been my endeavour to present as complete a view of all the interesting points in the different constitutions as could possibly be comprised in the compass of a sheet. With this intention, I have drawn up a table, under the three principal heads of Legislature, Executive, & Judiciary. The first column contains the names of the states, with the date of adoption of their constitution. The next two columns are under the head Legislature, viz. their Term of Office, & stated Day of Meeting. The four following, under the head Executive, how elected, term of office, legislative power & who acts in case of death impeachment, &c. Under the head Judiciary, by whom appointed, term of office, & how removeable. Separate columns are likewise allotted for Qualifications of Voters, & Day of General Election. This table will fill half the sheet. The remainder is to be occupied by a comparative view of the constitutions on all the topics which could not be included in the Table, under the titles Qualification of Executive, Qualifications of Legislature, Number of Legislature, their power of protesting, Imprisoning for contempts &c. Power of originating bills, Executive Council, Lieut.-governor. The pardoning power. Religious qualifications for office Provisions for the support of religion, Provisions for Education, Provisions for amending Constitution, &c &c

The Edition of the Constitutions from which I compiled my “View,” was published by Duane in 1806. Several have been printed since, but all verbatim with this. I relied with confidence on this edition, expecting it to contain at least the amendments to the date of publication. Fortunately, however, I discovered, before my work had gone to press, that it was not so, & accordingly determined not to trust to it, but to endeavour myself to procure the alterations from the different states. Although the constitution framed by Virginia in 1776 does not contain provision for amendments, yet I thought it possible it might have undergone a change notwithstanding. Under these circumstances will you pardon the liberty I have taken, in asking you if any change has taken place, & whether to your knowledge any other constitution has been amended besides those of the U.S. & Maryland, which I have procured. The constitution of Virginia is the only one in the Union, that does not point out the qualifications of voters. It merely says they shall remain as exercised at present. By your “Notes on Virginia,” I perceive these are, an estate for life in 100 acres of uninhabited land, or 25 acres with a house on it, or a house & lot in some town. I presume if the constitution is unaltered, that these qualifications remain the same, & consequently that I shall be correct in subjoining this as a note to the Table, on the authority of the “Notes.”—I omitted mentioning above, that the “View,” is to be varnished & mounted on rollers, for hanging up in Libraries parlours, or lobbies, for the sake of convenient reference. I am, Sir,

With much respect, Your obedt servt

Thomas Palmer.

Please to direct to Thos & Geo. Palmer, Philadelphia:

RC (ViW: TC-JP); misdated; endorsed by TJ as a letter of 22 Feb. 1813 received four days later and so recorded in SJL.

Thomas H. Palmer (1782–1861), printer, author, and educational reformer, was born in Kelso, Scotland, and immigrated to Philadelphia in 1801. There he ran a printing office on his own and in partnership with his brother George Palmer for the next quarter century. The Palmers’ firms printed the travels of John Melish, a medical dictionary by John Redman Coxe, and Palmer’s own compilation of American state papers and official records, The Historical Register of the United States, 4 vols. (Washington, 1814–16; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library [1829] description ends , 5 [no. 145]), to which TJ subscribed. His brother died in 1817, and in 1826 Palmer moved to Rutland County, Vermont. In his latter years he farmed, served as a school superintendent, helped found a model lyceum and library in Pittsford, and advocated educational reforms. Palmer authored textbooks and other educational aids, including an 1840 teachers’ manual in which he evidently coined the motivational proverb, “If at first you don’t succeed, Try, try again.” In 1853 he served as the corresponding secretary of a Vermont peace convention. Palmer’s final work, a dictionary of proper names, remained unpublished at his death (Abby Maria Hemenway, The Vermont Historical Gazetteer [1868–91], 3:957–62; Cornelius William Stafford, Philadelphia Directory, for 1801 [Philadelphia, 1801], 39; James Robinson, The Philadelphia Directory, City and County Register, for 1802 [Philadelphia, 1802], 187; TJ to Palmer, 22 May 1813; Philadelphia Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser, 12 Mar. 1817; Thomas Wilson, ed., The Philadelphia Directory and Stranger’s Guide, for 1825 [Philadelphia, 1825], 106; Abiel M. Caverly, History of the Town of Pittsford, Vt. [1872; repr. 1976], 386–7, 534–5, 577–81, 717–8; Palmer, The Teacher’s Manual [1840], 223; Windsor Vermont Chronicle, 4 June 1845, 1 Apr. 1846, 5 July 1853).

Palmer later recalled having published his tabular view of the constitutions of the u.s. & of the several states in 1817, and he sent TJ a copy of the work in 1825, but no distinct edition has been found (Hemenway, 3:961; Palmer to TJ, 9 Mar. 1825). It was published as item number seven in Henry Charles Carey, A Complete Historical, Chronological, and Geographical American Atlas, being a guide to the history of North and South America, and the West Indies (Philadelphia, 1822), which Palmer printed. Palmer based his work on the edition of the constitutions printed by William duane as The Constitutions of the United States; according to the Latest Amendments, to which are prefixed the Declaration of Independence and the Federal Constitution (Philadelphia, 1806).

Index Entries

  • A Complete Historical, Chronological, and Geographical American Atlas (Carey) search
  • Carey, Henry Charles; A Complete Historical, Chronological, and Geographical American Atlas search
  • Constitution, U.S.; T. H. Palmer’s publication on search
  • Duane, William; The Constitutions of the United States search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Notes on the State of Virginia search
  • Notes on the State of Virginia (Thomas Jefferson); and T. H. Palmer’s work search
  • Palmer, Thomas H.; and publication on constitutions search
  • Palmer, Thomas H.; identified search
  • Palmer, Thomas H.; letters from search
  • The Constitutions of the United States (Duane) search
  • Virginia; constitution of (1776) search