Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to John M. Perry, 3 June 1817

To John M. Perry

Monticello June 3. 17.


In the purchase of the site of the College from you, there are two questions entirely distinct; 1. as to the title, which it is our duty to have conveyed to the institution clear, & unembarrassed by any conditions other than the usual one of the payment of the price stipulated.1 the 2d who shall do all the various works which the prosecution of the object may require? these must be left free to be disposed of as they arise, in the best manner we can. you wish us to be bound in the same or a concurrent contract to employ you to do the wooden work. but does our duty permit us thus to bind the instn hand & foot, to employ any particular person, who may do the work well or ill, and leave us to law suits for indemnification? you acknolege, and we all know that your skill does not go either to the execution of the work yourself properly, or to the knowing when it is properly executed2 our daily inspection cannot be expected. age, as to myself, and long absences, put that out of the question. yet the constant inspection of a competent eye is necessary, with the power to dismiss the workman found incompetent or unfaithful. otherwise we should be at the mercy of those you employ whom we do not know3 & who may go on to the completion of the work, under your own eye, & be going amiss4 the whole time without your knowing it. you might, with equal justice, insist on a covenant that you should do the stone work; brick work, iron work and every thing else that is to be done. but could we be justifiable in such a covenant? in a competn between two undertakers, the one acknoleging himself entirely ignorant how the work is to be done, the other a perfect master of it, can there be a doubt which it is our duty to prefer? it will certainly be my wish that every thing should be turned thro’ your hands, which you could do as well as another; and there will be much which you could do, and would, I have no doubt, be employed to do: but these would be in details to be provided for as they arise. this subject would take too much time5 & would be too laborious to be treated in writing: I can only add therefore that so far as would depend on me, my friendly disposns to you, would always make me wish you should have a preference in work against equal competitors, entertaining for you sentiments of sincere good will & esteem.6


Dft (DLC); on verso of reused address cover to TJ; endorsed by TJ.

1Word interlined.

2Text from this point to “otherwise we should” interlined in place of “we shall then” and rewritten by TJ at foot of first page for clarity, with latter version, exhibiting minor variations in punctuation and word order, used above.

3Preceding five words interlined.

4Word interlined in place of “wrong.”

5Preceding five words interlined in place of “however is too long.”

6Reworked from “sincere esteem & friendship.”

Index Entries

  • Central College; builders for search
  • Central College; land purchased for search
  • Perry, John M.; as builder for Central College search
  • Perry, John M.; letters to search
  • Perry, John M.; sells land to Central College search