Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to George Wythe, 14 March 1791

To George Wythe

Philadelphia Mar. 14. 1791.

Dear Sir

I am really ashamed to be so late in acknowleging the reciept of your favor of Jan. 10. which came to hand the 2d. of February. But during the session of Congress the throng of business was such as to oblige me to suspend all my private correspondence. Their recess now enables me to resume them.

I think the allusion to the story of Sisamnes in Mr. West’s design is a happy one: and, were it not presumption for me to judge him, I should suppose that parties pleading before a judge must animate the scene greatly. Usage seems to justify the naming the state on the exergon, tho the emblems are, as they should be, so peculiar as to explain the country to which the design belongs, to those acquainted with it. But your seal may go to those who know nothing but the name of the country. The term ‘commonwealth’ distinguishing the stile of the three great members of our union (Massachusets, Pennsylvania, and Virginia) from that of the smaller ones, which call themselves ‘states,’ it may not be amiss to change the word ‘state’ into ‘commonwealth’ in the exergon.—I have enquired into the shops of mathematical instruments here: they are but two, very illy furnished, and very dear. They ask a clear profit of 50. percent on their articles purchased in London. And as you may get them thence within two months as soon as from hence, I presume you will prefer it. Should you think otherwise I offer my services to execute your commission which it will give me pleasure to do. Supposing that a glance of the eye over some of the tables of the inclosed report may give you a moment’s amusement, I inclose you one, together with a corrected sheet of that on weights and measures. I am with the most cordial esteem & respect Dear Sir Your friend & servt,

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC). Enclosures: (1) TJ’s report on fisheries, 1 Feb. 1791. (2) Printed copy of “Postscript” to TJ’s report on weights and measures, 10 Jan. 1791 (see Vol. 16: 674–5; TJ had previously sent a printed copy of the report itself, acknowledged in Wythe to TJ, 31 Aug. 1790).

For the story of Sisamnes, see note to Wythe to TJ, 10 Jan. 1791. The Virginia legislature on 27 Dec. 1790 authorized Wythe, judge of the High Court of Chancery, to have a seal executed for the court “according to a design laid by him before” the General Assembly and appropriated £25 for the purpose (Hening, description begins William Waller Hening, ed., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, Richmond, 1809–1823, 13 vols. description ends xiii, 147; on 3 Nov. 1792 the legislature made a further appropriation of £20 for this purpose; same, p. 542). Neither the dies nor any impressions of the seal appear to have survived.

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