Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Jonathan Edwards, 4 July 1791

From Jonathan Edwards

New Haven, 4 July 1791. In April or May last he sent two books of his father, the copyright to which he claims as proprietor, and requested a certificate. Receiving none, he concludes either that he had omitted some step or that this had escaped notice among more important objects. “If the former be the fact, will you kindly inform me in a line, what the omission is? If the latter, you will pardon me, that I have refreshed your memory. That may be very important to me, which is of no consequence to others.” He desires the certificate to show that the books were deposited at the time received, “as that if I understand the law, is an important circumstance.”

RC (DNA: RG 59, MLR); endorsed by TJ as received 9 July 1791 and so recorded in SJL.

In the summer of 1790 Jonathan Edwards (1745–1801), son of the famous theologian and metaphysician, had sent TJ a copy of his The salvation of all men strictly examined (New Haven, 1790) to be registered for copyright and had asked for certification of the fact if this were necessary (Edwards to TJ, 9 Aug. 1790; RC in DNA: RG 59, MLR, not recorded in SJL). In April 1791 he sent two books “the copyright of which I claim as proprietor, having published them from the manuscripts of the authour: and I request a certificate, that I have … deposited them in your office” (Edwards to TJ, 26 Apr. 1791; RC in same, not recorded in SJL). These works, as indicated in the above letter, were those of his father. Their titles were True grace distinguished (Elizabethtown, 1791) and Two dissertations (Philadelphia, 1791). Edwards could scarcely have avoided knowing that TJ had passed through Connecticut a short while before this letter was written, a fact which may give added meaning to his allusion to those “more important objects” which might have caused his request to escape notice. TJ closed the correspondence with his response of 14 July 1791. He could never have found Edwards philosophically congenial, but he was much interested in and acquired a copy of Edwards’ Observations on the language of the Muhhekaneew Indians (New Haven, 1788). On the basis of his own youthful experience among the Mohican Indians, Edwards compiled a comparative vocabulary of the Mohican, Shawanee, and Chippewa languages, much as TJ had caused to be done with many other tribes. Edwards’ Observations attempted to show the extent of the Mohican language in North America, to trace its grammatical nature, and to point out “some of its peculiarities, and some instances of Analogy between that and the Hebrew” (Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–1959, 5 vols. description ends No. 4050).

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