Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to George Douglas, 21 December 1800

To George Douglas

Washington Dec. 21. 1800


Your favor covering an Almanac and the Washingtoniana, was recieved in due time, and would have been immediately acknoleged, but that I had [in?] contemplation to suggest to you some additions to your almanac, which without making it dear to the purchaser, might render it useful for some higher purpose than the common almanac. we certainly want such an one. the day of the month, rising of the sun, moon & principal stars, the sun’s right ascension & declination, eclipses, & Jupiter’s satellites, tables of the equation of time, of refraction of the Latitude & Longitude of principal places, of sines & tangents, of the probabilities of life &c &c might be brought into the compass of a common almanac, by excluding the trash with which they are [usually] crammed. however I never found time to digest the subject, & therefore did not write to you. it is now less likely that I should be able to do it.

Your letter of Oct. 15. came to my hands on the 3d. of Nov. when I was so engaged in preparations and arrangements for my departure to this place that I was only able to put up some notes on the subject of the Capitol that I had made when I gave the plan of it to Monsr. Clarissault. these have enabled me to make out the inclosed account of it. whether the execution conformed to the original plan I do not know. still less can I say anything of the expence: but that I presume might be obtained from mr William Hay who was one of the Directors, & principally attended to it. I think it was in […] or 1796. the directors wrote to me in France for a plan, which was not [being delivered]. they asked at the same time a plan of a prison, & I sent them one by an architect of Lyons reduced to a smaller scale, better adapted to our use by myself, with cells for every prisoner separately. this I believe was the first idea of solitary confinement started in [America]. but it slept for that time, and Pensylva had the honor of first carrying it into execution. the father of it was an architect of Lyons. I am Sir

Your humble servt

Th: Jefferson

PrC (DLC); faint and blurred; at foot of text: “Mr. G. Douglass. bookseller. Petersburg.” Enclosure: probably “An Account of the Capitol in Virginia” (PrC in DLC: TJ Papers, 17:2956–7), which was later printed under the heading “A Short Description of the Capitol” in Douglas’s Annual Register and Virginian Repository (Petersburg, Va., 1802; Shaw-Shoemaker description begins Ralph R. Shaw and Richard H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819, New York, 1958–63, 22 vols. description ends , No. 1764).

TJ had conveyed notes on the subject of the capitol to French architect Charles Louis Clérisseau in January 1786. William Hay wrote to Virginia Governor James Wood in March 1799 that the plans had been sent from France and eventually transmitted to the director of public buildings in the federal city, but that he had not seen them (Vol. 8:368n; Vol. 9:221–3, 602–4; Fiske Kimball, The Capitol of Virginia: A Landmark of American Architecture, rev. ed. [Richmond, 2002], xx–xxi).

Architect of Lyons: Pierre Gabriel Bugniet.

For TJ’s plan of a prison, see TJ to James Wood, 31 Mch. 1797.

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