Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Thomas Eddy, 9 February 1802

From Thomas Eddy

New york, 2nd mo. 9th. 1802—

Respected Friend

The Sanguinary Penal Laws of Europe, wch. were continued in their full extent in the United States, very soon claimed the attention of a people attached to principles of Freedom, Moderation & Justice—The Province of Pennsylvania under the Administration of the virtuous Penn early, but in vain, attempted the Establishment of a Code of Laws by which each crime received a punishment in proportion to its degree of enormity—Soon after the Revolution, encouraged by the spirit of Freedom to investigate a subject which they held of the first importance to Civil society, they framed a System of Penal Laws which reflects lasting credit on that State—

This State became enamoured with the alteration & Establishment made in Pennsylvania, and in 1796 adopted similar Laws—The Prison in New York serves to receive the Convicts of the whole State, and having bestowed several Years in the management of its concerns as one of the Inspectors, and believing it my duty to spread principles tending to promote the general good of Mankind, wch. perhaps when more known may be the means of bringing forward similar establishments. I was induced to publish a Pamphlet giving an account of this benevolent institution, with some occasional remarks—Perfectly satisfied that thou are attached to a reform, founded on the pure principles of Christianity, I am induced, without the pleasure of being personally known, to take the liberty of presenting thee with the account I have just published, and of wch. I crave thy kind acceptance—

I am with great respect & Esteem Thy Assured Friend

Thomas Eddy

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 13 Feb. and so recorded in SJL. Enclosure: Thomas Eddy, An Account of the State Prison or Penitentiary House, in the City of New-York (New York, 1801; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C., 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends No. 2365).

Quaker merchant and reformer Thomas Eddy (1758–1827) of New York engaged in a variety of philanthropic and civic activities during his lifetime, most notably in the area of prison reform. In 1796, he helped to secure passage of an act by the New York legislature to create two state penitentiaries, one in New York City and the other at Albany. Eddy served as inspector and agent (warden) of Newgate prison in New York City, where he emphasized a humane program of reformation rather than punishment. Although his tenure at New-gate began well, Eddy resigned in 1804 over disputes with new inspectors, and the reputation and effectiveness of the prison declined sharply in subsequent years. In his only other letter to TJ, dated 16 May 1817, he sought TJ’s advice regarding the appointment of an engineer to oversee construction of the Erie Canal (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; W. David Lewis, From Newgate to Dannemora: The Rise of the Penitentiary in New York, 1796–1848 [Ithaca, N.Y., 1965], 4–5, 29–53).

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