Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Henry Latrobe, 12 July 1812

To Benjamin Henry Latrobe

Monticello July 12. 12.

Dear Sir

Of all the faculties of the human mind that of Memory is the first which suffers decay from Age.1 of the commencement of this decay, I was fully sensible while I lived in Washington, & it was my earliest Monitor to retire from public business. it has often since been the source of great regret, when applied to by others to attest transactions in which I had been an agent, to find that they had entirely evanished from my memory. in no case has it given me more concern than in that which is the subject of your letter of the 2d inst, the supper given in 1807. to the workmen on the Capitol. of this supper I have not the smallest recollection. if it ever was mentioned to me, not a vestige of it now remains in my mind. this failure of my memory is no proof the thing did not happen; but only takes from it the support of my testimony which cannot be given for what is obliterated from it.2 I have looked among my papers to see if they furnish any trace of the matter: but I find none, & must therefore acquiesce in my incompetence to administer to truth on this occasion. I am sorry to learn that Congress has relinquished the benefit of the engagements of Andrei & Franzoni on the sculpture of the Capitol. they are artists of a grade far above what we can expect to get again. I still hope they will continue to work on the basis of the appropriation made, & as far as that will go; so that what is done will be well done: and perhaps a more favorable moment may still preserve them to us. with respect to yourself, the little disquietudes from individuals not chosen for their taste in works of art, will be sunk into oblivion, while the Representatives’ chamber will remain a durable monument of your talents as an Architect. I say nothing of the Senate room because I have never seen it. I shall live in the hope that the day will come when an opportunity will be given you of finishing the Middle building in a style worthy of the two wings, and worthy of the first temple dedicated to the sovereignty of the people; embellishing with Athenian taste the course of a nation looking far beyond the range of Athenian destinies. in every situation, public or private, be assured of my sincere wishes for your prosperity & happiness, & of the continuance of my esteem & respect.

Th: Jefferson

PoC (DLC); at foot of first page: “ Mr Latrobe.”

Sometime in August 1812 Latrobe quoted from this letter in a deposition which stated that “notwithstanding the failure of the memory of the late President as to the facts above deposed, the deponent assuredly did consult him prior to the supper & had his assent thereto,” adding that “the President subsequently declared his total disapprobation of the charge made by sd P D Stelle” (undated “Affidavit to Stelle’s acct agst the public Bldgs” [MdHi: Latrobe Letterbook], with J. W. Blake’s attestation that Latrobe “did at the time of making this deposition exhibit to me the original letter signed Thos Jefferson in which are found the words above cited”). Latrobe appealed to President James Madison on 6 Aug. 1812 to approve as a public expenditure the cost of the supper given on 17 Oct. 1807 at Stelle’s Tavern (Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, John C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, 1962– , 31 vols.  Congress. Ser., 17 vols.  Pres. Ser., 6 vols.  Sec. of State Ser., 8 vols description ends , Pres. Ser., 5:123–4).

1Sentence quoted in Latrobe’s August 1812 deposition.

2Text from “in no case” to this point quoted in Latrobe’s August 1812 deposition.

Index Entries

  • Andrei, Giovanni; sculptor for U.S. Capitol search
  • Capitol, U.S.; B. H. Latrobe works on search
  • Franzoni, Giuseppe Antonio; sculptor at U.S. Capitol search
  • Latrobe, Benjamin Henry; and expenses at U.S. Capitol search
  • Latrobe, Benjamin Henry; letters to search
  • Latrobe, Benjamin Henry; works on U.S. Capitol search
  • Stelle, Pontius D.; caters dinner for workmen search
  • Treasury Department, U.S.; and B. H. Latrobe’s expenses search