Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Clark to Thomas Jefferson, 19 January 1814

From Thomas Clark

Philadelphia January 19th 1814


I have taken the liberty to forward to you a copy of the second edition of the naval history of the U.S. I return you my sincere thanks for your kind communication. It was not in my power to avail myself of your two remarks on the Tripolitan war. Mr Carey was very desirous of having the work speedily published; & would not consent to the delay, which a recourse to official documents would have occasioned. There was nothing else in my possession1 sufficiently authentic, on which to rest my narrative. This however shall certainly be attended to, should a third edition be called for by the public.

I have also enclosed proposals for the publication of a history of the United States, on which for several years past I have been employed. Your patronage is earnestly solicited. Any Suggestions on the improvement of the work, or historical communication, will be thankfully received

In collecting materials all the printed documents & histories have been examined: & I Shall in succession consult the records of the several State Governments. I am desirous of knowing, whether in the government offices of Virginia there are not a number of valuable important records & papers for the historian. You would also very much oblige me by putting me in the way of obtaining an authentic & complete copy of the laws & transactions of the government of Virginia, from its settlement to the present time; likewise a file of some of your oldest & most respectable news-papers, or other local publications, that may contain any valuable or authentic historical matter. The policy of the British government; in the early part of our history, to prevent the establishment of printing presses, in the American colonies; renders the collection of materials a very arduous & difficult task.2 & in your State particularly, where Sir William Berkeley used every3 exertion to carry it into effect.

The first volume, intended as a specimen of the work, will immediately be put to press, It will contain an introductary account of the aborigines of America, & the history of the first period, ending with the commencement of the reign of James the first

I am Sir with great esteem your most humble & obedient servant

Thomas Clark

My address is No 37 south second St. Philadelphia

RC (DLC); addressed: “Thomas Jefferson Esq;”; endorsed by TJ as received 2 Feb. 1814 and so recorded in SJL. Enclosures: (1) Clark, Naval History of the United States, from the Commencement of the Revolutionary War to the Present Time, 2d ed., 2 vols. (Philadelphia, 1814; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 531; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 4 [no. 142]). (2) Clark, “Proposals, for publishing by subscription, A History of the United States,” stating that the work will be a general history of the United States, with sections about the various states and individuals important to the nation’s development, chapters on civil, political, legal, military, ecclesiastical, local, scientific, literary, educational, and natural history, and information about the country’s wealth, military resources, defenses, manners, customs, institutions, associations, and occupations “illustrative of the state and progress of society”; explaining that two octavo volumes of between five and six hundred pages are anticipated annually, at a cost of $3 per volume, “until the work be completed”; and advising that subscribers “will not be considered as obligated for the whole work, but, on notifying the publisher, may discontinue the taking of it” (printed broadside at MBAt).

The kind communication was TJ’s 19 June 1813 letter to Mathew Carey, Clark’s publisher. In the preface to the second edition of his Naval History, Clark reported that “through want of proper documents, and the hurry of the work, it was not in my power to avail myself of two of the observations of Mr. Jefferson, late president of the United States, on the Tripolitan war. They shall however not be neglected should the public call for another edition.” Prior to the Revolutionary War, significant restrictions were placed on the establishment of printing presses in America. One early authority asserted that outside Massachusetts, “no presses were set up in the colonies till near the close of the seventeenth century”; and that as late as 1775 the fifty extant American printing establishments were all located in the various colonial capitals, where they might be reined in, if necessary, by the imperial regime (Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America [Worcester, 1810; repr. 1970], 7–8). Longtime Virginia colonial governor sir william berkeley famously remarked in 1671 that “I thanke God there are noe free schooles noe printing and I hope Wee shall not have these hundred yeares for learning has brought disobedience & heresye & sects into the world and printing hath divulged them, and libells against the best Government. God keepe us from both” (Warren M. Billings and Maria Kimberly, eds., The Papers of Sir William Berkeley, 1605–1677 [2007], 397).

Clark sent the same enclosures to President James Madison on 24 Jan. 1814 (DLC: Madison Papers).

1Manuscript: “possion.”

2Manuscript: “tasks.”

3Manuscript: “evey.”

Index Entries

  • Berkeley, Sir William; on printing presses search
  • books; on history search
  • Carey, Mathew; and T. Clark’s Naval History of the United States search
  • Clark, Thomas; letters from search
  • Clark, Thomas; Naval History of the United States search
  • Clark, Thomas; proposed history of the United States search
  • historiography; of U.S. search
  • historiography; of Va. search
  • history; books on search
  • history; naval search
  • James I, king of England; reign of search
  • Madison, James; works sent to search
  • Naval History of the United States (T. Clark) search
  • printing; colonial policies on search
  • United States; historiography of search
  • Virginia; historiography of search