Thomas Jefferson Papers

Joseph Cabell Breckinridge to Thomas Jefferson, 14 May 1815

From Joseph Cabell Breckinridge

Lexington May 14. 1815.

Dear Sir,

The freedom I take in obtruding this letter upon you, needs an apology. I hope a sufficient one will be found in the following statement.

Doctor Buchanan, a native of this state—a gentleman of unusual talents—for several years past, distinguished as a metaphysician—and now the Editor of a patriotic Newspaper, in Frankfort, called the “Palladium”—is engaged in collecting materials for a Biographical work, to be confined in its selections to the western states. He has expressed a wish to include my Father—and requests my aid in procuring matter. I have written to several of the early friends and associates of my Father, from whom I expect to obtain such1 information, touching the earlier incidents of his life, as is required for the satisfactory execution of the undertaking. But it will probably be on that portion of the narrative which includes his political exertions, that the writer will bestow most attention, and towards which the public curiosity will be most eagerly directed.—Have the feelings of a fond Son carried me too far in my solicitude for the memory of a beloved Father, in the appeal I am about to make? Who could know him better, than the man he respected most? Who better decide on the merits of his acts, than the great projector of that republican system of policy, which it was his unceasing aim to consummate?—Tho’ lost to his country, his family, and his friends,—cut off from usefulness and increasing fame, there are those whose approbation can add a precious consolation to the bereaved, and an earnest to posterity of that excellence which an untimely death obscured! Relying then on the benevolent kindness of that disposition, which it was among the first lessons of my childhood to revere, I ask from you a communication on the subject of this memoir—Your compliance with this request will draw largely on the gratitude, but can add nothing to the respect of your

Admirer and Friend.

Joseph Cabell Breckinridge

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 6 June 1815 and so recorded in SJL.

Joseph Cabell Breckinridge (1788–1823) was a native of Virginia whose family moved to Kentucky in 1793. His father, John Breckinridge, served as attorney general in TJ’s administration from 1805 until his death the following year. After graduating from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) in 1810, the younger Breckinridge studied law and opened a practice in Lexington. He represented Fayette County in the Kentucky House of Representatives, 1816–19, and was its Speaker, 1817–19. Breckinridge served as Kentucky’s secretary of state from 1820 until his death. His son, John Cabell Breckinridge, was vice president of the United States, 1857–61 (James C. Klotter, The Breckinridges of Kentucky, 1760–1981 [1986], 95–6, 110–2; The Biographical Encyclopedia of Kentucky of the Dead and Living Men of the Nineteenth Century [1878], 19; Journal of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Kentucky [1816–17 sess.]: 47, 56; [1817–18 sess.]: 3, 4–5; [1818–19 sess.]: 3, 5; PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 37 vols. description ends , 27:270–1; Clay, Papers description begins James F. Hopkins and others, eds., The Papers of Henry Clay, 1959–1992, 11 vols. description ends , 3:493; Louisville Public Advertiser, 6 Sept. 1823).

Joseph buchanan was a publisher of the Frankfort Kentucky Palladium. His biographical work was never published (DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Brigham, American Newspapers description begins Clarence S. Brigham, History and Bibliography of American Newspapers, 1690–1820, 1947, 2 vols. description ends , 1:153–4). Wilson Cary Nicholas was among the early friends and associates to whom Breckinridge wrote (Breckinridge to Nicholas, 30 Apr. 1815, and Nicholas, biographical essay on John Breckinridge, [after 10 May 1815] [both MHi]).

1Word interlined.

Index Entries

  • books; biographical search
  • Breckinridge, John; proposed biography of search
  • Breckinridge, Joseph Cabell; and proposed biography of John Breckinridge search
  • Breckinridge, Joseph Cabell; identified search
  • Breckinridge, Joseph Cabell; letters from search
  • Buchanan, Joseph; proposes biographical work search
  • Buchanan, Joseph; publishes Kentucky Palladium search
  • Kentucky; newspapers search
  • Kentucky Palladium (Frankfort newspaper); publisher of search
  • newspapers; Frankfort Kentucky Palladium search
  • Nicholas, Wilson Cary (1761–1820); biographical essay on J. Breckinridge search