Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Paul A. Clay, [ca. 12 July 1817]

To Paul A. Clay

[ca. 12 July 1817]

Th: Jefferson to Paul Clay S.

1. never spend your money before you have it.

2. never buy what you don’t want, because it is cheap: it will be dear to you.1

3. Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst and cold.

4. never put off to tomorrow what you can do to-day.

5. never trouble another for what you can do yourself.

6 think as you please and let others do so: you will then have no disputes.2

7. how much pain have cost us the things which have never happened!3

8. take things always by their smooth handle4

9. when angry, count 10. before you speak: if very angry, 100.

10. when at table, remember that we never repent of having eaten or drunk too little

FC (DLC); entirely in TJ’s hand; undated; subjoined to PoC of covering letter. Enclosed in TJ to Charles Clay, 12 July 1817. Not recorded in SJL.

Paul Aurelius Clay (1807–80), planter, was the son of TJ’s longtime friend and neighbor Charles Clay. He was born in Bedford County and grew up at Petty Grove plantation. At his father’s death in 1820, Clay inherited a silver can (drinking vessel) that TJ had given to the elder Clay. He attended the University of Virginia in 1826 and 1827. Clay farmed in Bedford County for many years, and by 1850 his personal estate was valued at $25,000, including twenty-seven slaves. He subsequently lived in Henrico County before moving to Charlotte County, where he died (VMHB description begins Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 1893–  description ends 31 [1923]: 262–3; Clay family Bible record, 1745–1873 [Vi]; Bedford Co. Will Book, 5:171–2; Joseph Van Holt Nash, Students of the University of Virginia: A Semi-centennial Catalogue, with Brief Biographical Sketches [1878]; TJ to Arthur S. Brockenbrough, 19 Dec. 1825; J. Staunton Moore, comp., The Annals and History of Henrico Parish, Diocese of Virginia [1904; repr. 1979], 242; Richmond Enquirer, 14 Sept. 1838; DNA: RG 29, CS, Bedford Co., 1840, 1850, 1850 slave schedules, Henrico Co., 1860, Charlotte Co., Madison Township, 1870; Lynchburg Virginian, 4 Oct. 1880).

TJ refined the above advice, the so-called Canons of Conduct, over the course of his retirement. Most of the maxims were not original to TJ, although his arrangement of them was. For a later version, see enclosure to TJ to Thomas Jefferson Smith, 21 Feb. 1825.

The English schoolmaster William Lily used the admonition haec animo concipe dicta tuo (“take these words into your mind”) (Lily, A Short Introduction of Grammar [London, 1695; Sowerby, description begins E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 1952–59, 5 vols. description ends no. 4784]). et vale: “and farewell.”

1TJ here canceled “3. take care of your pence. the pounds will take care of themselves” and renumbered the subsequent three items on the list to reflect the deletion.

2Sentence interlined in place of “7. never do a good thing by halves.”

3Sentence interlined in place of “<8> 7. think as you please, and let others do so: you will then have no disputes.”

4Sentence interlined, with further interlineation beneath that of “how much pain h,” erased.

Index Entries

  • children; and TJ’s Canons of Conduct search
  • children; letters to; P. A. Clay search
  • Clay, Paul Aurelius; identified search
  • Clay, Paul Aurelius; letter to search
  • Clay, Paul Aurelius; TJ’s Canons of Conduct sent to search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Canons of Conduct search
  • Lily, William; admonition by search