Thomas Jefferson Papers

Joseph M. Sanderson to Thomas Jefferson, 9 December 1818

From Joseph M. Sanderson

Baltimore Dec. 9 1818—

Dear Sir—

I Send you the prospectus of a work which I am about to publish—I wish to know your opinion of the plan, & if not imposing too much on your leisure I would be glad if you would suggest any alteration by which it can be made interesting to the People of the United States—A work of the kind appears to be Much wanted—for Many of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence are entirely unknown to two-thirds of the people—The avidity recently displayed for the possession of the print of the Declaration of Independence, & the anxiety to know the history of the several Signers is a proof that the characters of Many of those illustrious men have been neglected—Such however is the Motive that has prompted me to the undertaking & I trust that through the assistance of the several connexions I shall be able to Make it honorable to the nation—To you I would apply for some of the facts relative to the passage of the law—but I fear it would be too much intrusion—If however there is any thing you could communicat[e] without interfering with your ease that would tend to illustrate the work—I shall consider Myself under an unbounded obligation to you—with wishes therfore for your ease & comfort, I remain, very respectfully

your humble Servant
Joseph M. Sanderson
48 Market street

RC (MHi); edge trimmed; endorsed by TJ as received 14 Dec. 1818 and so recorded in SJL. RC (ViU: TJP); address cover only; with PoC of TJ to Thomas Cooper, 9 Apr. 1819, on verso; addressed: “His Excellency Thomas Jefferson Monticella Virg.”; franked; postmarked Baltimore, 9 Dec.

Joseph McClellan Sanderson (1792–1866), printer and publisher, was a native of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. In the War of 1812 he volunteered as a private in an artillery unit, and by 1815 he was working as a printer in Philadelphia. Sanderson relocated briefly to Baltimore. There he was a partner in the firm of Sanderson & Ward, which sold prints and mirrors. After the partnership became insolvent and dissolved in 1819, Sanderson returned to Philadelphia. In 1818 he had begun promoting a multivolume edition of biographies of signers of the Declaration of Independence. Containing contributions by his brother John Sanderson, he published it as Biography of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence, 9 vols. (Philadelphia, 1820–27; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 5 [no. 152]). The second volume, published in 1822, included a biography of George Wythe based on information submitted by TJ. Financial constraints obliged the brothers to relinquish the project to others thereafter. Sanderson was publisher of the Aurora General Advertiser for a short interval in 1823, and he also published the Philadelphia Price Current, 1827–29. He ran the Merchants’ Coffee House and later built and operated the Merchants’ Hotel. Sanderson retired in 1847, later moved to New York City, and died there (Edward Carpenter and Louis Henry Carpenter, comps., Samuel Carpenter and his Descendants [1912], 98; A History of Philadelphia, with a Notice of Villages in the Vicinity [1839], 33; Baltimore Patriot & Mercantile Advertiser, 6 Nov., 16 Dec. 1817, 25 Apr., 2 Sept. 1818, 30 Sept. 1819; Samuel Jackson, comp., The Baltimore Directory [Baltimore, 1819]; TJ to John Sanderson, 31 Aug. 1820; TJ’s Notes for a Biography of George Wythe, [ca. 31 Aug. 1820]; Gordon M. Marshall, “The Golden Age of Illustrated Biographies: Three Case Studies,” in Wendy Wick Reaves, ed., American Portrait Prints: Proceedings of the Tenth Annual American Print Conference [1984], esp. 53; A Checklist of Pennsylvania Newspapers [1944], 11, 38; DNA: RG 29, CS, Pa., Philadelphia, 1820–40; New York Evening Post and New York Herald, both 4 Jan. 1866).

Although the enclosed prospectus for Sanderson’s Biography of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence has not been found, a presumably similar newspaper version announced that the biographies would be written by Paul Allen; that the work would run to ten half-volumes priced at $2.50 each, “printed on fine paper, made expressly for the purpose”; and that it would include a history of the proceedings of the Continental Congress as well as the text of the Declaration itself, with facsimile signatures (Baltimore Patriot & Mercantile Advertiser, 10 Dec. 1818). The firm of Sanderson & Ward acted as agents for the sale of Benjamin O. Tyler’s print of the declaration of independence (Baltimore Patriot & Mercantile Advertiser, 18, 23 Apr. 1818).

Index Entries

  • Allen, Paul; proposed work by search
  • Biography of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence (J. M. Sanderson) search
  • books; biographical search
  • Declaration of Independence; published search
  • Declaration of Independence; signers of search
  • Sanderson, Joseph McClellan; Biography of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence search
  • Sanderson, Joseph McClellan; identified search
  • Sanderson, Joseph McClellan; letter from search
  • Sanderson & Ward (Baltimore firm); as print sellers search
  • Tyler, Benjamin Owen; engraving of Declaration of Independence by search