Thomas Jefferson Papers

John A. Dix’s Diary Account of his Monticello Visit, 19 February [1820], document 1 in a group of documents on John A. Dix’s Visit to Monticello, 19 February 1820

I. John A. Dix’s Diary Account of his Monticello Visit

19th Feby—We set out, accompanied by Mr Todd, & at sunset arrived at Monticello.—Mr. Jefferson received us with his characteristic courtesy & plainness of manner, & introduced us to his family, which consisted of Mrs. Randolph, lady of the present Governor of Virginia, & several of her daughters. Mrs. R. is a woman of great elegance, simplicity of manner, & refinement—her daughters comely, intelligent & interesting. The ensuing day we accompanied Mr, Jefferson to Charlottesville about 4 miles distant, to view the new College, which is rising in its neighbourhood.—1

The mansion-house of Mr Jefferson2 occupies the summit of an eminence, constituting a part of the South west mountain of Virginia, elevated about 600 feet above an arm3 of the James River, which meanders at its base. This eminence, the ascent of which following the flexures4 of the road, is about a mile & an half, is of a Pyramidical form, & originally terminated so nearly in a point that Mr, Jefferson was under the necessity of levelling the apex to obtain sufficient space5 for the location of his dwelling & its subordinate constructions & for the formation of6 a lawn of tolerable dimensions.

The prospect for compass & for the variety & beauty7 of the objects, which it embraces,8 is almost unrivalled. On the south & east the horison shuts at a distance of 40 miles, leaving an intervening space of champaign country9 of luxuriant forest, spotted with farm-houses & hamlets, & intersected at intervals by silvery lines of the James River, which through an occasional vista, gleam on the sight. On the west & towards the north the Blue Ridge of Virginia, commencing at a distance of about 20, and terminating at about 130 miles, bounds the view. A cursory survey Presents it as an uninterrupted, parapet of deep azure dominating over a10 beautiful expanse of country, which spreads itself out, in the nature11 of a glacis, from the Blue ridge to the South west mountain. A critical examination exhibits it broken into numberless nodes & Promontories,12 singularly varied but not so much so as to violate the conceptions of beauty or to offend the taste.

The mansion13 of Mr Jefferson, like its illustrious occupant, is rapidly hastening to decay. The effects of time are left unrepaired to grow into evidences of neglect & dilapidation. But in this state it14 harmonises with the relations of its Sage. It holds a character of unique & solitary grandeur, elevated above the surface of ordinary things, but wasting into ruin under the attrition of years. It is difficult to contemplate without emotion these localities,15 in themselves imposing, associated with the history of him, who is the great object of our veneration. The recollection16 of his services, & of the Power which he wielded in the institution of our Government blends with the imagination of his speedy & inevitable alienation from us in the composition of Profoundly interesting & solemn emotions. They point to the achievements of our fathers, our own happy destinies,17 the increasing growth of our country & the imagination of her future Power. Based on such considerations of experience, which18 has passed, & of hopes, which are to come, there is19 a monument in feeling to those, who, as motives20 or instruments, have been influential to them the duration of which will be commensurate with the Principles of our Political existence21—the virtue of patriotism & the property of freedom.—

MS (N: Dix Diary, 1819–20); entirely in Dix’s hand; partially dated. Printed in the Literary and Scientific Repository, and Critical Review 1 (Oct. 1820): 529–30, with only the most significant variations noted below.

John Adams Dix (1798–1879), soldier and public official, was born in Boscawen, New Hampshire. He attended Phillips Exeter Academy in 1809, studied at the Collège de Montréal, and was receiving tutoring in Boston when he joined the United States Army to fight in the War of 1812. Dix served as an aide to Jacob Brown, with whom he visited TJ at Monticello in 1820. After the war he remained in the army and simultaneously read law, partly under the direction of William Wirt. Dix was admitted to the bar of the District of Columbia in 1824. He resigned from the army four years later to move to Cooperstown, New York, where he practiced law and acted as land agent for his father-in-law. Having become an active Jacksonian Democrat, Dix was appointed New York’s adjutant general in 1830, served as its secretary of state for six years beginning in 1833, and filled a vacant United States Senate seat, 1845–49. His senatorial opposition to the expansion of slavery then stalled his political career. Dix moved in 1849 to New York City, where he practiced law and served as president of both the Chicago & Rock Island Railroad and the Mississippi & Missouri Railroad for three years beginning in 1854. President James Buchanan appointed him postmaster of New York City in 1860, and he served as secretary of the treasury, January–March 1861. Later that year President Abraham Lincoln named Dix a major general in the United States Army. During the Civil War he served in Baltimore, at Fort Monroe in Virginia, and as commander of the Department of the East in New York City, 1863–65. Dix was minister plenipotentiary to France, 1866–69, and governor of New York, 1872–74. He died in New York City (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; Morgan Dix, comp., Memoirs of John Adams Dix, 2 vols. [1883]; NNC: Dix Papers; General Catalogue of the Officers and Students of the Phillips Exeter Academy. 1783–1903 [1903], 20; Heitman, U.S. Army description begins Francis B. Heitman, comp., Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, 1903, repr. 1994, 2 vols. description ends , 1:375; JEP description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States description ends , 11:186, 245–6, 489, 537–8, 16:5, 337–8, 17:4 [17 May 1860, 11 Jan., 31 July, 3 Aug. 1861, 14 Dec. 1866, 2 Mar. 1867, 11 Mar. 1869]; New York Evening Post, 22, 23 Apr. 1879).

1Paragraph not in Literary and Scientific Repository.

2Literary and Scientific Repository here adds “a chaste structure, reared on his own model after the principles of Palladio.”

3Instead of preceding two words, Literary and Scientific Repository reads “a branch.”

4Literary and Scientific Repository: “windings.”

5Literary and Scientific Repository: “surface.”

6Preceding three words not in Literary and Scientific Repository.

7Preceding two words not in Literary and Scientific Repository.

8Preceding three words not in Literary and Scientific Repository.

9Preceding three words not in Literary and Scientific Repository.

10Instead of preceding three words, Literary and Scientific Repository reads “protecting a level and.”

11Literary and Scientific Repository: “similitude.”

12Literary and Scientific Repository: “headlands.”

13Literary and Scientific Repository: “dwelling.”

14Instead of this word, Literary and Scientific Repository reads “the structure.”

15Instead of preceding four words, Literary and Scientific Repository reads “in calmness, these objects of vision.”

16Literary and Scientific Repository: “retrospection.”

17Literary and Scientific Repository: “condition.”

18Instead of preceding four words, Literary and Scientific Repository reads “recollections of what.”

19Literary and Scientific Repository here adds “raised in the heart.”

20Literary and Scientific Repository: “agents.”

21Instead of preceding two words, Literary and Scientific Repository reads “government.”

Index Entries

  • Blue Ridge Mountains; visible from Monticello search
  • Dix, John Adams; Diary Account of Monticello Visit search
  • Dix, John Adams; identified search
  • Dix, John Adams; visits Monticello search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Descriptions of; by J. A. Dix search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Public Service; praised for search
  • Monticello (TJ’s Albemarle Co. estate); described search
  • Monticello (TJ’s Albemarle Co. estate); mountaintop leveled for construction of search
  • Monticello (TJ’s Albemarle Co. estate); view from search
  • Monticello (TJ’s Albemarle Co. estate); Visitors to; Dix, John A. search
  • Monticello (TJ’s Albemarle Co. estate); Visitors to; Todd, John Payne search
  • Randolph, Martha Jefferson (Patsy; TJ’s daughter; Thomas Mann Randolph’s wife); children of search
  • Randolph, Martha Jefferson (Patsy; TJ’s daughter; Thomas Mann Randolph’s wife); description of search
  • Randolph, Thomas Mann (1768–1828) (TJ’s son-in-law; Martha Jefferson Randolph’s husband); as governor of Va. search
  • Rivanna River; visible from Monticello search
  • Southwest Mountains; Monticello mountain part of search
  • Southwest Mountains; view from Monticello search
  • Todd, John Payne; visits Monticello search
  • Virginia, University of; Construction and Grounds; TJ visits Grounds search