Mr. Jefferson's business : the farming letters of Thomas Jefferson and Edmund Bacon, 1806-1826

Martin, Russell Lionel, Department of English, University of Virginia
Vander Meulen, David, Department of English, University of Virginia
Howard, Alan, Department of English, University of Virginia
Perdue, Charles L., Department of English, University of Virginia
Innes, Stephen, Department of English, University of Virginia

This dissertation makes available, in literal transcriptions, all of the surviving correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and Edmund Bacon, Jefferson's overseer at Monticello. In addition to 80 letters by Jefferson and 81 letters by Bacon, the dissertation includes a statement of editorial method, an historical introduction, and a textual apparatus.

While the Jefferson-Bacon letters are important sources for students of Jefferson's farming operations at Monticello and, more broadly, for students of agriculture in the early republic, the correspondence carries an intrinsic appeal as well. Part of the pleasure of reading the letters lies in their contrasting styles. Jefferson's prose is always direct and to the point; Bacon's is often muddled and rambling. The constant interplay between their divergent voices--one an embodiment of enlightenment clarity, the other an expression of the American vernacular--reveals much about the writers and, in the context of their lives, much about American history. Just as Jefferson initiated (and Bacon carried forward) various agricultural pursuits at Monticello, so, in a larger sense, Jefferson initiated, or "authorized," through the Declaration of Independence, the American experiment in democracy, carried forward by iii ordinary people, men and women like Edmund Bacon.

When Bacon left Monticello for a new life in the west in 1822, he took with him an abiding admiration for Thomas Jefferson and a determination to fashion his own life after Jefferson's example. By the time of his death in 1866, Bacon had reaped a mixed harvest from the seeds sown by Thomas Jefferson. Bacon's material wealth was an expression of Jefferson's faith that commercial farming formed a practical basis for republican government by creating a class of independent husbandmen. Bacon's individual happiness rested, however, on the labor of slaves, another legacy of Jefferson's, and one which was resolved only by the Civil War.

The Jefferson-Bacon letters and the long working relationship between the two men reveal important sides of their characters; moreover, the biographical details have emblematic value as expressions of aspects of American culture in the early republic.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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