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Francis D. Cogliano

Subject History

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781444330151.2012.00003.x


On February 17, 1826 Thomas Jefferson wrote to his close friend James Madison. After discussing the appointment of a law professor for the University of Virginia, Jefferson lamented his crushing debts and outlined a lottery scheme which he hoped would solve the problem and save his home. At age eighty-two and in declining health, Jefferson was preoccupied with his legacy. He wrote to Madison, “It has … been a great solace to me, to believe that you are engaged in vindicating to posterity the course we have pursued for preserving to them, in all their purity, the blessings of self-government, which we have assisted too in acquiring for them.” Jefferson worried that future generations would forget, misconstrue, or misuse his historical legacy. He closed his letter with a plea that his friend “Take care of me when dead.” (TJ to James Madison, February 17, 1826, TJW , 1515) Jefferson need not have worried. Although his reputation has waxed and waned over time he has not wanted for the attention of posterity. Since his death on July 4, 1826 biographers and historians have sought to come to grips with Jefferson. They have done so for a vast and interested audience of fellow scholars, politicians, and a general public that has a seemingly insatiable appetite for things Jeffersonian. Several examples illustrate the ubiquity of Jefferson and Jefferson's image in contemporary America, and ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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