Introduction

This website is a digital version of “3. volumes bound in Marbled paper” – Thomas Jefferson’s own compilation of about 800 letters, reports, and memoranda that was essentially a documentary history of his tenure as Secretary of State, from mid-April 1790 until his resignation at the end of 1793. The “3. volumes” no longer exist as physical entities, having been disassembled early in the twentieth century and the documents dispersed chronologically throughout Jefferson’s papers in the Library of Congress. But with the discovery in the 1980s that a six-page list in Jefferson’s hand was the “table of contents” of the three volumes, and with the more recent advent of freely accessible electronic collections of Jefferson’s (and other Founding Fathers’) writings via the National Archives’ Founders Online and the University of Virginia Press’s Rotunda websites,[1] it is now possible to virtually restore to the historical record the documentary history of his tenure as Secretary of State that Jefferson so meticulously compiled, but that has been hidden from view for more than a century.

 

The Contents of the “3. volumes”

Jefferson probably compiled the three volumes in 1801 or 1802, while he was President, and in 1818, in retirement, he reviewed them, removed several items, and wrote a revealing document he titled “Explanations of the 3. volumes bound in Marbled paper.”[2] Jefferson began by describing the two kinds of documents that he included. First, there were about 700 “official opinions given in writing by me to Genl Washington, while I was Secretary of state, with sometimes the documents belonging to the case. some of these are the rough draughts, some press-copies, some fair ones.” Virtually every significant issue that arose during his tenure is represented in the compilation: diplomatic and commercial relations with Great Britain, Spain, and France (including the Genet Affair and neutrality and the proclamation); troubles with the Barbary states; relations with Native Americans and wars on the frontier; establishing the capital in Washington; coinage; weights and measures; patents; Hamilton’s financial system; revolutions in France and St. Domingue; the origins of party politics; and activities in the Northwest and Southwest Territories.

The second kind of document was of a different order altogether: about seventy-five private memorandums that have come to be collectively known as the “Anas.” Jefferson wrote: “in the earlier part of my acting in that office [Secretary of State] I took no other note of the passing transactions: but, after awhile, I saw the importance of doing it, in aid of my memory. very often therefore I made memorandums on loose scraps of paper, taken out of my pocket in the moment, and laid by to be copied fair at leisure, which however they hardly ever were. these scraps therefore, ragged, rubbed, & scribbled as they were, I had bound with the others” (that is, the official papers).[3]


Thomas Jefferson by Charles Willson Peale, 1791-1793,
courtesy of Independence National Historical Park

The seventy-five “Anas” memorandums have traditionally been published separately as a discrete unit. It was Jefferson’s grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph who first gathered these memorandums together and in 1829 published them separately, and it was Randolph – not Jefferson, as is so often claimed – who gave them the collective name of “The Anas.”[4] Four subsequent editors more or less followed Randolph’s lead, presenting the “Anas” as if Jefferson had always intended that they be gathered and published separately.[5] (There is no evidence for such an assertion.) Thus, up until the present day the “Anas” -- these informal, hurriedly-written accounts of cabinet meetings and conversations, private meetings and gossip -- have been read outside the context provided by the much more numerous official documents with which Jefferson combined them to create a three-volume documentary history of his tenure as Secretary of State.

But read the “Anas” have been, for they do provide some of the best (and most frequently quoted) contemporaneous accounts of politics in George Washington’s administration. Jefferson’s first-person, first-hand accounts -- of Cabinet meetings, conversations with the President and others, and the like -- are not always entirely accurate, but they never cease to engage and enlighten. For example in a memorandum of 17 December 1792 Jefferson immediately set down a record of a conversation with Washington about repaying $2 million of the loan from France, and Hamilton’s “trick” to divert the funds to the Bank of the United States instead; the practice of officials creating contemporaneous documentation of such conversations with a President has a long history. Likewise, Jefferson once recorded four memorandums on same sheet, from mid-December 1792 to mid-January 1793, including one he later struck out about Hamilton and the Reynolds Affair (but he did not do a very effective job of that, because the entry is still fairly readable through the heavy inking). The Reynolds Affair became public five years later, perhaps by way of a leak by Jefferson, but here is evidence that he had been apprised of the scandal almost immediately.

 

The History of the “3. volumes”

Thomas Jefferson left his papers, official and personal, by bequest to his grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph, who served as executor of the estate beginning in 1809. Randolph used the collection to produce the first selective edition of Jefferson’s writings, in four volumes issued in 1829.[6] Two decades later, Randolph sold Jefferson’s official papers to the U.S. government in 1848 for $20,000. The Department of State took possession of all the papers so that it could identify and retain the official papers and return the personal papers to the family (which did not occur until 1871).[7] The “3. volumes,” apparently not being judged personal, were retained by the government and were still intact when, sometime before 1903, Franklin B. Sawvel consulted them while preparing his Complete Anas of Thomas Jefferson. Sawvel noted that the so-called “Anas” memoranda “remain scattered through three large folios.”[8] Shortly thereafter, on 25 July 1904, the official papers were transferred from the State Department to the Library of Congress. And some time after that transfer, in what the Jefferson Papers editors termed an “archival crime,”[9] the staff of the Library of Congress disbound the volumes and interfiled all of the documents chronologically among other Jefferson papers, seemingly effacing from the historical record the documentary history that Jefferson had so laboriously created about a century earlier. Virtually all of the 800-odd documents were therefore published between 1961 and 1997 in eleven Jefferson Papers volumes (16-27) where they fell in chronological order.

There things stood until the mid-1980s, when Editor Charles T. Cullen and his staff, while preparing Volume 22, re-examined a six-page list in Jefferson’s hand. (The editors of the Jefferson Papers labeled it SJPL, for Summary Journal of Public Letters, but is not to be confused with an epistolary record of that name kept by Jefferson’s clerks.) Through some good sleuthing and with the aid of watermarks on the paper, they were able to date Jefferson’s list to 1801 or 1802. Because the list included official papers as well as private memos and so clearly fit the description of the “3. volumes” that Jefferson gave in the “Explanations,” the editors concluded that it was in effect the table of contents of the “3. volumes,” and that Jefferson apparently compiled them around that time. The editors explained all of this in the Foreword and in an extensive Editorial Note on “The ‘Anas’” in volume 22 of the Jefferson Papers.[10]

 

Jefferson’s Purpose in Compiling His “3. volumes”

As Jefferson states it, his principal motive in compiling these 800-odd documents in the three volumes was to gather material that could be used to produce a history of the era to counter the Federalist narrative being propounded by John Marshall from the arch-Federalist perspective. He felt it necessary to document his story, to gather the raw material out of which such a Republican history could be written, because he feared losing the battle to control the narrative to his nemesis, Chief Justice John Marshall, whose work in progress -- the five-volume Life of Washington -- held out the greatest prospect of cementing the Federalist account as the established, orthodox interpretation of the founding era.

The two Virginians were both descended from Randolphs and were distant relations (Marshall’s great-grandfather Thomas Randolph of Tuckahoe was the brother of Jefferson’s grandfather Isham Randolph). Jefferson was older by twelve years. Perhaps owing to the difference in age and career paths, and to Jefferson’s residence in France for so many years following the Revolution, they did not meet in person until after Jefferson became Secretary of State (a post Marshall later held under John Adams, from 1800 to 1801). The deep and mutual antipathy of these two distant cousins, which lasted until Jefferson’s death (almost a decade before Marshall’s) starkly reflected the vast differences in their political philosophies and worldviews. Their disagreements were evident in such major episodes as the XYZ Affair, early Supreme Court cases and the proper role of the judiciary, and the treason trial of Aaron Burr. The source of friction relevant to this website was the publication of Marshall’s Life of Washington, and it is the key to understanding Jefferson’s motivation in compiling his three volumes.

The story begins almost immediately after Washington’s death in December 1799. The President had left his papers to his nephew Bushrod Washington (1762-1829), a Federalist who at the time had only recently taken up his seat as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court. (Marshall, who had studied law with Bushrod Washington under George Wythe, declined the nomination and supported John Adams’s appointment of Washington; Wythe was of course also the legal mentor of Jefferson). Bushrod Washington, knowing that the public would be clamoring for a George Washington biography soon, briefly contemplated writing it himself (perhaps co-authored by Tobias Lear), but then thought better of it and recruited Marshall for the monumental task. It took the Chief Justice six years to produce five thick volumes adding up to more than 3,000 pages.

Because the author had privileged access to Washington’s original papers, the title page of Marshall’s volumes stated that the work was “compiled under the inspection of the Honourable Bushrod Washington, from original papers bequeathed to him by his deceased relative, and now in possession of the author.” This statement gave the work the aura of official sanction, and likely increased its credibility among readers. (In order to provide Marshall with the access to the archive he needed, Bushrod Washington tempted fate by shipping all of the late President’s papers from Mount Vernon to Richmond, a risky proposition).

Here chronology becomes somewhat important. Jefferson was one of the original subscribers to the publication. He received the prospectus in September 1802 from the Philadelphia publisher, C. P. Wayne, and noted on it that he


George Washington by Charles Willson Peale, 1795,
courtesy of the New-York Historical Society

had subscribed for one copy. The first volume of the Life of Washington did not appear until 1804, several years after Jefferson compiled his documents into the three volumes. Jefferson received volume one in October 1804 and volume two a month later. He received volume three in May 1805, volume four in April 1806, and the fifth volume, which covered the period of Washington’s Presidency, at the end of March 1807.[11]

But Jefferson – and indeed most politically-attuned Americans -- were aware that by the fall of 1800 Marshall had agreed to be the author, and there could be no doubt that it would be a Federalist history of America. And it was indeed not only a life of George Washington but the history of the nation, because Marshall wished to shed light on “the genius, character, and resources” of the people whom Washington was to lead.[12] So volume one told the story of America from the first European explorations through the end of the Seven Years’ War, and Washington does not make his first appearance until page 377 of a 488-page text. Even in later volumes, as much space is given over to letters to Washington as to those from him, and it is possible to read many pages at a stretch that have nothing to do with Washington himself.

Jefferson’s fears were well-founded, because Marshall was indeed hard on Jefferson and the Republicans. Jefferson is not mentioned by name all that frequently, but he was guilty by association, for Marshall employed such epithets for the Republicans as “the opposition” (5:403); “the enemies of the administration” (5:408); and “the discontented few” (5:222). Republicans presented “exaggerated accounts . . . of monarchical tendencies” (5:221); and Jefferson engaged the press to be a “vehicle of calumny” against Federalists (5:357). Jefferson and Hamilton are introduced with character sketches and career summaries up to the time they joined the administration. Marshall’s sketch of Jefferson, on first reading, seems to be factual, even-handed, perhaps even slightly complimentary. But turning the page to continue with Hamilton, the reader finds an account that is almost twice as long (62 lines to 35) and filled with such encomia as “superior endowments,” “equally brave and intelligent,” and “a great degree of merited fame” (5:210-213).

Jefferson’s concern for posterity and for the integrity of the historical record – one might even say his anxiety lest his three volumes go astray -- was such that about two months after he wrote the “Explanations” he showed that document to his close friend Joseph C. Cabell, Virginia state senator and supporter of the founding of the University of Virginia. Cabell wrote a very revealing memorandum, in which he described the “Explanations” as “a commentary written by [Jefferson] on Marshall’s life of Washington” and said that “it would be published on his death by Col: Randolph, and his Grandson T. J. Randolph, to whom he should leave his papers: but he wished that the knowledge of the existence of this paper should not be confined to members of his own family,” and that therefore Jefferson intended to show it to Madison as well as Cabell. Jefferson certainly evinced a high degree of concern about the historical record.

At the time Jefferson wrote the “Explanations” the Federalists were a spent force, having finally disgraced themselves with threats of secession during the War of 1812. Democratic-Republicanism was triumphant, politically, yet there was still the bar of history to consider. In the 1818 “Explanations” Jefferson said that while reviewing his three volumes “after the lapse of 25 years, or more, from their dates, I have given to the whole a calm revisal, when the passions of the time are past away.” But in fact those passions had not passed away, at least for Jefferson, and reviewing his compilation recalled to his mind those early political battles. “Explanations” is an attack on Marshall and his history and one of Jefferson’s most ardent statements of his view of the stark choice the early Republic faced. He was in a sense re-fighting the battles of the 1790s; as he put it in the “Explanations” the question was whether the states “should be consolidated into a single government, or each remain independant as to internal matters” and “whether that National government should be a monarchy or republic.” His own collection of documents would be “testimony against the only history of that period which pretends to have been compiled from authentic and unpublished documents.”  Jefferson’s deep-seated anxiety about Marshall’s influence comes ringing through several passages in his “Explanations”:

“had Genl Washington himself written from these materials a history of the period they embrace, it would have been a conspicuous monument of the integrity of his mind, the soundness of his judgment, and it’s powers of discernment between truth & falshood, principles & pretensions. but the party feelings of his biographer, to whom after his death the collection was confided, have culled from it a composition, as different from what Genl Washington would have offered, as was the candor of the two characters.”

“. . . the partiality of his [Marshall’s] pen is displayed in lavishments of praise on certain military characters, who had done nothing military, but who afterwards, & before he wrote, had become heroes in party, altho’ not in war [Hamilton, of course]; and in his reserve on the merits of others [Jefferson himself, of course], who rendered signal services indeed, but did not earn his praise by apostatising in peace from the republican principles for which they had fought in war.”

Jefferson denounced Hamilton as the leader of those who preyed on Revolutionary War veterans by buying up the IOUs they had received for their service at huge discounts:

 “immense sums were thus filched from the poor & ignorant, and fortunes accumulated by those who had themselves been poor enough before. men thus enriched by the dexterity of a leader, would follow of course the chief who was leading them to fortune, and become the zealous instruments of all his enterprizes.”

And on the assumption of state debts by the federal government:

“the more debt Hamilton could rake up, the more plunder for his mercenaries.”

       These are not the sentiments of one for whom the passions of the time had passed away. But Jefferson was careful not to personally criticize George Washington, even almost two decades after his death; rather he emphasized that the President had been duped by Hamilton.

 

Jefferson’s Attempt to Use his “3. volumes”

If Jefferson ever hoped to see his documentary history turned into a narrative history to rival Marshall’s, he would need to enlist an author with the literary skills and compatible political leanings to accomplish it. And of course the scope of such a work could not just be the period of Jefferson’s Secretaryship of State -- which was the scope of his “3. volumes” – because Marshall’s was a history of the nation up to 1799, with a particular focus on the Revolution and the early years of the new nation. The man with the requisite knowledge and skill to undertake such a wide-ranging work, whom Jefferson tried to recruit at least twice, was Joel Barlow, poet, diplomat, and fervent Jeffersonian.


Alexander Hamilton by Charles Willson Peale,
1790-1795, courtesy of
Independence National Historical Park

In May 1802 Jefferson wrote to Barlow, then in France: “Mr. Madison & myself have cut out a piece of work for you, which is to write the history of the US. from the close of the war downwards. we are rich ourselves in materials, and can open all the public archives to you. but your residence here is essential, because a great deal of the knolege of things is not on paper but only within ourselves, for verbal communication. John Marshal is writing the life of Genl. Washington from his papers. it is intended to come out just in time to influence the next presidential election [that is, Jefferson’s re-election campaign in 1804]. it is written therefore principally with a view to electioneering purposes. but it will consequently be out in time to aid you with information as well as to point out the perversions of truth necessary to be rectified. think of this, & agree to it.”[13]

And in October 1809, Jefferson reported that he “intended, ere this, to have sent you the papers I had promised you. but I have taken up Marshal’s 5 th. volume & mean to read it carefully, to correct what is wrong in it, and commit to writing such facts and annotations as the reading that work will bring into my recollection and which have not yet been put on paper. in this I shall be much aided by my memorandums & letters, and will send you both the old & the new. but I go on very slowly. . . . I hope therefore to get through this volume [of Marshall] during the ensuing winter; but should you want the papers sooner, they shall be sent at a moment’s warning.”[14] Those “memorandums and letters” were very likely the “3. volumes,” which could easily have been sent on literally “at a moment’s warning.”

Jefferson did in fact begin to make notes on Marshall, but he only commented on three passages, and didn’t get past page 33.[15] Barlow never took up Jefferson’s challenge, but some manuscript notes for an unfinished history of the U.S. survive .[16]

 

By John C. Van Horne

 


[2] PTJ Retirement, 12:417-429, available online at https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-12-02-0343-0002. See also the associated editorial note on Jefferson's Introduction to the "Anas" (https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-12-02-0343-0001), Jefferson's notes on Volume 5 of John Marshall's Life of Washington (https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-12-02-0343-0003), and an April 1818 memorandum by Joseph C. Cabell (https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-12-02-0343-0004).

[3] PTJ Retirement, 12:417.

[4] Thomas Jefferson Randolph, ed., Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies: from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 4 vols. (1829), 4:443-523.

[5] H. A. (Henry Augustine) Washington, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson: Being his Autobiography, Correspondence, Reports, Messages, Addresses, and Other Writings, Official and Private: Published by the Order of the Joint Committee of Congress on the Library, from the Original Manuscripts, Deposited in the Department of State, 9 vols. (1853-1854), 9:87-211; Paul Leicester Ford, ed., Writings of Thomas Jefferson, 10 vols. (1892), 1:154-339; Andrew Adgate Lipscomb and Albert Ellery Bergh, eds., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, 20 vols. (1903-1907), 1:263-492; Franklin B. Sawvel, ed., The Complete Anas of Thomas Jefferson (1903). These editors included not only the memorandums through the end of 1793 that would have been in Jefferson’s compilation, but also many similar memorandums the Jefferson wrote as late as 1809.

[6] Thomas Jefferson Randolph, ed., Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies: from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 4 vols. (1829).

[7] [Paul G. Sifton], Introduction (Provenance), Index to the Thomas Jefferson Papers (Washington, D.C., 1976), xii-xiii.

[8] Sawvel, ed., Complete Anas, 10.

[9] PTJ 22:38.

[11] E. Millicent Sowerby, The Library of Thomas Jefferson, 5 vols. (Washington, D.C., 1943), 1:241-243.

[12] Marshall, Life of Washington, 5 vols. (Philadelphia, 1804-1807), 1:xi.

[13] TJ to JB, 3 May 1802, PTJ 37:399-402; quote on 400-401.

[14] TJ to JB, 8 Oct. 1809, PTJ Retirement 1:588-590; quote on 589.

[15] PTJ Retirement, 12:429-431.

[16] In the Monroe, Wakeman, and Holman Collection of the Pequot Library Association, Southport, Conn., on deposit at the Beinecke Library, Yale University (M934 and M935).