Sections: Memory | Reason | Imagination 

Examine selected books in the “Reason” (Philosophy) section and view the pages of Niccolò Macchiavelli’s The Prince, which describes ways in which a ruler might obtain and maintain political power.

Work of Moral Philosophy

Jefferson collected the works of Richard Price because the English nonconformist minister explored questions of moral philosophy and supported the American and French revolutions. Jefferson, who held eleven titles by Price, was in regular correspondence with the minister and told him, “Everything you write is precious.”

Richard Price (1723–1791). A Review of the Principal Questions in Morals. . . The Third Edition Corrected, and Enlarged by an Appendix. . . . London, 1787. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (S. 1248) (22.00.00)

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Jefferson’s Interest in Voltaire

Jefferson was profoundly interested in the work of the French philosopher and historian Voltaire and owned seven works by the author. The French influence in Jefferson’s collection did not go unnoticed.

Congressman Cyrus King objected in 1814 that: “It might be inferred from the character of the man who collected it, and France, where the collection was made, that the library contained irreligious and immoral books, works of French philosophers, who caused and influenced the volcano of the French Revolution which had desolated Europe and extended to this country.”

[François Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694–1778)]. The Philosophical Dictionary for the Pocket. London, 1765. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (S. 1280) (04.00.00)

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Essays by British Feminist

The essays of Mary Chudleigh appear in the category of “Ethics—Moral Philosophy” because she consistently addressed the rights and capabilities of women. She argued that women were capable of intellectual pursuits and advocated, much as Jefferson did, for the education of women.

Lady Mary Chudleigh (1656–1710). Essays upon Several Subjects in Prose and Verse.London: T.H., 1710. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (S. 1356) (24.00.00)

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Central Document in Abolition Effort

This essay by Scottish naval doctor and Anglican minister James Ramsey sparked an intense pamphlet debate on the nature of slavery and the slave trade. Jefferson may have identified with Ramsey’s circumstances; he lived on and benefited from the work on a sugar plantation in the Caribbean. Nonetheless, Ramsey argued for reform and abolition, and, as a result, published one of the central documents in the abolition effort.

James Ramsey (1733–1789). An Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of African Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies. Dublin, 1784. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (S. 1377) (25.00.00)

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Work by the “Father of International Law”

This work by the Dutch jurist and statesman Hugo Grotius formulated the basic principles of modern international law, especially as it relates to war. Grotius believed that nations are bound by natural law based on human nature. His views significantly influenced Jefferson’s concept of the law of nations, including the validity of treaties when an alliance has grown dangerous or disagreeable. Jefferson cited Grotius in a 1793 memo he wrote as secretary of state in which he argued that the United States had an obligation to honor treaties made with France before the French Revolution changed its government.

Hugo Grotius (1683–1645). Hugonis Grotii de Jure Belli ac Pacis Libri Tres, in quibus jus Naturae & Gentium, item juris publici praecipua esplicantur. . . . Amsterdam: Joannes Jansson, 1651. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (S. 1404) (26.00.00)

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Jefferson’s Copy of the Koran

It appears that Jefferson purchased George Sale’s translation of the Koran in 1765 from the office of the Virginia Gazette. At the time, Jefferson was engaged in his law studies at the College of William and Mary, so it is likely that he purchased the book as an example of Arabic law as his textbooks suggested. This edition is the first English edition to have been translated directly from the Arabic and is often regarded as the best early translation of the Koran. Jefferson cataloged the book in his section on “Religion,” where it shared the shelves with early Greek and Roman mythology and the Bible.

George Sale, trans. (1697–1736). The Koran, Commonly Called the Alcoran of Mohammed, Translated into English Immediately from the Original Arabic; . . . 2 vols. London, 1764. Volume II. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (S. 1457) (27.00.00, 27.01.00)

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First Bible with Numbered Verses

The modern form of the Bible with the text arranged in numbered verses was first fully introduced by Robert Estienne in his Bible published in Geneva. Estienne, a noted French printer and scholar, also published a concordance to the Bible in the same year. Jefferson owned this 1555 edition of the work.

Robert Stephanus [Robert Estienne] (1503–1559). Biblia. R. Stephanus Lectori. En tibi Bibliorũ vulgata editio, in qua iuxta Hebraicorum versuum rationem singula capita versibus distincta sunt, . . . Geneva: R. Stephanus, 1555. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (S. 1465) (28.00.00)

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Blackstone’s Law Commentaries

The commentaries of the English jurist and author William Blackstone were typically considered the defining source of common law in the British colonies. Jefferson argued consistently with many of Blackstone’s positions, complaining that his take on common law had done more towards the suppression of the liberties of man, then all the million of men in arms of Bonaparte.

Sir William Blackstone (1723–1780). Commentaries on the Laws of England. In Four Books. 4 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1770. Volume II - Volume III - Volume IV. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (S. 1806) (30.00.00, 30.01.00, 30.02.00, 30.03.00)

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Laws Concerning Women

English Common Law often provided the basis for judicial law in colonial America. But because of the lack of uniformity in the courts and legislative bodies from colony to colony, laws were subject to wide interpretation. By the later part of the eighteenth century, laws, even regarding women, became more specific.

Thomas Jefferson owned this 1632 British volume attributed to Sir John Dodderidge, “which comprehends all our Lawes concerning Women, either Children in government or nurture of their Parents or Gardians, Mayds, Wives, and Widowes, and their goods, inheritances, and other estates.”

[Sir John Dodderidge (1555–1625)]. The Lawes Resolutions of Women’s Rights: or, the Law’s Provision for Women. London: John More, 1632. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (S. 1999) (32.00.00)

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Book of Maritime Law

Irish lawyer and professor of law Arthur Browne compiled this two-volume overview of maritime law while teaching at the University of Dublin.

Arthur Browne (1756?–1805). A Compendious View of the Civil Law, and of the Law of the Admiralty, Being the Substance of a Course of Lectures Read in the University of Dublin. 2 vols. London: G. Woodfall, 1802. Volume II. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (S. 2109) (33.00.00, 33.01.00)

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Institutes of Justinian in English Translation

Often considered a landmark in American law, Thomas Cooper’s translation and edition of The Institutes of Justinian shaped the manner in which Roman law was understood by American jurisprudence. Jefferson’s copy was a gift of the translator, with whom he carried on an engaging correspondence regarding the close reading of several related texts.

Justinian (482–565). The Institutes of Justinian. With Notes by Thomas Cooper, Esq. Professor of Chemistry at Carlisle College, Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, 1812. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (S. 2192) (34.00.00)

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Priestly’s Political Thinking

Jefferson frequently included Joseph Priestley’s work on lists of recommended reading, claiming that it was one of the books that laid the groundwork for the principles of the Constitution. English scientist, philosopher, and theologian, Priestly was a model thinker of the Enlightenment, equally important for his work on the nature of oxygen as he was for his political treatises.

Joseph Priestley (1733–1804). An Essay on the First Principles of Government, and on the Nature of Political Civil, and Religious Liberty, . . . London, 1771. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (S. 2332) (35.00.00)

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Sir Thomas More’s Utopia

Like his counterpart Erasmus of Rotterdam, Sir Thomas More became a significant humanist philosopher. His fictional Utopia, published in Latin, depicted a perfect government that promoted harmony and hierarchical order. However his description could be construed as a polemical attack on the powers that be. More’s defense of Catholicism would later lead to his execution on the orders of England’s King Henry VIII. Jefferson also owned the 1743 English-language edition of Utopia, printed in Glasgow by Robert Foulis.

Sir Thomas More (1478–1535). De optimo reipublicae statu deque nova insula Utopia libri duo. . . . Cologne: Arnold Birckmann, 1555. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (S. 2336) (36.00.00)

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Machiavelli’s Politics

Although he occasionally mentioned Niccolò Machiavelli’s classic political works, Jefferson’s politics owed nothing to the Florentine’s most famous theory—achieving worldly success through deceitful scheming. Nevertheless, Jefferson was well read in all aspects of politics, as evidenced by the numerous titles by Machiavelli in his library.

Jefferson divided this multi-volume set of the great Florentine’s political works, locating each volume in its appropriate subject category. This volume, containing Machiavelli’s Discourses and The Prince, falls in the chapter on “Politics,” tucked away between Xenophon and Voltaire.

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527). Opere di Niccolò Macchiavelli, coll aggiunta della inedite. vols. 4 and 5. London and Paris, 1768. Page 2.Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (S. 2351) (07.00.00, 07.01.00)

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Adams’s Defense of the U.S. Constitution

John Adams prepared these volumes of essays concerning the nature of the American Constitution while serving as the first U.S ambassador to England. Each “letter” tackles a historical or conceptual problem. He explores ancient forms and structures of government, the Bill of Rights, the nature of the legislature, and the three-pronged structure of government. Concerning separation of powers, he commented: “Without three divisions of power, stationed to watch each other, and compare each other’s conduct with the laws, it will be impossible that the laws should at all times preserve their authority, and govern all men.” Adams sent these volumes to Jefferson when Jefferson was serving in Paris as Minister Plenipotentiary. Jefferson attempted to have the work translated into French and printed in Paris, although he ran into some opposition to the idea because of the strong Anglophilic leanings Adams expressed in the text.

John Adams (1735–1826). A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America. 2 vols. London, 1787. Volume II. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (S. 3004) (37.00.00, 37.01.00)

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Sections: Memory | Reason | Imagination