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The Jeffersonian cyclopedia;

a comprehensive collection of the views of Thomas Jefferson classified and arranged in alphabetical order under nine thousand titles relating to government, politics, law, education, political economy, finance, science, art, literature, religious freedom, morals, etc.;

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4128. JEFFERSON (Thomas), Services of.—
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4128. JEFFERSON (Thomas), Services of.—

I have sometimes asked myself, whether
my country is the better for my having lived
at all? I do not know that it is. I have been
the instrument of doing the following things;
but they would have been done by others;
some of them, perhaps, a little better:

The Rivanna had never been used for navigation;
scarcely an empty canoe had ever
passed down it. Soon after I came of age,
I examined its obstructions, set on foot a
subscription for removing them, got an act of
Assembly passed, and the thing effected, so
as to be used completely and fully for carrying
down all our produce.

The Declaration of Independence.

I proposed the demolition of the Church
Establishment, and the Freedom of Religion.
It could only be done by degrees; to wit, the
Act of 1776, c. 2, exempted dissenters from
contributions, to the Church, and left the
Church clergy to be supported by voluntary
contributions of their own sect; was continued
from year to year, and made perpetual
1779, c. 36. I prepared the Act for Religious
Freedom in 1777, as part of the Revisal,
which was not reported to the Assembly till
1779, and that particular law not passed till
1785, and then by the efforts of Mr. Madison.

The Act putting an end to Entails.

The Act prohibiting the Importation of

The Act concerning Citizens and establishing
the natural right of man to expatriate
himself, at will.

The Act changing the course of Descents,
and giving the inheritance to all the children,
&c., equally, I drew as part of the Revisal.

The Act for Apportioning Crimes and Punishments,
part of the same work, I drew.
When proposed to the Legislature, by Mr.
Madison, in 1785, it failed by a single vote.
G. K. Taylor afterwards, in 1796, proposed the
same subject; avoiding the adoption of any
part of the diction of mine, the text of which
had been studiously drawn in the technical
terms of the law, so as to give no occasion
for new questions by new expressions. When
I drew mine, public labor was thought the
best punishment to be substituted for death.
But, while I was in France, I heard of a
society in England, who had successfully introduced
solitary confinement, and saw the
drawing of a prison at Lyons, in France,
formed on the idea of solitary confinement.
And, being applied to by the Governor of
Virginia for the plan of a Capitol and
Prison, I sent him the Lyons plan, accompanying
it with a drawing on a smaller scale,
betted adapted to our use. This was in June,
1786. Mr. Taylor very judiciously adopted
this idea (which had now been acted on in
Philadelphia, probably from the English
model), and substituted labor in confinement,
for the public labor proposed by the Committee
of Revisal; which themselves would
have done, had they been to act on the subject
again. The public mind was ripe for
this in 1796, when Mr. Taylor proposed it,
and ripened chiefly by the experiment in
Philadelphia: whereas, in 1785, when it had
been proposed to our Assembly, they were
not quite ripe for it.

In 1789 and 1790, I had a great number of
olive plants, of the best kind, sent from
Marseilles to Charleston, for South Carolina
and Georgia. They were planted, and are
flourishing; and, though not yet multiplied,
they will be the germ of that cultivation in
those States.

In 1790, I got a cask of heavy upland rice,
from the river Denbigh, in Africa, about
Latitude 9° 30′ North, which I sent to


Page 443
Charleston, in hopes it might supersede the
culture of the wet rice, which renders South
Carolina and Georgia so pestilential through
the summer. It was divided and a part sent
to Georgia. I know not whether it has been
attended to in South Carolina; but it has
spread in the upper parts of Georgia, so as to
have become almost general, and is highly
prized. Perhaps it may answer in Tennessee
and Kentucky. The greatest service which
can be rendered any country is, to add an
useful plant to its culture; especially a
bread grain; next in value to bread is oil.

Whether the Act for the more General Diffusion
of Knowledge will ever be carried into
complete effect, I know not. It was received
by the Legislature with great enthusiasm at
first; and a small effort was made in 1796,
by the act to establish public schools, to
carry a part of it into effect, viz., that for the
establishment of free English schools: but the
option given to the courts has defeated the
intention of the act. [262]
Jefferson Papers. Washington ed. i, 174. Ford ed., vii, 475.


It appears from a blank space at the bottom of
this paper, that a continuation had been intended.
Indeed, from the loose manner in which the above
notes are written, if may be inferred that they were
originally intended as memoranda only, to be used
in some more permanent form.—Note In Congress