JEFFERSON, Thomas. Autograph letter signed ("Th:Jefferson") as Rector of the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia, to General James Breckinridge (1763-1833), endorsed and countersigned by John A. Cocke (text in the hand of Cornelia Jefferson Randolph, Jefferson's grand-daughter), marked "Circular" at top left-hand corner. Monticello, 15 August 1821. 1 full page, 4to, closely written, small irregular section along right-hand edge torn away with loss of a few letters at end of nine lines mended, missing letters supplied in early ink facsimile. Double-matted, framed and glazed.
PLANNING THE LIBRARY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
A detailed letter of important content concerning the former President's difficulties in arranging funding for the latter stages of the construction of the University, especially its library, designed by Jefferson on the model of the Pantheon in Rome, an edifice he regarded as the finest example of "spherical architecture." In his annual report of November 1821, Jefferson insisted that the library, or Rotunda, as he termed it, was essential to give the planned Academical Village "unity and consolidation as a single object" (D. Malone, Jefferson and His Time, 1977, p.386). Here, he addresses a report to Breckinridge and other members of Board of Visitors.
"In obedience to the resolutions of the Visitors of the university in their last session, the Proctor has been constantly employed in 'ascertaining the state of the accounts under contracts already made, & the expence of compleating the buildings begun and contemplated'; and we have consequently suspended, according to instructions, 'the entering into any contracts for the Library until we see that it may be done without interfering with the finishing of all the pavilions, hotels & dormitories begun & to be begun.' The Proctor will require yet a considerable time to compleat his settlements; in so much that it is very doubtful whether there will be any thing ready for us to act on at our stated meeting in October....But by deferring our meeting to the approach of that of the Genl. Assembly, it is believed we shall be able to report to them that nearly the whole of the buildings of accomodiation [living quarters] are finished, & the sum they will have cost.; that the few remaining will be finished by the spring, and what their probable cost will be...& further to shew the balance of the funds still at our command, & how far they will be competent to the erection of the Library."
"On this view of the unreadiness of matter for our next stated meeting, & of the prospect that a deferred one will enable us to make a clear & satisfactory report, I venture to propose the omission of our October meeting, & the special call of an occasional one on the Thursday preceding the meeting of the Legislature. The day is fixed on for the convenience of the gentlemen who are members of the Legislature [Breckinridge was a representative]; as it brings them so far on their way to Richmond, with time to get to the 1st day of the session. Not having an opportunity of personal consultation with my collegaue of the committee of advice [John H. Cocke], I pass the letters through his hands. If he approves...he will subjoin his approbation, & forward them...." Jefferson's plan to re-schedule the Board meeting met with Cocke's approval; his "approved" endorsement and signature appear just below Jefferson's own.
Breckinridge had soldiered with Nathanael Greene during the Revolution, studied law at William & Mary and ran against James Monroe in 1811 for the post of Governor. An influential member of the Virginia Legislature, he endorsed and actively campaigned for Jefferson's plans for the University of Virginia, even assisting in the laying out and survey of the site. Shortly after this letter, a new Legislature proved more favorably disposed towards the expenditure of the funds for the construction of the library, and construction finally commenced in 1823. When General Lafayette paid a visit to the University in November 1824, he was escorted by Jefferson and James Madison to the newly-built Rotunda, where a reception and banquet was held in his honor (the first public dinner of the University of Virginia).
Cornelia Jefferson Randolph frequently served as amanuensis to her grandfather, especially in his later years; her handwriting bears a strong resemblance to that of the former President. Some six copies of this circular letter are extant.