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Reminding Students that Events in History Do Not Happen in Isolation through a Letter Written by Thomas Jefferson in 1815

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Letter Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Harrison Smith, 5/8/1815
Letter Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Harrison Smith, 5/8/1815

This post is by Lee Ann Potter, Director of Educational Outreach at the Library of Congress.

In the October 2015 issue of Social Education, the journal of the National Council for the Social Studies, our “Sources and Strategies” article featured a letter written by Thomas Jefferson a little more than 200 years ago. We suggested that Jefferson’s single page letter to his friend Samuel Harrison Smith, founder of the National Intelligencer, might serve to remind students that events in history often overlap one another.

Jefferson began his letter of May 8, 1815, by thanking Smith for all of his efforts related to the sale of Jefferson’s library to Congress and by announcing that the last shipment of books had left Monticello that morning. In the first paragraph of the letter he wrote, “Our tenth and last wagon load of books goes off today. . . . and an interesting treasure is added to your city . . . unquestionably the choicest collection of books in the US and I hope it will not be without some general effect on the literature of the country.” Jefferson’s library thus became the foundation for the Library of Congress, the largest and most comprehensive library in the world today.

But Jefferson’s letter did not stop there. He included a second paragraph that began, “When will the age of wonders cease in France?” It focused on other significant events and happenings occurring elsewhere in the world during the spring of 1815. As a result, the brief letter provides a unique opportunity to remind students that events in history do not happen in isolation.

Have you found other sources that illustrate this sort of event-overlap? If so, tell us about them!






  1. Awesome Work!

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