Thomas Jefferson on political economy
JEFFERSON, THOMAS. Autograph letter signed to Reverend John McVickar of Columbia University
Monticello, 30 March 1826
1 page. 4to. Integral blank with address panel in Jefferson’s hand and with his franking signature. Old folds. Excellent condition.
Jefferson and the study of political economy: “No country on earth requires a sound intelligence of it more than ours …”
In this fine unpublished letter, written just months before his death, Jefferson observes that he no longer reads books as demanding as those on political economy, adding, “I rejoice nonetheless to see that it is beginning to be cultivated in our schools.”
John McVickar, the recipient of this letter, was one of the first professors of economics in America. As the first Professor of Moral Philosophy and Political Economy at Columbia University, he published a new annotated edition of John Ramsay McCulloch’s Outlines of Political Economy, which was to serve as a fundamental economics text for his students. He sent Jefferson a copy of the book on March 12, 1826, observing that Jefferson’s own writings touching on political economy are referred to in the work. McVickar added, “The zeal with which you always entertain schemes of public utility has emboldened me to break in upon the dignified retirement of your closing years”
Thanking McVickar for the book, Jefferson observes,
“Long withdrawn from the business of the world, and little attentive to its proceedings, I rarely read anything requiring a very strenuous application of the mind and none requires it more than the subject of political economy. I rejoice nonetheless to see that it is beginning to be cultivated in our schools. No country on earth requires a sound intelligence of it more than ours. The rising generation will I hope be qualified to act on it understandingly, and to correct the errors of their predecessors.”
This is an exceptional Jefferson letter discussing the intellectual pursuits of his final year and commenting on the importance of the study of economics.