Thomas Jefferson to Wythe, 14 March 1791

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Jefferson apologizes for taking so long to reply to Wythe's letter from January 10, but the session of Congress made him too busy to respond before now. He agrees with Wythe that Benjamin West's allusion to Sisamnes is a good addition and suggests that instead of saying "state" on the seal, it should say "commonwealth" to set apart the larger entities of America like Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia from the smaller ones. In response to Wythe's question about where to get philosophical instruments, Jefferson says that Wythe would be able get a cheaper and higher quality product ordering directly from London rather than from Philadelphia. Enclosed with the letter is a report on weights and measures that Jefferson believes Wythe will find amusing along with the corrected sheet.

"Thomas Jefferson to Wythe, 14 March 1791, pg 1." Image from the Library of Congress, The Thomas Jefferson Papers.

Letter text

Page 1

Philadelphia Mar. 14 1791.

Dear Sir

I am really ashamed to be so late in acknowledging the receipt of your favor of Jan. 10 which came to hand the 2d. of February. but during the session of Congress the throng of business was such as to oblige me to suspend all my private correspondence. their recess now enables me to resume them.

I think the allusion to the story of Sisamnes in mr. West's design is a happy one: and, were it not presumption for me to judge him, I should suppose that parties pleading before a judge must animate the scene greatly. usage seems to justify the naming the state on the exergon, tho the emblems are, as they should be, so peculiar as to explain the country to which the design belongs, to those acquainted with it. but your seal may go to those who know nothing but the name of the country. the term 'commonwealth' distinguishing the stile of the those great members of our union (Massachusets, Pennsylvania, & Virginia) from that of the smaller ones, which call themselves 'states,' it may not be amiss to change the word 'state' with 'commonwealth' in the exergon.         I have enquired into the shape of mathematics instruments here: they are but two, very illy furnished, & very dear. they ask a dear profit of 50. percent on their articles purchased in London. and as you may get them thence within two months as soon as from hence, I presume you will prefer it. should you think otherwise I offer my services to execute your commission which

Page 2

"Thomas Jefferson to Wythe, 14 March 1791, pg 2." Image from the Library of Congress, The Thomas Jefferson Papers.

which it will give me pleasure to do.

Supposing that a glance of the eye over some of the tables of the inclosed report may give you a moment's amusement, I inclose you one, together with a corrected sheet of that on weights & measures. I am with the most cordial esteem & respect Dear Sir

Your friend & servt.
Th: Jefferson

See also