Extract from Thomas Jefferson to Walter Jones

I think I knew General Washington intimately and thoroughly; and were I called on to delineate his character it should be in terms like these.

His mind was great and powerful, without being of the very first order; his penetration strong, tho’ not so acute as that of a Newton, Bacon or Locke; and as far as he saw, no judgment was ever sounder. it was slow in operation, being little aided by invention or imagination, but sure in conclusion. hence the common remark of his officers, of the advantage he derived from councils of war, where hearing all suggestions, he selected whatever was best. and certainly no General ever planned his battles more judiciously. but if deranged during the course of the action, if any member of his plan was dislocated by sudden circumstances, he was slow in re-adjustment. the consequence was that he often failed in the field, & rarely against an enemy in station, as at Boston & York. he was incapable of fear, meeting personal dangers with the calmest unconcern. perhaps the strongest feature in his character was prudence, never acting until every circumstance, every consideration was maturely weighed; refraining if he saw a doubt, but, when once decided, going through with his purpose whatever obstacles opposed. his integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known, no motives of interest or consanguinity, of friendship or hatred, being able to bias his decision. in his expences he was honorable, but exact; liberal in contributions to whatever promised utility, but frowning and unyielding on all visionary projects, and all unworthy calls on his charity. his heart was not warm in it’s affections, but he exactly calculated he was indeed, in every sense of the words, a wise, a good, & a great man. his temper was naturally irritable and high toned; but reflection & resolution had obtained a firm and habitual ascendancy over it. if ever however it broke it’s bonds he was most tremendous in his wrath. in his expences he was liberal honorable, but exact; liberal in contributions to whatever promised utility; but frowning and unyielding on all visionary projects, and all unworthy calls on his charity. his heart was not warm in it’s affections; but he exactly calculated every man’s value, and gave him a solid esteem proportioned to it.his person, you know, was fine, his stature exactly what one would wish, his deportment easy, erect, and noble; the best horseman of his age, and the most graceful figure that could be seen on horseback. altho’ in the circle of his friends, where he might be unreserved with safety, he took a free share in conversation, his colloquial talents were not above mediocrity, possessing neither copiousness of ideas, nor fluency of words. in public when called on for a sudden opinion, he was unready, short, and embarrassed. yet he wrote readily, rather diffusely, in an easy & correct style. this he had acquired by conversation with the world for his education was merely reading, writing, and common arithmetic, to which he added surveying at a later day. his time was employed in action chiefly, reading little, and that only in Agriculture and English history. his correspondence became necessarily extensive, and, with journalising his agricultural proceedings, occupied most of his leisure hours within doors. on the whole, his character was, in it’s mass perfect, in nothing bad, in few points indifferent; and it may truly be said that never did nature and fortune combine more perfectly to make a man great, and to place him in the same constellation with whatever worthies have merited from man an everlasting remembrance ... These are my opinions of General Washington, f which I would vouch at the judgment seat of god, having been formed on an acquaintance of 30. years.

RC (ViHi). PoC (DLC). Tr (DFo); posthumous copy; incomplete. Published in PTJRS, 7:100–04.
Thomas Jefferson
Walter Jones
Date Range
January 2, 1814
Quotes by and about Thomas Jefferson