Extract from William Short to John H. Cocke

... that death which leaves a deep impression, is my venerable friend’s of Monticello – Although prepared for it from his age & infirmities, yet I was most sensible to the shock when it did arrive – This indeed I now consider as one of those struggles of nature against reason – for reason & reflexion tell me that death must have been a great relief to himself. What more afflicts me than his death is the idea of all that he must have suffered during the last year of his life, or at least during the time that he had a knowledge of the situation of his affairs, & the awful crisis that he saw approaching ...

I have often asked myself if it is possible he could have had any suspicion of this situation of things at the time that I was at Monticello. I should say not, & yet I do not well see how he could have been ignorant of it – for he always was formerly I know, regular in keeping his accounts – it is true he was also of a sanguine character, & thus often exposed to be deceived in the result of things – And I apprehend he must in this way have decieved himself as long as it could be done.

But what must have been his reflexions when he saw the manner (I know not what name to give it) in which the virtuous and enlightened representatives of the people (for the people who are all wise never chuse any other than virtuous & good men to represent them) in which these true Republicans, I say, received his petition ... I think his reflexions must have been very much like those wh the great poet puts into the mouth of Cardinal Wolsey – for the people were always Mr J’s soveraign, & surely he did always serve that soveraign with unitiring zeal.

It has always been demonstrated to my mind that Mr J’s greatest illusions in politics have proceeded from a most amiable error on his part; having too favorable an opinion of the [. . .] animal called Man, & who in mass form in my opinion only a many headed monster. Mr J. on the contrary, judging of him from himself, conceived that his sense of moral rectitude would suffice to induce him to keep a straight path, & that he had need of little restraint – More than that little he always thought was the mere contrivance of the “booted & spurred” to get the saddle on – And as Mr J. was himself both honest & speculative it was most difficult to make him change an opinion ...

I am very anxious to know what effect the death of Mr J. has had or is likely to have on the University ... The master spirit being gone it is natural now that this institution should get into the common track of others – of course the experiment will not be complete, & be therefore lost.

RC (ViU: John Hartwell Cocke Papers, Mss 640).
William Short
John H. Cocke
Date Range
August 12, 1826
Death of Thomas Jefferson
Quotes by and about Thomas Jefferson