Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge to Henry S. Randall

I am very sorry, my dear Mr. Randall, that I can give you no information on the subject of the chasms in Mr. Jefferson’s Correspondence.—I have no copy of Tucker’s Biography at hand to see what mention he makes of them. He wrote whilst my mother was yet living. She, of all persons would have been most likely to know why these chasms exist. of her father personally she knew more than any other individual could do. From the time of her mother’s death she was his constant companion, going with him every where, living with him in Philadelphia & else where. She was born I think in 1772, and of course in 1784, would have been twelve years old. She was, as I have heard from aged persons who had known her in her childhood, wonderfully intelligent and passionately devoted to her father. She went with him abroad and was never parted from him till her marriage in, I think, 1790. She continued to be with him part of every year and to correspond with him constantly till 1809 when he left public life. She then resided with him till his death. In the latter years of her life I suggested to her the advisability of making some memoranda of the events domestic or external which she had witnessed and in which he was interested, as well as of his views and opinions with which no one could be better acquainted than herself. But she shrank from the thought that any part of her idolized father’s reputation should rest upon her words or recollections. She distrusted herself, she feared the responsibility. She was no longer young, her health & spirits were broken. She looked upon her father as above fear and above reproach. She could not believe that the malice and hatred of his enemies could ever prevail against him. There were certain of his letters of which she regretted the publication, because, taken by themselves, they were liable to misconstruction and might make wrong impressions; but her faith in his ultimate triumph over all misconception and all malice was founded on her faith in him, than which nothing could be more complete. Her long and intimate acquaintance with him, her knowledge1 of his actions, his motives, his feelings, his opinions, his temper, his affections, his principles and ideas of right, led her to believe it impossible that such a man could fail, sooner or later, to have justice done him to his real character and his true greatness. I never knew him (except as a child climbing his knee or clinging to his hand) till his relations with public life were over. I only knew him as retired from public affairs though still retaining his interest in them. Of his active life & his political career I could only judge from what I heard, not from what I saw. But it would have been impossible for me to suppose that one whose home relations were so admirable, so kind, unselfish & just, could ever have been the reverse in his dealings with men at large. My own subsequent experience however, has made rendered me less sanguine than my mother was as to the power of truth to make itself known. Throughout New England, almost in it’s length & breadth, Mr. Jefferson’s character is to this day misunderstood—utterly misunderstood. Good people are deceived & prejudiced people inveterate. Religious people still look upon him as the enemy of religion, and almost all misconceive his actions & their motives. He was the head of a party which prevailed in the first great strife of parties, and New England in general belonged to the vanquished side. Hence the obstinate disbelief in the high qualities of a man who had been for them little better than incarnate defeat. This great animosity has been, however, softening down as time has passed on & other interests have arisen, but too much of it still remains.

Such is the intensity of party prejudice in this section of the Union (and perhaps not greater here than elsewhere) that when I came to Boston in 1825 I found a general feeling against Dr Franklin. Boston has no boast equal to that of having been his birthplace, and yet in Boston, not many years back, he was disowned!

To Mr. Sparks is in great measure due the tardy justice rendered, in his own native land, to this pre-eminently great & good man! Pre-eminently great among the great men of the world and not of his country only.

Tr (ViU: Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge Correspondence, Letterbook); in the hand of Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge.
1Manuscript: “knowlede.”
Henry S. Randall
Date Range
July 10, 1853