Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Makin' Copies... or... "Is It the 4th?"

There are 19,000 documents, mostly personal letters, in Thomas Jefferson’s handwriting that are extant (which means “in existence”).

Let me tell you why…

but first…

I’m old enough to remember carbon paper. Are you?  Back in the day, ‘carbon copies’ were made of letters or documents by placing a flimsy sheet of black carbon paper between the original and an additional sheet of paper, either by hand or in a typewriter.

And speaking of typewriters, I’m NOT old enough to have used a manual typewriter for my college term papers, but I did own a baby blue Smith-Corona “Selectric” upon which my brilliance was disseminated to college and Seminary professors—always mere hours before the deadline.

Wasn't it so cute?
When I first started in ministry, bulletins were produced on mimeograph machines (for a fraction of the cost of today’s magnificent copy machines –progress?) For those of you who can’t go back even that far, I must ask: do you know what the little “cc:” stands for on your Email Send screen?   It’s from the old ‘carbon copy’ days (bcc is for “blind carbon copy.”) Even though it’s been generations since carbon paper was used, and there is no carbon involved in your emailing programs, we still hearken back to the ancient terminology.

Look, boys and girls! This is called a 'mimeograph'!  Ask mom and dad!

Now back to Jefferson, a man ahead of his time.  There are so many existing documents attributed to him because he wrote all his letters using his own invention, the polygraph, a sort of mechanical copy machine. He used the copy for his own records, for referral and for his personal archives. He was a somewhat egotistical and meticulous man (opinion of this writer), but we are glad he was. He left us a valuable legacy.
The "polygraph" on Jefferson's desk in Monticello.

Many of you have probably visited Jefferson’s home in Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia. It is not only a beautiful place in itself, but a living memorial to his genius and inventiveness. He was not just the author of the Declaration of Independence, Ambassador to France, and our third President, but a life long learner.  He built and rebuilt Monticello with new ideas in architecture that he ‘borrowed’ from France and with art itself, which he BOUGHT in France!

But he was also an enigma. He wrote the most amazing document on freedom perhaps ever written, but over his lifetime he owned over 600 slaves. He once compared the institution of slavery to holding a wolf by its ears. We can “neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other." And his relationship with slave Sally Hemmings has finally been acknowledged by the Jefferson Institute.

Did you also know that when he died on July 4th, 1826 he was $100,000 in debt!?  I can’t think of a modern president or congressman who has ever even BEEN in debt! (while our country IS – that’s another story!)
Jefferson's entire massive and impressive library was sold off to pay his debts, as was Monticello itself.

The story goes that his last words were “Is it the 4th?”  He died at 1pm, as bells down in Charlottesville were ringing out in celebration of the holiday that could not have existed if it were not for his brilliance and fortitude and, yes, inventiveness. 

Of him, another ‘copy’ will never be found.

BORN APRIL 2, 1743
DIED JULY 4. 1826

 Again: Happy Independence Day

1 comment:

  1. Growing up we had a manual typewriter until I was in Jr High when we got one with a whole page of memory, which was great until you had to write a 10 page paper. My high school also had a mimeograph. (Maybe we were a little backward in MN?)

    I did get the chance to visit Monticello as a kid, but the only thing I remember about it was finding $1.50 in quarters in the grass!