Item Details

Thomas Jefferson: A Personal Financial Biography

Hochman, Steven Harold
Thesis/Dissertation; Online
Hochman, Steven Harold
Peterson, Merrill D
This biography of Thomas Jefferson focuses on his personal financial affairs. It is a chronological narrative that begins with the origins of his inheritance and ends with the settlement of his final estate. The relationship between his private finances and his role in public life is given special attention. On the eve of the American Revolution Jefferson was a wealthy man, having inherited a substantial estate from his father, Peter Jefferson, and one of equal or greater size from his father-in~law, John Wayles. However, along with the assets came liabilities; the Wayles estate in particular was encumbered by considerable debts to British merchants. Jefferson suffered serious losses during the war, and afterwards found his old debts a heavy burden. He struggled to pay the debts, but devoted his great energies to a life of public service. While minister to France, secretary of state, vice president, and president, he neglected his business affairs. During his retirement, economic conditions became highly unfavorable. By the end of his life he hung on the edge of bankruptcy. He went public in his distress, proposing a lottery for his relief. But he died too soon, and his lands, his slaves, and his home, Monticello; had to be sold to cover his debts. Because his life closed with such a spectacular failure, the most asked question about his financial history is: What brought him to such an end? His own explanation, that he neglected his interests, seems true as far as it goes. Making money was not a high priority for him. Also, he could have been more effective in managing the money he did acquire. His expenditures in the pursuit of art, science, and literature provided a rich legacy to posterity, but were an expensive drain on the estate. His investments were admirable in purpose, but sometimes cost more than they earned. Jefferson's extraordinary optimism and confidence in himself enabled him to achieve great things for the American republic, but in his personal affairs he overreached himself.
Date Received
University of Virginia, Department of History, PHD (Doctor of Philosophy), 1987
Published Date
PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Libra ETD Repository
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