I always was of opinion that the placing a youth to study with an attorney was rather a prejudice than a help. we are all too apt by shifting on them our business, to incroach on that time which should be devoted to their studies. the only help a youth wants is to be directed what books to read, and in what order to read them. I have accordingly recommended strongly to Phill to put himself into apprenticeship with no one, but to employ his time for himself alone. to enable him to do this to advantage I have laid down a plan of study which will afford him all the assistance a tutor could, without subjecting him to the inconvenience of expending his own time for the emolument of another.
To Thomas Turpin, February, 1769
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Hands-on or hands-off for a leader-in-training?
Thomas Turpin was Jefferson’s uncle and the father of two sons, Horatio and Phillip. He had written to Jefferson asking if he would take Phillip as an apprentice to become a lawyer. (There were no law schools.) Jefferson was not quite 26. He had been in the practice of law for just two years, after five years of study.
In this response, Jefferson declined the request for two reasons, one practical and one professional.
1. He was on the move. Still living at home, he expected to be traveling in the practice of law seven of the next nine months. Come winter, he hoped to move to a small cottage he was building across the river from his current residence, and would not have room to house an apprentice. (That cottage would become the South Pavilion, the first building constructed on the hilltop complex that would come to be known as Monticello.)
2. Too often, legal apprentices were expected to spend much of their time doing the lawyer’s work for him and not enough time studying law itself.
What his aspiring young cousin really needed was a plan of study and the proper books to read. Jefferson provided that plan and a catalog of books. The cost of those books was “pound 100 sterling.” One source indicates that might be $15,000 in today’s money. Another source doubles that amount. Regardless, it was sizeable, but Jefferson offered two suggestions to lessen the burden.
1. He divided his catalog in quarters, so it could be acquired in pieces, one-fourth at a time.
2. The cost could be considered as part of his cousin’s inheritance and deducted from that amount later.