Inspiring participation in public affairs
in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson’s life, thought, and ideals.

The Northern Journey

"I set out [next week] to join Mr. Madison at New York, from whence we shall go up to Albany and Lake George, then cross over to Bennington and so through Vermont to the Connecticut River, down Connecticut River by Hartford to New Haven, then to
New York ... and expect to be back in Philadelphia about the middle of June."
—Thomas Jefferson

The Jefferson Legacy Foundation's fascinating exhibit, 1791:  Thomas Jefferson & James Madison in Vermont and Jefferson's Role in Vermont Statehood is designed to stimulate enlightened participation in public affairs; promote other activities that link Jefferson's legacy with contemporary issues; and provide visitors with a fascinating glimpse of late 18th century Vermont and America.

In 1791, the original 13 colonies faced their first expansion-the addition of Vermont into the Union. While Thomas Jefferson spent only three days in Vermont during a "botanizing excursion," with James Madison in May and June of 1791, his work prior to that trip left a lasting legacy for the Green Mountain State. As United States Secretary of State, Jefferson proved instrumental in bringing Vermont into the Union on March 4, 1791 as the 14th state. In 1791 James Madison was leader of the opposition in Congress.  Also in 1791, a newspaper war placed Jefferson in the American mind as the symbol of that opposition movement — a movement that nearly elected him President five years later, and finally succeeded in 1800. To understand fully why Jefferson and Madison came north to New York and Vermont in the summer of 1791, The Jefferson Legacy Foundation presents what Madison called "the scenes and subjects which had occurred during the [last] session of Congress," December 6, 1790-March 3, 1791. 

To tell the story of Jefferson and Madison in Vermont, the JLF exhibit includes color facsimiles of more than 100 original documents, state papers, diaries, letters, maps, newspapers, prints, paintings, and photographs from more than 20 sources (including the Vermont State Archives, Pierpont Morgan Library, New York Public Library, Vermont Historical Society, Maryland Historical Society, Massachusetts Historical Society, National Archives, Library of Congress, University of Virginia Library, American Philosophical Society, Lewis Walpole Library, and Bennington Museum).  Included in the exhibit are color copies of 43 printed Acts of Congress signed and attested by Thomas Jefferson between February 25, 1791 and March 2, 1793, along with 10 letters from Jefferson to Governors Thomas Chittenden and Isaac Tichenor. 

The JLF exhibit marks the first time these documents have been assembled in one place. There is narrative throughout, providing historical background and context.  The exhibit also contains all the known journals and letters written by Jefferson and Madison during their trip. In addition to their observations on flora and fauna (both animal and human), the exhibit also highlights the political discussions actively in play at the time.  Jefferson was particularly impressed by Vermont's town meeting system, calling it "the wisest invention ever devised ... for the exercise and preservation of self-government."

Jefferson and Madison were not only traveling companions to New York and Vermont, but also fellow travelers in the Age of Reason.  Botanical observations and human contacts made in New York and Vermont affirmed their confidence in Reason — in the ability of humans to penetrate the laws of nature, to grasp their operations, and to apply them to society.

The exhibit can be adapted to venues of various sizes, dimensions, etc., by using panels of various sizes, wall space, etc.  For smaller venues, an abbreviated version can be created. 

This fascinating exhibit that tells the story of the northern journey serves as a microcosm of Jefferson's very complex legacy. By focusing on any one aspect of the trip, we look to inform and enlighten the visitor about interesting and important issues of the day. For a general audience, it is the most comprehensive treatment of this subject to date. Judging by the attendance and interest at previous venues, the JLF considers the exhibit to be an excellent educational outreach tool.

1791:  Thomas Jefferson & James Madison in Vermont and Jefferson's Role in Vermont Statehood has been mounted previously at the State House in Montpelier, Vermont; the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History in Middlebury, Vermont; Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont; the Berkshire School in Sheffield, Massachusetts; Chimney Point State Historic Site in Addison, Vermont; and The Old Constitution State Historic Site in Windsor, Vermont.

Contact us for information on hosting the exhibit or for an update on future venues.

The Jefferson Legacy Foundation
Town Office Building, P.O. Box 76
Ripton, Vermont 05766
Phone 802-388-7676 Fax: 802-388-1776

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Jamie Wyeth.
 Used with permission of the artist. Copyright © Jamie Wyeth