3 - Thomas Jefferson
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Adams vs. Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson:genius of liberty
A magnificent catastrophe : the tumultuous election of 1800
Thomas Jefferson, an overview by R.B. Bernstein
Adams vs Jefferson: The Tumultous Election of 1800
Dinner at Mr. Jefferson's by Charles A. Cerami
Jefferson's Great Gamble by Charles A. Cerami
The Hemingses of Monticello
Thomas Jefferson by Joyce Appleby
Jefferson and Monticello
Thomas Jefferson: A Life
Thomas Jefferson by John T. Morse
In Pursuit of Reason: The Life of Thomas Jefferson by Noble Cunningham
1800 Election Jefferson (73 electoral votes) vs. Burr (73) Adams (65)
1804 Election Jefferson (162 electoral votes) vs. Pickney (14)
Jefferson was the first President to shake hands instead of bow to people.
Thomas Jefferson was the first President to have a grandchild born in the White House.
Jefferson was one of two Presidents who signed the Declaration of Independence.
Jefferson City, Missouri is named after Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson's library of approximately 6,000 books became the basis of the Library of Congress. His books were purchased from him for $23,950.
Jefferson was the first president to be inaugurated in Washington, D.C.
Jefferson wrote his own epitaph without mentioning that he served as president of the United States.
Thomas Jefferson was once given a 1,235 pound hunk of cheese, giving us the term "the big cheese."
Jefferson played the violin.
He suggested the decimal system of money we use.
He wrote over 20,000 letters in his lifetime.
Jefferson founded, designed and built the University of Virginia.
He took a cold foot bath every morning for 60 yers.
Jefferson owned 200 slaves.
However, I found Adams vs. Jefferson to be interesting, though covering much of the same territory as in John Adams, but with greater (obviously) detail on this episode.
Jefferson's War was perhaps more tangential to Jefferson himself, though a fascinating coverage of the Barbary war and the heoism of William Eaton and Stephen Decatur Jr. As an aside, The Pirate Coast was a really great swashbuckling tail of William Eaton, its the real life stuff of Lawrence of Arabia.. but less to do with Jefferson.
Undaunted Courage has a section detailing Jefferson's relationship with Merriwether Lewis (or was it Clark?) as they were neighbors, so to speak. It goes into why Jefferson wanted the Louisiana Purchase explored and why he chose Lewis.
I completed American Sphinx:The Character of Thomas Jefferson. I found out much concerning the character of this man and some of the info I wanted for his lifetime, but still have a few questions during his presidency. I will read one more book Jefferson's Vendetta which revolves around the time of his presidency. Then I am moving on.
When I started, I was a little confused as to how I felt about our third president. I really didn't think that knew that much about him other than his authorship(?) of the Declaration of Independence. As I progressed through Washington and Adams, I became more confused so I really wanted to understand this man more. Now that I have read these books, and seen his interactions with Washington and Adams as well as James Madison, I really can't say that I admire the man. I feel he was self-centered and proud, even though he tried to make people think otherwise. He was very insistent about the laws that were needed for the new nation, but then made it seem that such laws did not pertain to him. Whatever was good for Jefferson should basically be given to TJ without question. It does not surprise me that he did not want to share any credit of the Declaration of Independence or any other efforts that were done with others. He also was very haughty as far as I could tell, making others to do any dirty work and making certain that his name was not related in any way.
Isn't it ironic that Thomas Jefferson died approximately $100,000 in debt and that John Adams, dying the same day, had an estate valued at $100,000.
Too bad that Jefferson couldn't see some of Adams' greatness and emulate him in some areas.
When I think of Adams and Jefferson (and I haven't read any books about either of them lately), I am always struck by how they both died on the exact same day, 50 years after the Declaration of Independence--July 4, 1826.
When Adams died, weren't his last words something like "Jefferson lives" but actually, he was wrong about that?
Adams said "Jefferson still survives." but actually TJ had died several hours earlier. ETA typo
This book reviews Thomas Jefferson’s political actions from Governor of Virginia through his presidency. It amazed me all the actions that he took based on his political opinions.
Jefferson, in 1778 while governor, issued a Bill of Attainder for a Tory, Josiah Phillips, which basically said that Phillips was guilty of treason and condemned without a trial.
John Adams appointed "midnight" judges before he left office and since Jefferson didn't agree with their political leanings, he set out to eliminate them.
During the 1800 election, Jefferson cozied up to Burr to get the electoral votes from the state of NY however, when the election ended in a tie between Jefferson and Burr, Jefferson turned his back on Burr and made a deal with the Federalists (a deal that Burr had turned down). Jefferson then leaked out that the deal was made by Burr, but the Federalists involved gave depositions to the contrary but the information wasn't made public until after Jefferson's death.
Aaron Burr was by no means an angel, as evidence was discovered in the late part of the 19th century which showed that he conspired with General Wilkerson to incite war with Spain and take over Mexico and Spanish territories. The hostility between Jefferson and Burr reached a level where neither could turn back.
Those were supposedly in league with Burr were imprisoned without trials. Before he was shipped off to Baltimore where he was immediately released, a lawyer was also imprisoned who tried to help them.
Aaron Burr was brought before a Grand Jury in Virginia for possible indictment of charges of treason. TJ believed that he was trying to overthrow the government by attacking the Spanish holdings in the Americas and to take over the Mexican and southwestern territories. TJ and his cronies had informed General Wilkerson in New Orleans that Burr had a force of thousands when in fact, those that were to assist him in the "colonization" effort he was proposing, were more like 200.
During his "trial" efforts were made to subpoena President Jefferson because he refused to provide the defense with copies of certain documents.
Jefferson again showed his two faces when he replied to the subpoena invoking what is now called Executive privilege stating that "To comply with such calls would leave the nation without an Executive branch, whose agency, nevertheless, is understood to be so constantly necessary, that it is the sole branch which the constitution requires to be always in function." This statement completely ignores Jefferson’s own leanings that a weak central government was all that was needed.
Chief Justice John Marshall was to preside over the trial as he had the Grand jury. He had instructed the grand jury that treason had occurred "if a body of men be actually assembled for the purpose of effecting by force, all those who perform any part, however minute or however remote from the scene of the action, are to be considered as traitors."
Throughout the "trial" Jefferson's men tried to prove that there had been an overt act of treason on Burr's part. But the forthcoming indictments were made on information of a meeting of men when Burr wasn't even present.
Marshall was concerned that his instructions in a previous treason trial were not correct so for Burr's trial he wrote a decision on acceptable evidence for treason that was 44 pages.
Burr was found not guilty. However, Jefferson sought to have him tried in a different jurisdiction so great was his rage at the acquittal. TJ decided that the fault lay with Marshall and resolved that an amendment was needed to the Constitution so that judges could be removed for misconduct.
The Federalist Virginia Gazette wrote “History will hardly furnish an example of such oppressive tyranny as has been practiced under the administration of Mr. Jefferson.”
This is the last book that I am going to read about Thomas Jefferson.
I firmly believe that this man does not deserve the respect that he has been given over the years. Yes, he was a very talented diplomat. Yes, he was a patriot. Yes, he was a gifted writer. Despite these special attributes, he is not a man that I can admire or respect because of the actions that he took to place himself and his beliefs before all others.
American Sphinx is a definite, I think.
I am also thinking about The Road to Monticello: The Life and Mind of Thomas Jefferson, which is by Kevin J. Hayes. This book focuses on his thinking, writing, and reading.
I would love to read Dumas Malone's 6-volume set on Jefferson but I don't think I have the time for that now. Barring that, maybe a good overview, such as Richard B. Bernstein's Thomas Jefferson which seems a bit more in-depth than the American Presidents series book by Joyce Oldham Appleby.
In the description to Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson, mention was made of the fact that a young Edgar Allan Poe attended Jefferson's funeral. I did not know this.
In hindsight presidential correspondence isn't a biography, so I'm moving this over to the non-biography thread.
I think I'm going to go for Vendetta and American Sphinx.. but not sure when yet.. several others already currently on my shelf.
by R.B. Bernstein
I read Bernstein's overview-type biography of our third president and, for what it is, it's not too bad. Bernstein does a decent job of relating information about Jefferson.
Unfortunately, for me, I read David McCullough's masterpiece, John Adams, a few weeks ago and this book pales in comparison to that one.
I've got quite a few books ahead, including one on a dinner Jefferson hosted for Madison and Alexander Hamilton.
I wonder if that is because while TJ is generally one of the prominent founding fathers, he is still somewhat controversial, contradictory, and enigmatic, and there are lots of aspects/viewpoints for popular historians to discuss while perhaps only recently john adams has emerged from the shadows in the popular mind/literature (thanks in large part to mccullough). perhaps in the future, there will be more popular accounts of adams that either focus more narrowly or take a different perspective.
just some rambling, late-night musings
I think the Dumas Malone 6-volume bio was widely accepted as the standard but it's out of print now and, well, it's 6 volumes.
I just started one of the election of 1800 books by John Ferling called Adams vs. Jefferson. I am also planning for American Sphinx by Joseph Ellis (which does seem to be one of our more popular Jefferson books.
Others I plan to read include one on Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase. This is Charles A. Cerami's book, Jefferson's Great Gamble. Also plan on Garry Wills short one on his founding of the University of Virginia, Mr. Jefferson's University.
The one I'm planning to read about the Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton dinner is also by Cerami and it's called Dinner at Mr. Jefferson's: Three Men, Five Great Wines, and the Evening that Changed America.
Possibly also The Road to Monticello: The Life and Mind of Thomas Jefferson by Kevin J. Hayes, though this'd make seven books on Jefferson for me.
People, even now, seem to have stronger views on Jefferson than on, say, Adams. Bernstein talked about 4 or 5 eras and how they viewed Jefferson.
There are certain aspects of TJ's life that were praiseworthy--writing the Declaration of Independence and the founding the University of Virginia, just to name a few. But a lot of things were not to be admired.
I certainly agree with you, Cheli, about the selfish and egotistical part. In the McCullough book, it seemed like Adams was always off working hard on something while Jefferson "stayed home."
One thing I like about the Ferling book on the election of 1800, so far, is that it tries to chronicle events in both Adams and Jefferson's life occurring at the same time.
by John Ferling
I really wanted to like Ferling's book on the election of 1800. Recently, I've finished David McCullough's book on John Adams and also read an overview bio of Thomas Jefferson. I've got a whole bunch of Jefferson books on the horizon and I thought this is one of the more interesting portions of his life.
At times, Ferling's book is interesting but, overall, I'd say that there was a lot of overlap with what I'd read in these other two books. Not much that was new to me.
I was also really put off by Ferling's flowery writing style. In most cases, the style does not matter either way to me but this is one instance where the writing style was atrocious, as far as I'm concerned. I don't care for authors who use a 4 or 5 syllable word when a 2 syllable word will do. All I can say is that I was glad I read this on my Kindle so it was easy to look up all the archaic words Ferling uses.
It was odd because that flowery style was present only in some of the chapters. Maybe these weren't edited as closely as the others?
There's another book out there about the election of 1800 (Larson's A Magnificent Catastrophe) and I'm thinking that I chose the wrong one.
This was my third (out of seven) planned Thomas Jefferson reads. Of the three books I've read so far on Jefferson, this is probably my favorite.
Dinner at Mr. Jefferson's is an entertaining look at the little-known "dinner table compromise" of 1790 in which Jefferson invited James Madison and Alexander Hamilton to dinner on June 20, 1790, in the interests of resolving two critical national disputes: the assumption of state debts incurred during the Revolutionary War and the placement of the new nation's capital. What those three men resolved that night may have saved the country from being split into two (or three) separate countries.
Though Cerami spends only about 10-12 pages on the actual dinner, much of the rest of the book either leads up to the dinner or follows up on what was settled, as well as the career paths of the three dinner participants.
Included in the book are a number of Jeffersonian recipes, though not necessarily those served at the dinner. Although Jefferson didn't introduce ice cream to the U.S., as some have claimed, Cerami says that Jefferson was one of ice cream's greatest early promoters and often served it in a warm pastry. Jefferson is also said to have been extremely knowledgable about wine and also French cuisine.
I also learned a bit about Henry Knox, the bookseller turned Revolutionary War hero. I want to read a bio about Knox, who later played a role in the founding of West Point.
All in all, this was an interesting look at a narrow part of Jefferson's life. Cerami has also written a book about Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase, which I hope to read soon.
I think the reason the book gets some bad reviews is people are looking for salacious details on the relationship between Jefferson and Hemings, and when they don't get it, they are disappointed, but if you go in realizing the book is really a pretty scholarly work about an American family living in slavery, it is a great read. (It also just won the Pulitzer for history, very well-deserved IMO.)
Also, the thing about this challenge is we will be reading a lot of books about white men written by white men, and that is why I especially appreciated the Hemingses book, with this different perspective from an African-American woman. I especially liked how she challenged other historians like Ellis and Malone and how they just automatically took Jefferson's white family's version of events and discounted the black family's version until the DNA results came out. In the revised version of American Sphinx, Ellis kind of glosses over his mistake instead of really reflecting on what had led him to inaccurately conclude Jefferson and Hemingses had never had a relationship. It makes you think about the other prejudices these historians have and how that influences how they retell American history. JMO.
This gorgeous mansion, along with great historical programs and museum is only 2 miles from chez moi. If you're in the area, give a holler. I have visited several times, and find it quite interesting--particularly its round room. They often host Revolutionary War re-enactments. Let me know if you're coming this way!
--Thomas Jefferson, an overview by R.B. Bernstein
--Adams vs Jefferson: The Tumultous Election of 1800
--Dinner at Mr. Jefferson's by Charles A. Cerami
--Jefferson's Great Gamble by Charles A. Cerami
Jefferson's Great Gamble was a good book to finish with since he talks not only about Jefferson but also about the roles Madison and Monroe played in the Louisiana Purchase. He also touches on Andrew Jackson's role in defending New Orleans.
Time to move on to Madison, I think.
Very thin book. Quick read. Gave an idea of the time and Presidency, but just an idea. I learned more about Jefferson and his time as President in the Alexander Hamilton book, though.
I'd only recommend it if you want a quick review of the US History through the Presidents. I do not know how far the series has gotten so far. Assuming that they could have at least 42 of the books out (looking at tags, they have 27 out, with George H.W. Bush being the most recent release (in terms of when in office)), with 43rd being written, that would be about 42 books in 42 days (they can probably be read in a day).
I would not otherwise recommend the book.
I read it at the same time I've been hearing a Polk book on audio. That Polk book is quite interesting. It is also about 400 pages longer than the Jefferson book. Very shortly that Polk thread will finally have a read book in it.
And yet . .. and yet: Jefferson was brilliant, was amazing, was essential to America. There would be no United States as we know it without Jefferson. President Kennedy once hosted a gathering of Nobel Prize winners at the White House, and he said, "this is probably the greatest collection of talent and human knowledge ever assembled in this place, except for when Thomas Jefferson dined alone." There are aspects of Kennedy that evoke Jefferson, because Kennedy too lived his life in often contradictory compartments that were apparently not contradictions to Kennedy.
Other great books that feature Jefferson are America Afire: Jefferson, Adams and the Revolutionary Election of 1800 by Bernard Weisberger – the absolute best book on this pivotal election out there IMHO – and Ellis’s outstanding Founding Brothers.
There are those who dismiss Jefferson for his weaknesses without appreciating his strengths. I would say to them: put your brain back in and read a little more. Jefferson was a great man, even if he was not a great President. Incidentally, his Presidency was the part of his long and distinguished career he wished not to be remembered for and he omitted it entirely in the epitaph for himself that he authored.
The Randall volume is a lot of book but Jefferson is, arguably, a lot of subject. If you read this book, you will get a complete, matter-of-fact impression of the complex man.
Van Loon's book, however is of comparatively few, well-chosen words and some 30 inimitable drawings. It will give you a much more emotional appreciation of who Van Loon thinks Jefferson was: a surveyor, an architect, a builder, a farmer, a thinker and a wordsmith.
I think Jefferson was all that and more, but the attribute I like most was his ability with the English language, an ability he used to craft some wonderfully specific documents and letters.
I also recently read a book review of Jefferson's Women by Jon Kukla as reviewed by Stacy Schiff for the NY TImes. Some of you might enjoy (or not) Schiff's review:
So much has been written about Jefferson, I've had a hard time deciding what books I want to read about his life. I have read Joseph Ellis' Founding Brothers and enjoyed it greatly. The last part of the book about the debate (in the form of letters written to one another over the years) between Jefferson and Adams was my favorite part of that book. How poignant that they should both die on July 4th within hours of one another.
"Sphinx" and "enigmatic": Bull! It's pretty clear he was just a self-centered creature who refused to live in the world he preached and wouldn't have known reality if he stepped in it. A selfish, hypocritical, self-indulgent ass. About the only good thing I can see about him is that he could write. Thank goodness he wanted to write about nice idealistic stuff instead of things he actually practiced, which, let's face it, is the best indication of what he really believed.
Am I stating it clearly enough how much I detest him, and it's only 1789 in the story line?
OK, now I'll go watch Obama talk about health care and try to forget about JT for a while....
Good on ya, mates. You made my morning.
If we readers don't get emotional about our books and what they contain, we might as well be back in a good old history class with an untrained teacher (there were lots of them available as I was growing up), and we should immediately sell or donate our libraries and take up curling, hurling, horseshoe tossing, competitive crochet, golf cart polo, field croquet, cat walking or solo ocean sailing.
None of which, in my unhumble opinion, can compete with a book about anything: a wonderful contrivance for transporting one to places impossible to get to in a solo ocean racing boat.
Wait till you get to Zachary Taylor!
Yes, I think "jerk" sums it up nicely....
although I do like to watch curling, if ever they'd show much of it. Still, not as wonderful as a book, ever! And I do know there are going to be quite a few of these guys I'm going to be yelling "jerk" at - I just thought I'd get through the Founding Fathers without feeling this awful about one of them. The slavery thing in particular seems completely inexcusable from someone who could wax so eloquently about freedom. I keep hoping Ellis will give SOME explanation, as he at least tried with Washington. It appears that Jefferson simply had no conscience at all.
1. in the Declaration he wants slaves to be free but never frees his slaves because he couldn't manage to survive without them.
2. Didn't believe in the federal government, per se, and National bank in particular, was against national debt but spent $15 million for Louisiana Territory.
3. Financially irresponsible, always in debt, but kept buying and buying.
If they could have just keep him at a writing desk he might have been passable but as a plantation owner and politician, IMHHO, he sucked.
My estimation of Washington and Madison is about what it was before I read so much about them.
My estimation of Adams is up quite a bit.
My estimation of Jefferson has declined, substantially.
He remains, in my estimation, a great man, warts and all -- with the acknowledgement that there are many warts! Jefferson was a highly complex and brilliant man who managed to contain multiple overlapping and often contradictory points of view within his intellect. He lived his life in compartments (as Jack Kennedy was later said to do) and he managed to live fully within each of these compartments without upsetting the balance of the others. There are things about Jefferson's character that are maddening, yet he remains one of our most essential Founders.
It should be noted that with the possible exception of Franklin (and Adams would take strong exception to my characterization!) all of the Founders were deeply flawed yet remarkable individuals. It was the sum of their parts that was responsible for the birth of the Republic in all of its glory.
Jefferson too was indispensable to the mix.
That his ideals were beyond his reach to emulate is not grounds in itself to condemn him. Jefferson -- like Madison & Washington & virtually every member of the southern aristocracy -- owned slaves. Jefferson is to be commended for being the very rare voice of his generation to condemn this abomination even if he lacked the ability to personally eschew it. That is not to excuse him, but rather to explain him, of course.
you are right, our nation never would have come into existence if Jefferson had not been part of the mix and yes, all of the founding fathers were flawed.
However, I felt that, so far, the other founding fathers did not allow their flaws to be upfront and take prescedence over the good of the nation.
Yes, Jefferson was a brilliant man, an extraordinary writer, a genius
and, I personally, in my evaluation of Jefferson took that into consideration. I did not taken into consideration his position as slaveholder because, yes, other founding fathers were also slaveholders. I believe, IMO, that he put his own personal needs, requirements, desires, in first place rather than the good of everyone in this new nation. That is why I, personally, have little respect or admiration for the man. His writings, his ideas - I can admire and respect, just not the man.
Exactly how I'm feeling. It makes me more hopeful about the mess between the political factions we have today.
But when you look at what he accomplished, it is pretty amazing. I think it took reading Adams vs. Jefferson for me to really understand what Jefferson accomplished. Although that book wasn't that great, there is an interesting and compelling statement about Jefferson that I think sums it up:
“More than any other single public figure, Jefferson deserved credit for the social and political reforms that had been achieved by 1826. In the Declaration of Independence he had outlined a vision of an attainable new world that was free of privilege and tyranny. Thereafter, he proposed liberating changes in education, religion, land ownership, and the treatment of criminals. He was among the first to divine the reactionary threat posed by the extreme conservatives in the early days of the new Republic, and he was the first major official to take steps to organize an opposition to the peril. While today his resistance to the economic changes that have shaped our world may seem archaic, he may have been the first to grasp the menace to republican governance that was posed by great wealth. . . . Far more so than subsequent generations, the great majority of those who were alive in 1826 recognized Jefferson’s achievements in breaking many of the fetters that had existed before 1776” (p. 211).
Whatever his personal shortcomings are, his writings in the Declaration of Independence not only inspired our country, but the entire world. Washington and Adams were great men and had great personal characteristics, and they worked to defeat tyranny, but not privilege. Adams in particular didn't have the vision of Jefferson. Adams was on the side of the elite few, and Jefferson on the side of the many -- and Jefferson's victory was really important in making our country more democratic. Now, the two party system is a given, but back then it was revolutionary and it established in our country that dissenting voices could be heard. I think we are fortunate not only that Jefferson created an opposing party, but that his party was the one that swept the elections in 1800. And you also have to give him some credit for the successors he mentored who became presidents after him. JMO.
It sure seems that way doesn't it. From my reading, I have developed an opinion that most of the problems we ,in history's hindsight, attribute to the Presidents, were caused, perpetuated, inflated and side-tracked by petulant legislators in either or both houses. I'm thinking of such issues as abolition, secession, nullification, Missouri compromise, reconstruction, Teapot Dome and universal health care.
All of this goes to make for a real interesting place to live and provides a certain safety within its borders; which goes to the point Krenzel16 makes about the two party system.
Oh, it makes for great reading too.
The body politic is a strange animal. Where two of them congregate for discussion, there will be three opinions.
Evolution or a god's plan I wonder.
As to today's issues, either something will get done or it won't and history will attribute the result to the president.
I'm reading Plain Honest Men which is about the making of the Constitution. They did a great thing but reading about the details is interesting. I'm not too far into it and Madison arrives promptly and is disappointed that everyone else seems to be late arriving. At the time, the details mattered but we don't worry as much about how they got it done but rather, that they did.
The presidents often seem to be above the legislative fray. Reading these books and learning the details and seeing how sometimes they were not above pettiness makes for interesting reading. They can be great leaders without being perfect men. They may have done great things but not always and we learn that they're human, just like the rest of us. Jefferson is a perfect case in point.
It's not a biography and largely skips several periods in his adult life (such as his second presidential term), which was a bit disconcerting for someone with little knowledge of his life. But enough is included to give the reader the necessary background to follow the discussion at the center of the book: that is, what made Jefferson tick, and how did he juggle the many, many contradictions between his publicly stated philosophy and the actions he took in his personal life? The answer appears to be a real psychological disconnect. Ellis concludes that Jefferson was not mentally ill, but having known at least one person with a similar personality very well in my life, I'd have to say it was at least an unchangeable personality disorder: the ability to think, with integrity, that your philosophy and life decisions reflect each other, when to observers they clearly don't. As proved to be the case with Jefferson, this includes an inability to entertain evidence about those contradictions and make adjustments to be more consistent.
The Epilogue is one of the best summations I've ever read. Especially helpful is Ellis' summation of the various changes to the American landscape which in effect killed off many of the underpinnings to Jefferson's legacy:
1 - the Civil War, ending not only "slavery but the political primacy of the South and the doctrine that the states were sovereign agents in the federal compact."
2 - the end of the Frontier and the urbanization of the population between 1890-1920.
3 - the New Deal, providing a more centralized government, now required to regulate the "inequities of the marketplace and discipline the boisterous energies of an industrial economy". In effect, the "death knell for Jefferson's idea of a minimalist government."
4 - the Cold War (requiring maintenance of a massive military) and civil rights legislation repudiating the "racial and gender differences that Jefferson regarded as rooted in fixed principles of nature."
5 - changes in the scientific understanding of the natural world (Freud, Darwin, Einstein).
As much as I dislike the way of politics, which seems to have been as vicious and corrupt then as it is now, we've ended up with a political balance which has worked for us in the (very) long haul. It's an interesting problem to wonder how this country would have fared if Jefferson had not been president and been able to force his anti-Federalist views on the government just as the country was finding itself.
Another book I just thought of that has some interesting info on Jefferson's scientific interests is Andro Linklater's Measuring America (don't be put off by the cheesy subtitle). It goes into some detail on Jefferson's attempts (and failure) to bring the measurement system the French were developing to the States and how property lines and our sense of property rights developed during that time. It's not about Jefferson per se, but there's some good information in it about his role in that particular facet of our history.
Edited for spelling. Red touchstones, so no link, but here's one of his books, Adams and Jefferson: A Revolutionary Dialogue.
It was in reply to a letter someone had sent him, talking about the death of their mutual friend, John Dickinson.
The Joyce Appleby book in the American Presidents series is worshipful garbage, my least favorite presidential biography. It ignores the warts, or tries to explain them away. American Sphinx is an excellent read.
If you want to read a true "warts and all" look at Jefferson's Presidency, check out The Presidency of Thomas Jefferson by Forrest McDonald. There are parts of it that are absolutely withering, and he talks about Jefferson basically abdicating the Presidency to his cabinet in the last few months of his term due to depression stemming from how poorly things were going with the British.
PS I have to agree that American Sphinx is outstanding, as are many Ellis books, including Founding Brothers which is a must-read for anyone interested in the characters I refer to above.
I agree with Garp that Mr. Reagan has a lot more to answer for than current "wisdom" seems to ask.
I believe that last sentence truly grasps it. Unlike most other Founding Fathers, Jefferson has different interpretations still to this day which allows for competing images and stylized notions of who he was and who we want him to be. I believe Ellis is a great writer but he just may not be the type of biographer I want to read.
Okay, I'm starting to get bored with the Revolutionary War. I don't have much of an interest in obtaining this book, as I did with the Washington and Adams biography. But this is a great read and offers a slightly different perspective on that era in history. Thomas Jefferson: A Life gives a perspective from a statewide level, namely the state of Virginia, where Jefferson served as governor during the war. But the era which looms much larger in this book is Jefferson's stint as ambassador to France from 1784 to 1789. Reading about his life there was an eye opener as I tend to look at American history from a 20th Century perspective. My mind sees Jefferson as one of the founding fathers of a great nation, serving in a foreign country. To his contemporaries, he was merely a learned politician from a mediocre confederation of backward states. A hick abroad, if you will. It was also interesting to read of his political struggles. Today, a vast majority of Americans probably think well of the man. (His picture is on the nickel, after all.) Back in his day, he had as many opponents as Bush or Obama ever did. Anyway, if you want a peek into the thought that went into the creation of the United States, you should definitely check it out.
I don't disagree with your assessment of Jefferson at all. To me, it's the complexity of Jefferson that still makes him an interesting figure today. The fact that FDR had the Jefferson monument built in 1935 because he felt the Democrats needed a monument (he believed the Republicans had the Lincoln Memorial) despite the fact that I believe Jefferson never would have supported the enlargement of government FDR spearheaded truly lends to the continuing complexity of the man.
I just wasn't a fan of how Ellis presented the information. I finished His Excellency in a matter of days but it took me nearly two weeks to finish American Sphinx, and not because I am more interested in Washington than Jefferson. It is most definitely the other way around.
Still, I got quite a bit out of it. Once I decided to start reading the biographies in order (well, duh, what a concept!), I have definitely been getting more out of this challenge. Especially the contradications! For example, Bernstein desribed Franklin as urbane and Adams as 'prickly and suspicious' - quite a contrast from McCullogh's work.
Alexander Hamilton is a character I'll have to read more about - I was amazed by a description of a dinner hosted by Jefferson for Adams and Hamilton; Adams insisted that the British constitution, purged of its corruption, would be the most perfect form of government. Another Federalist like Adams, Hamilton replied that its corruption is what made it work. No wonder Jefferson was so afraid of Hamilton's plans for the country!
Another interesting point in the book (although it's prefaced, 'Legend had it') is that upon welcoming visitors to Monticello, Jefferson would point to the two opposing busts of Hamilton and himself in his foyer and state, "Opposed in death as in life."
Finally, and I remember reading this in Adams' bio too, but it still amazes me that Adams and Jefferson died on the same day, July 4th, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.
I liked how Linda in >45 lindapanzo: evaluated how her estimation of the presidents went up or down after reading more about them.
I will admit that I am really pretty ignorant of the real details of many of our presidents, so reading these bios is opening my eyes big time.
My opinion of Washington has gone down, of Adams up quite a bit, and down a little on Jefferson.
I'm looking forward to more enlightenment...!
Regardless of your opinion on George W. Bush, I just finished his book Decision Points and what I found interesting is through out the book he list books he read about previous Presidents and Leaders to see how they had made decisions and what the outcome was. He lists quite a few interesting books throughout.
Sorry, but I think you may have a somewhat biased opinion of various presidents. I thought we were susposed to read about the presidents to learn about them and discuss their terms in office. I hope we aren't getting too political...... I like to read about the various presidents for enlightenment.......
I have the Dumas volumes on TJ... have got to get started reading them........ it may take me quite awhile to finish. I like reading some of the older histories/biographies of our presidents.
Also, anything by McCullough is great ( Adams, etc. ). I hope to acquire the Truman biography from my local used bookstore.
On another note, if you are looking for Truman I think the McCullough book is the best one out there. I also own the Malone books on Jefferson but I doubt I will ever read them. I'm currently reading the Merrill Peterson bio of Jefferson (slowly ...) but my favorite book on him is the Ellis American Sphynx which is outstanding.
As for the books, I still hope I can read the Dumas collection...... No matter what the modern historians say about TJ, I continue to believe he was a very important founding father and we were lucky to have him; along with Washington and Adams.
As to your quote: "I think it is a very hard and difficult job and requires a very special person to occupy the office. I think our voting population doesn't use rational thinking when they make their choice for president. I believe it was TJ that said for a democracy to work we need to have an educated population" -- . . . under the circumstances, I refuse to take the bait and reply, especially because I don't want to get in trouble on this thread. Suffice to say that it is perfectly rational to judge a POTUS based upon his time in office, the age he lived in, and how he dealt with crises. Historians consistently rate Lincoln, Washington and FDR as top three and there are good reasons for that. They also consistently rate Buchanan as last --also with good reason. GWB shows up as a bottom-feeder, as well, and with good reason, and I don't believe (although the right would take issue) that politics has anything to do with it. And I will leave it at that.
TJ was a terrible POTUS with some significant exceptions, as was John Adams and James Madison -- though there is much to admire about all three in contributions made when not POTUS --of the Founders, only Washington not only lived up to but exceeded expectations as Chief Executive. Like those three Presidents, most POTUS's were complicated individuals who can be cited for contributions as well as deep flaws -- such as Jackson, Truman, Carter & Reagan, for vastly different reasons. It's tougher with giants like Wilson & LBJ and Nixon who at root were very bad men who made some positive contributions despite the terrible damage they wrought. It's easier with people like Teddy Roosevelt & JFK, who despite some flaws were on the right track -- and with Taft & Harding & Coolidge & Hoover & Ford who were simply very bad Presidents.
It is the job of historians to study each POTUS and to rate his performance, without regard to sympathy or passion.
This book is worthy of praise for its notes alone which are an excellent tool for selection of future reading. He mentions many works which will illuminate certain aspects of Jefferson for which clarification may be desirable with fair warning of bias.
While at first Dumas Malone’s 6 volume biography of Jefferson seemed unnecessary the reading of American Sphinx shattered all hopes of understanding Jefferson and his accomplishments with even significantly more text than that.
I will continue on with Malone’s Jefferson and His Times with the preceding knowledge that it is the standard yet reverential biography. I however remain certain that the conundrum that is Jefferson will be forever un-decipherable regardless of the bulk of scholarship or correspondence at my fingertips.
FYI I've no financial interest in the LoC, other than being quite fond of them.
There have been many comments already. I really wish I could just teach a year's class on the Presidents. Our students today are not exposed to this history of the Presidency, they could learn so much from looking at the progression of the presidency in this country.
In his notes at the conclusion of the book, Meacham reveals that he does not believe it possible to write a comprehensive, single-volume book about Jefferson and his era, and in this he may be right. Instead, Meacham, a highly acclaimed Pulitzer Prize winning historian, decides to focus on how Jefferson wields power, usually quite successfully, throughout his career, from delegate to the Continental Congress and author of the Declaration of Independence, as Virginia Governor, as Ambassador to France, as member of the first Washington Administration, as founder of the first real political party, as Vice President while leading the opposition, as President of the United States, and later as (to borrow from a book title from his most eminent biographer, Dumas Malone) “the Sage of Monticello,” who manages in “retirement” among other accomplishments to found a great university. What a life! And except for his stint as governor and perhaps his second term as president, much of what he achieves on the public stage is astonishing in its scope and in its lasting echo to our own day. On the private side, there is the grief-stricken Jefferson who loses his wife and barely recovers from that loss, and sees all but one of his children from that marriage go to the grave prematurely while he endures to very old age. There is also the side story of his relationship with Sally Hemings and the family he makes with her. Jefferson is portrayed as a master of political power; we see a man who can be conniving and less than loyal in order to achieve his aims. And Jefferson, as Meacham emphasizes, usually gets what he wants.
Yet, in the end, Meacham acts mostly as an apologist for Jefferson, even when others have underscored the errors of his public life and the shortcomings of his private one. It is clear that Meacham likes his so subject so much that he can do almost no wrong. Even in areas where he calls Jefferson to task for holding the children of Sally Hemings as slaves, for example, or with regard to his whole position on the peculiar institution that he more than once abhors as a great evil in rhetoric yet upholds via policy and ideology. He makes excuses for Jefferson as Revolutionary War governor who fled from British troops, and as second-term President who in his stubbornness to not set the nascent United States on the same side as Britain against the global threat of Napoleon, nearly bankrupted the country with his ineffectual embargo born out of a policy of impossible neutrality. It is not that a biographer cannot take these positions in favor of his subject, but when the favor is too consistent, the credibility of the biography is threatened in my opinion.
To his credit, the book has a strong scholarly foundation. There are over 150 pages of end-notes, so it is clear that Meacham did his homework. The book is also generously populated with quotations from Jefferson and his peers. Too generously in my view. These days, grad students are routinely admonished for an excessive use of direct quotes and a failure to paraphrase and put a paragraph into their own words. (Perhaps the late emphasis on plagiarism has worked against this in academic writing, but I cannot see how paraphrasing primary sources could represent such a threat.) Meacham is obviously of another mind. The problem I have with this is that too many quotations, especially long ones, routinely break the flow of the writing. I also find many of the ones on these pages superfluous. Is a paragraph-long direct quote from an English traveler describing Jefferson’s conversation skills (p.228) requisite? Or several lines from a granddaughter (p.451) detailing how he doted upon them?
I should also add that this is hardly a book for someone not already quite familiar with the life of Jefferson, the cast of characters he walked among or the events of his time. The text assumes the reader knows these well, so I would not recommend this to someone unfamiliar in this regard. As I have read deeply previously in these arenas, I do not judge this a fault, but I merely point it out to those who might pick this as their first biography of Jefferson.
I have to admit a personal sometimes-grudging admiration for Jefferson, warts and all. And there are plenty of warts. He was right about lots of things, especially religious freedom and the essential ideals of the republic, but he was also dead wrong about a weak central government acting upon the engine of the power of states’ rights – which he was the first to abandon as POTUS even as he loudly clung to the ideology of the notion that it is garbed in. And he perhaps failed most manifestly in upholding the institution of slavery that he also once loudly clamored against. I have read a lot about Jefferson, and my favorite read remains American Sphinx by Joseph Ellis, which demonstrates quite convincingly in my view that Jefferson was capable of daily maintaining two competing ideologies in his head simultaneously, while ever employing the one that was most effectual in the dynamics of real world situations. If you are a student of Jefferson, by all means reads the Meacham book; you won’t be sorry. But perhaps you will also need to read the Ellis book to explain why he was so successful with his “art of power.”
Since I teach briefly about Jefferson when I teach about the Declaration of Independence, I wanted to find out some other new, interesting material. I think I was most interested by the article in the Smithsonian, that tells the story of Jefferson either changing his mind or being beat down by popular culture in the time period between when he wrote the Declaration and the time he died. He was fiery in the Declaration about the notion of “all men created equal.” Jefferson denounced the slave trade as an “execrable commerce ...this assemblage of horrors,” a “cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberties.” As historian John Chester Miller put it, “The inclusion of Jefferson’s strictures on slavery and the slave trade would have committed the United States to the abolition of slavery.”(Wiencek, Smithsonian). This language was stricken from the Declaration as 6 southern States, including Georgia and South Carolina refused to accept the wording. Following this though, Jefferson seems to have been silent about slavery. When Washington died he freed his slaves. Jefferson only freed 1 slave, but failed to free his wife or 7 children. What made Jefferson change? Or, did he just get carried away by his own fiery writing?
Jefferson is certainly the most interesting historical figure for me. His flaws were many, like the rest of us. But, consider how often today, we complain about the lack of creativity in our leaders, their inability to evolve in their beliefs, their unwillingness to go beyond what they think "The People" already want.
I would also argue that among the Founders, Jefferson's legacy extends further and deeper than the others into the world outside of the USA.