What emerges from Jefferson's portraits is a man with extraordinary powers of self-delusion. Why did you own slaves? Once the symbol of all that was right with America, Jefferson had become the touchstone for much that was wrong. He wanted Black children to be free, educated, and off in a new society from the White societies help. However, Ellis himself quotes Jefferson admitting that an absence of government is not possible in a more sophisticated society, which moves him away from Rousseau towards Locke. It is the principles of actual and positive Jeffersonian government that Ellis chooses to either ignore, disparage, or mischaracterize, as he systematically ignores the Jeffersonian sympathies and adherence of the much more pragmatic James Madison.
Ellis is a well-known author and history professor focusing on the revolutionary era. It reinforced my resolve to insist that there really was a living, breathing person who walked the earth between 1743 and 1826 and was more than the figment of posterity's imagination. Jefferson's tenacious pursuit of his many interests are depicted as merely self indulgent and 'materialistic'. By any measure, however, chockablock Monticello resembled a trophy case belonging to one of America's most self-indulgent and wildly eclectic collectors. Other new libertarian political influences, like the , also go unnoticed.
He gives us the slaveholding libertarian who was capable of decrying mescegenation while maintaing an intimate relationship with his slave, Sally Hemmings; the enemy of government power who exercisdd it audaciously as president; the visionarty who remained curiously blind to the inconsistencies in his nature. He captures what must have been Jefferson's consciousness. He was comfortable with ambiguity, but saw things in black and white. He is Thomas Jefferson, after all--our very own sphinx. Once that became a chief measure of Jefferson's character, his stock was fated to fall in the scholarly world. His idealized vision of the westward expansion diluting and diffusing the slavery problem was also unrealistic. We grow convinced that he preferred to meet his lovers in the rarefied region of his mind rather than in the actual bedchamber.
As I held the flashlight for him in the basement while he lay on his back replacing worn-out parts of the heat pump, he talked for a full hour about how critics had maligned Jefferson as an atheist. Evidence of Jefferson's natural tendency to surge out of the past and into the present kept popping up in the press even as the 250th anniversary celebrations died down. After 1809, his longed-for retirement was compromised by a steady stream of guests and tourists who made of his estate at Monticello a virtual hotel, as well as by more than one thousand letters per year, most from strangers, which he insisted on answering personally. This method works well for Ellis see: Founding Brothers , probably because the broader view allows him to write more lyrically than a stick-to-the-facts biography would allow. It does address how Jefferson can be looked at from our space in time now, and it connects the Jeffersonian spirit to multiple political parties now or circa late 90s. He was a brilliant, creative, imaginative and inventive man who helped transform our world with his vision on the role of government and in his writings. It's a fascinating study of the man's inherent contradictions, the most obvious being that Jefferson was a slaveowner who became famous for his writings on equality and personal freedom.
Positions he publicly took, or speeches he gave. His style is commensurately abstract. Finally, my favorite sort of thing: trivia that's interesting only to other nerds. Ellis was consistently patronizing and apologetic in his discussions about Thomas Jefferson's thoughts, ideas and actions. Jefferson is no longer humble and soft spoken, but simply 'nervous and unsure of himself'.
The phenomenon deserved a name or title, so I began to call it the Jeffersonian Surge. I suppose I knew what I was getting into with this book. They were the kinds of historical facts that poets usually were required to invent. What do you think of President Clinton? It delves into both his political and personal lives to find out what kind of person he is, or at least as much as we can know today from current records. In the academic world the winds were gusting in a different direction.
Rather amazingly it was in Charlottesville that the scholarly reappraisal of Jefferson that McKitrick had called for reached a crescendo. He gives us the slaveholding libertarian who was capable of decrying mescegenation while maintaing an intimate relationship with his slave, Sally Hemmings; the enemy of government power who exercisdd it audaciously as president; the visionarty who remained curiously blind to the inconsistencies in his nature. Nothing like it had accompanied the 250th birthday of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin or John Adams. While it argues that we have to study Jefferson as a man in his time, it seems that even in his time he was out of step in many of his core beliefs again slavery but also generally his thoughts about diversity, the role of Federal government and the compromises implicit and explicit in the Constitution. I'm docking it one star for being somewhat repetitive, and for the rather tedious tie-ins to today at the beginning and end of the book-- those are dated now, and boring.
Locke's state of nature, however, does contain right and wrong, and so natural rights. He was troubled by the Missouri Question. The iconic image of Jefferson takes a bit of a hit in this non-traditional biography. This book has been called dense by some and, less frequently, one-sided. It was time to turn to a book specifically on Jefferson. It is not a character assassination either.