A biography of Thomas Jefferson
, who despite his legendary intelligence and political savvy, could be ruthless, not to mention lawless, in his efforts to preserve his causes. Jefferson operated on two levels, as his opposition to slavery as a slaveowner attests. But as Willard Sterne Randall argues, this duality is what made him so effective. Whether Jefferson's 1784 draft of Virginia's constitution "prefigured the founding documents of republics in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, as well as the Confederate States of America," as Randall claims, is questionable, but his impact on international trade, diplomatic discussions and the success of the state of Virginia cannot be disputed.
From Publishers Weekly
Randall's masterful, gracefully written portrait brings us closer to Jefferson than any previous biography. The self-taught stoic who tried to make himself an embodiment of the Age of Reason was also, in Randall's view, a tortured romantic who kept a pledge to his dying wife not to remarry. Jefferson fell passionately in love with at least two married women, including British painter Maria Cosway with whom he gallivanted in Paris. As a statesman he could act illegally and ruthlessly if he perceived a serious threat to one of his causes, as in his drafting of secret orders that enabled George Rogers Clark to seize territory for Virginia under cover of the Revolution. Randall, biographer of Benedict Arnold and Benjamin Franklin, finds that Jefferson as president was an "ambivalent pragmatist" who often set aside his principles to achieve his goals. Randall dismisses as "preposterous" biographer Fawn Brodie's theory that the slave Sally Hemings was Jefferson's concubine; Brodie, he charges, relied on mere gossip and highly suspect, uncorroborated memoirs by ex-slaves.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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