- Hardcover: 400 pages
- Publisher: Liveright; 1 edition (April 13, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0871404427
- ISBN-13: 978-0871404428
- Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 74 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #558,248 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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"Most Blessed of the Patriarchs": Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination 1st Edition
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“They neither indict nor absolve Jefferson; instead, they aim to make sense of his contradictions for modern sensibilities…A fascinating addition to the Jefferson canon.”
- Publishers Weekly (starred and boxed)
“Gordon-Reed and Onuf, both highly reputable Jefferson scholars, strive to understand Jefferson’s outlooks over his long life…Gordon-Reed and Onuf’s keen and fresh approach to Jefferson and his ideas will engage history buffs.”
- Booklist (starred review)
“With characteristic insight and intellectual rigor, Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter Onuf have produced a powerful and lasting portrait of the mind of Thomas Jefferson. This is an essential and brilliant book by two of the nation’s foremost scholars―a book that will, like its protagonist, endure.”
- Jon Meacham, author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
“A peerless team, Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter Onuf pierce the mysteries of Jefferson’s character and at last offer a compelling explanation of how the republican statesman and plantation patriarch could coexist in a single soul. Jefferson’s flaw was not hypocrisy but conviction, his unswerving belief in paternalism as empowering and beneficent.”
- Danielle Allen, author of Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality
“This inspired collaboration takes us as close as we’re likely to get to the way Thomas Jefferson understood himself and his times. Not content with clichés about a man who made his world anew, Gordon-Reed and Onuf show us the world that made the man…. Here is Jefferson as he might have painted his own image, a self-portrait comprised of equal parts sun and shadow.”
- Jane Kamensky, author of Copley: A Life in Color
About the Author
Annette Gordon-Reed is the Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History at Harvard Law School. She lives in New York City and Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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One key aspect of the book is how much it emphasizes Jefferson's continuing focus on Virginia. The adverse effects of slavery on Virginians was manifest to Jefferson and he initially pointed them out in his "Notes." Yet, as the authors argue, Jefferson's view shifted over time, from intense condemnation to a more comfortable and patient view influenced by his stay in France, largely leaving it to the future to correct the problem, as Jefferson was sure it would. The authors employ their patriarchal model of TJ (one of the most innovative techniques invented by the authors) to explain how his self-perception of himself as a "good master" and his slaves as parts of the contented Montecello assemblage over which he presided led him to be much more comfortable with the system.
The reader comes to see what TJ was seeking to accomplish with Montecello--to recreate the culture and intellectual stimulation of Paris in the wilds of Albemarle, as a model of what the U.S. was becoming and capable of developing. Amelioration of slavery's hardships is well evident on the plantation (for that is what it was), and why Jefferson felt he was truly a good master. The authors offer an interesting spin on Jefferson's perception of the value of agriculture and individual farmers as keys to keeping the revolution alive--perhaps he was more of a farsighted Hamilitonian than we realized. Incidentally, the chapters on France, and its transformative effects on Jefferson, are quite insightful.
Looking homeward, Jefferson saw many reforms to be necessary in Virginia, including (along with Madison) disestablishment and reform of legal property concepts. American virtue could be married to European civilization to produce a potent result. And slavery would take care of itself in the future--so the republic's future was bright. One surprising thing to me was that Jefferson saw the republic as the family writ large. The authors extensively examine this innovative perspective, including that patriotism began at home for Jefferson.
The authors focus upon some aspects of Jefferson rarely discussed by others. Jefferson and music turned out to be a fascinating discussion, as indeed did the chapter and privacy and prayers, especially helpful for exploring this perplexing area of Jeffersonian thought. Also helpful is the discussion of Jefferson's idea of ward republics--i.e., reducing government down to minute, local levels of control.
My comments touch upon but a limited number of this book's important contributions. Jefferson as a patriarch is a strikingly innovative technique of analysis--but readers must determine for themselves how far to carry this concept. As to be expected, there are ample notes and an effective index. I think the thing I liked most about the book is that the authors are in no hurry to spell out their conclusions and arguments; their stature as scholars obviates any need to dazzle the reader as younger academics might feel it necessary. Hence one has time to savor the analysis and ponder it. A vitally important book on Jefferson which anyone interested in the Sage must read and reflect upon.
A number of the personal letters to and from Thomas Jefferson have been studied only recently. This book is an analysis of those letters as they may reveal the mind of Jefferson as he coursed through his private and public life. If we’ve been paying attention we remember Jefferson as the author of the Declaration of Independence and Notes on the State of Virginia said to be the most important American book published before 1800. He was the Virginia representative to the Continental Congress, Ambassador to France, Secretary of State, Vice President, and President. He engineered the Louisiana Purchase from France. He opposed the Alien and Sedition Act and sponsored Indian Tribe Removal.
The recurrent issue throughout Gordon-Reed and Onuf’s book is slavery, which Jefferson preached and wrote against but continued to use throughout his life at his home and for the maintenance of his plantations and factories. After the death of his wife with whom he had six children, he took on a relationship with a slave who was his wife’s half-sister by her father. With her Jefferson had four more children each of whom bore a strong resemblance to him. Though slaves themselves like their mother, these children were treated well and had privileges normally not given to slaves. They could work for wages at other places as long as they let Jefferson know their whereabouts and were available to him on call. They were taught to read and write. One was taught French cooking and another learned to play music professionally. Both were allowed to earn their own money. For the rest of Jefferson’s many slaves he was a gentle manager and never used physical punishment.
Consistent with his well-known position against slavery, he could have freed his slaves, which he did for a few of his immediate family including some of his children and their cousins. But, given his aristocratic life style, he probably could not have afforded to free any more of his many slaves. Nonetheless he expressed the wish that Virginia would free all slaves by law, which in his opinion would happen in time. However, the market in Virginia slaves continued to increase throughout Jefferson’s life with little or no movements toward abolition. Upon his death, besides the few that were freed and those that escaped, most were sold off to pay his substantial debts.
Though Jefferson was a part of both Washington and Adam’s administrations he opposed their federalism in favor of state’s rights and even more local governmental controls at the level of neighborhood wards modeled after the town meetings of the New England states. He did think the union was essential for the survival of the individual states. Much of his personal philosophy was inspired by the teachings of Jesus, but he absolutely rejected miracles and he thought that eventually Americans would all become Unitarian. He believed that free men ought to be self-governed and not controlled by any outside authority. This was the theme of the Declaration and it was a legacy of the revolutionary war fought against the abusive authority of George III. Jefferson was for government sponsored free education but was only able to achieve that at the University of Virginia that he founded.
Though he was away from his mountain top Virginia home on government business much of the time, he claimed to espouse family as a top priority and he housed one of his adult children and her children at his home. Even so he kept his distance from them by maintaining private rooms. He used his home, its art treasures, and enormous library as a visitors’ center for dignitaries and others, whom he housed and fed but sometimes never met face to face. Though way out of the way on top of a mountain, it was a major tourist attraction. Jefferson was respected as an intellectual, architect, inventor, musician, and statesman, a man many others wanted to see and hear. He was known for his affable conversations in which he rarely if ever expressed disagreement, even though he was known to have strong opinions and a rigid sense of being right no matter what the argument to the contrary.
So was he more of a hypocrite than I am or you are? This is the question that the whole book addresses and that you must decide for yourself.