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American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 4 months ago

American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson

 

by Joseph Ellis

 

Grassroots Jeffersoniansim -- everyone's founding father hero -- exists because of his utterly brilliant rhetorical skills. He was able to articulate irreconcilable human urges at a sufficiently abstract level to mask their mutual exclusiveness.

 

The truth about Sally Hemmings: We'll never know.

 

Youthful Jefferson: private temperament, imaginative, idealistic

 

Wrote first draft of constitution. He was NOT thinking about Locke's theory of natural rights. He was thinking about Virginia's new constitution.

 

Gravitational pull toward Monticello remained a constant seduction.

 

"Given this supercharged context, it is the beginning of all genuine wisdom to recognize that neither Jefferson nor any other of the participants foresaw the historical significance of what they were doing at the time." Myth of the giant eureka moment!

 

The American dream is really the Jeffersonian dream writ large.

 

Martha died in 1785-ish; lots of grief. Hard to recover from it.

 

Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe - a trio. All Virginians.

 

Jefferson in Paris - bonded with Abigail. Jefferson and Franklin in Paris at the same time -- greatest assembalage of intellectual horsepower in American diplomatic history. Jefferson secured $40k loan from Dutch.

 

Jefferson developed "diplomacy of the interior regions" too. He was able to love all things French while despising Europe more generally. He could please different constituencies.

 

He loved his children and wife dearly, but more in the mind than physically. Couldn't express physical intimacy. Couldn't convey affection to his own children. Even when he had a fling with a young woman in Paris, he preferred to meet his lovers in the rarefied region of the mind rather than the physical world of his bedchamber.

 

The Jeffersonian ideal, in short, was not a specific version of balanced republican government. It was a world in which individual citizens had internalized their social responsibilities so thoroughly that the political architecture Madison was designing was superfluous. Jefferson longed for a world where government itself had disappeared.

 

Jefferson overoptimistic about French revolution - compared it in some ways to American revolution.

 

Jefferson loved Monticello. Was there from 1794-97. Had slaves on his farm.

 

Jefferson was suspicious that Hamilton wanted to increase national debt in order to justify more federal power over the economy. He dispatched Madison to deal with Hamilton.

 

The more balanced consensus of posterity is that the Jay Treaty was a realistic bargain taht avoided a war with England at at time when US was ill prepared to fight one.

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