Saturday, May 13, 2017

Snippets on Mr. Jefferson

I’ve recently undertaken an effort to refresh myself with our American history, keying on Revolutionary times (Pre and Post war). I want to reacquaint myself with not only the writings of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Thomas Paine and James Madison but also get into some autobiographical texts as well.

So with that, I picked up a copy of Jon Meacham’s “Thomas Jefferson The Art of Power” (2013 Random House Trade Publication Edition, Copyright C 2012 by Merewether LLC, ISBN 978-0-8129-7948-0) from a local discount store. I think I paid $2.00 for it!

I am happy I read this book. Not only did it refresh my knowledge of American History during that time, it added a lot of information about how and who Thomas Jefferson was. It answered a lot of questions I had about the character of the man and provided insight into some other aspects of his life that I did not know like……

Thomas Jefferson was something of a cad!! He pursued the wife of his best friend. To the point where he was made to leave the bedchambers where she was staying while he was to have been entertaining his best friend in his home.

He had a questionable relationship with a French dignitary’s wife that lasted years, apparently with the full knowledge of the husband. How close they were and the extent of their relationship isn’t crystal clear but from their correspondence and from the speculation, one could only speculate. And I am sure there was plenty of that at that time.

He was not one for direct conflict. Whether it was personal, business, family or whatever he would do what he could to manage the situation from afar or behind the scenes. He would not be one to ever consider direct personal confrontation of any kind.

During the Revolutionary War, when the British were approaching his home in Virginia with the intent of capturing him, Thomas Jefferson fled the scene. That’s something that has been established in history and I had always felt that had the British captured Jefferson, it would have been an immense propaganda victory for them. It would have represented a huge morale boost for British troops who were already winning the war at the time and one that could have been devastating to American hearts and minds. But when I read other aspects of his character, I wonder if that was the reason for his departure at the time. Was he chicken? I would think not but I don’t think the book really, clearly, answered that question which plagued Jefferson throughout history.

Upon the arrival of invading British troops in Virginia during the revolutionary War, then Governor Jefferson was slow and indecisive in calling out the militia and in preparing a response or defense.

He was strong and powerful in his words but he was a soft spoken man, if you will pardon the “Seinfeld reference”, he was a low talker and by all accounts nay have been somewhat effeminate in his actions.

Jefferson loved living well. I knew that when he passed away, he did so in debt but his debt to the tune of somewhere around 2 million dollars is kind of staggering.

Jefferson loved America. He was a strong proponent of American life and liberty. He was mortally afraid, if not obsessively so, of our young nation returning to British subjugation in some form or the establishment of an American monarchy. It physically plagued him at times.

He suffered greatly from migraines. Intense migraines that caused him to be bedridden sometimes for days at a time. This autobiography describes some of the ailments he suffered as he grew older. He had his physical pain and his mental anguish.

Thomas Jefferson loved his family. Caring for his wife whom he loved deeply, caring for his children, the ones that survived, and his grandchildren. He took pains financially and otherwise to keep his family as close as he possibly could. He provided for the education of the children, recommending courses of study, books to read and areas of knowledge to undertake. He would even set out daily schedules for them to follow.

Jefferson may have had more than a minor role in President James Monroe’s development and implementation of the Monroe Doctrine. His thoughts were well known to President Monroe and to what measure Jefferson’s influence had on his administration is not clear in this text but to me it was impressive. The power and influence the man Jefferson had on those around him. Even those that were not supporters of his causes.

These were all things I, for the most part, did not know. I knew about the controversy surrounding his time as Virginia governor during the revolution and the British invasion of Virginia but history told me that “He ran” and that was it.

But one recurrent theme that leapt out from this book at me was how divided our country was at that time and how some of those things dividing our people then are nearly the same things that divide us now. It amazes me that the particulars of the events are different but the essence of our country’s turmoil is nothing really new today from what it was in 1800.

One aspect of the times back then was how visceral the press was at that time, in particular of Jefferson. Fake news, gossip and misrepresentation of facts seemed to rule the headlines in those days. Not only against Jefferson and other Republican figures but also against President Adams who represented a largely Federalist view of things.

Differences of opinions shattered friendships, good working relationships and even family ties back in those days just as we see today. In fact about the only time the country appeared truly united was in the days following the Louisiana Purchase. Much like how 9/11 temporarily united all our fronts.

Author Jon Meacham
Jon Meacham wrote this book largely based from the correspondence Mr. Jefferson had with the many people he wrote. At times in the book I felt that that the facts presented were little snippets of information. We go from a brief sentence or two about his role in say, creating the University of Virginia, to a paragraph or two of “Mr. Jefferson slept with his slave.”  We do get bits of the author’s insight throughout the text but it mostly has the feel of compiled snippets

A nation united yet never really together. That’s what strikes me about this country from having read this book. Jon Meacham does a good job in pointing that out and it seems to me that he also does a good job at pointing out Mr. Jefferson’s faults or failings. Sometimes it seems as though his writing is purposed in that light. Whether he is a fan or admirer of Thomas Jefferson I don’t really know and don’t really care to be honest. He says he admires him in the books epilogue and acknowledgements. But it sure doesn’t seem that way.

But I think that if we review the history of our country that is what we find. We are never really together. We will always be separated by some “thing” or another and in fact the things we fight about amongst ourselves today are the same things fought over back in the earliest days of our nation. And that was one of the things Thomas Jefferson feared for us most. Still, we continue forth, we fight and argue but we still go forward. And that I think was one of the biggest hopes of Mr. Thomas Jefferson.


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