Saturday, November 24, 2012
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power managed to be an interesting read, and almost exhaustingly informative, without being an enjoyable one. I have read other biographies, other books about historic events or periods in history that were fare more enjoyable and reader friendly than this dry story of an intriguing man.
In this book we are reminded that Thomas Jefferson was almost obsessive in pursuing an education in the classics, the arts and languages, as well as in leadership. He was an inventor of many things from apparently a dumbwaiter to a plow and even the round sundial and a bookstand. Some of these inventions are referred to within the pages of this dreary read. In short, it seems to me that he would be quite the handy man to have around as he was a problem solver and designer, as well as something of an engineer and efficiency expert. Not a bad list of qualities in your every day working man, never mind politician and political hero. One thing that touched me, being a reader was this.
On February 1, 1770, when his Shadwell house burned, his grief was primarily for his library, which was lost in the fire.
Jefferson was passionate when it came to serving his country and caring for his family, which at one point included not just his own wife Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson, who was known famiiarly as Patty, and small daughter, but the wife and children of his brother. His sense of responsibility extended to the households of extended family members, and to this was added the house slaves left behind when his wife's father died in may of 1773.These slaves included Hemings family. The Hemings,Elizabeth, her sons Robert, James and john and his wife's half sister Sally Hemmings, were to serve him well and in many and various capacities over the years. Some in fact were regarded as members of his family, at least in his own heart.
Did jefferson strike a deal to win the presidency? Was a vote for Jefferson, merely a vote against Adams under whom he had at one time served as Vice President? He ran with Aaron Burr as his intended Vice President in his first term. The election was a bitter one.It seems as if political shenanigans have changed little since the early years of american politics. History tells us that Jefferson served two terms, I have to wonder if he did so reluctantly? Among the things Jefferson is known for besides drafting the Declaration of Independence, is his purchase of the area known as The Louisiana Purchase, abolishing foreign slave trade and he was the first to claim Executive privilege He retired from office in 1808, after serving not only as President of the United States for two terms.
He was a man well loved by his family for whom he seemed ready to jump any hurdle or take on any and all responsibility. He was cherished and respected by his grandchildren. After finally reaching the end of this tome, much of which is devoted to notes, which I confess to have mostly skimmed, I find that I respect Jefferson much more as simply a man, than as a politician or President. Not that his political career was a failure or in any way one undeserving of respect. It is more that his life as a family man was so stellar as to, for me, eclipse his public life and contributions. This integrity of spirit is what lent a positive light to his time serving his country while in office as Second Governor of Virginia, Ambassador to France, a position which he clearly enjoyed, then the First US Secretary of State to this newly minted country . He was also Second Vice President of the US, which led finally to his serving as Third President of the US.
Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, in Albemarle County, Virginia, until his death on July 4, 1826. It seems that to the best of his ability, a last stand as a man in control of his life, he would also have a hand in controlling his death. He questioned the doctor repeatedly during his last hours, not wanting to pass from this life before the date of July the 4th. Oddly, his death came on the same day as that of John Adams.A man with whom he had many differences over the years, with whom he had once been rivals but who in the end had become a friend. The two men having made amends before their deaths. During their later years these two men shared many letters, explaining and clarifying their ideas and their ideals and sealing their unusual connection both to each other and to the country.
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