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Jefferson on Jefferson

Jefferson on Jefferson

Paul M. Zall
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Jefferson on Jefferson
    Book Description:

    A new and more complex portrait of Thomas Jefferson, as told by Jefferson himself. Not trusting biographers with his story and frustrated by his friends' failure to justify his role in the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson wrote his autobiography on his own terms at the age of seventy-seven. The resulting book ends, well before his death, with his return from France at the age of forty-six. Asked for additional details concerning his life, Jefferson often claimed to have a "decayed memory." Fortunately, this shrewd politician, philosopher, architect, inventor, farmer, and scientist penned nearly eighteen thousand letters in his lifetime, saving almost every scrap he wrote.

    InJefferson on Jefferson, Paul Zall returns to original manuscripts and correspondence for a new view of the statesman's life. He extends the story where Jefferson left off, weaving excerpts from other writings -- notes, rough drafts, and private correspondence -- with passages from the original autobiography. Jefferson reveals his grief over the death of his daughter, details his hotly contested election against John Adams (decided by the House of Representatives), expresses his thoughts on religion, and tells of life at Monticello.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5935-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    Thomas Jefferson could practice a s architect, educator, ethnologist, farmer, fiddler, geographer, inventor, linguist, manufacturer, philologist, philosopher, planter, scientist, and zoologist. But his vocation was politics. For forty years, from the House of Burgesses through two terms in the White House, he played the role expected of a legislator, governor, diplomat, first secretary of state, second vice president, and third president. For the rest of his life, this quintessentially private person felt forced to justify that career to history, to his family, and mostly to himself. As an obsessive writer who apparently saved every scrap he wrote to ensure a...

  5. Note on the Text
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. 1 Becoming Thomas Jefferson
    (pp. 1-12)

    At the age of 77, I begin to make some memoranda and state some recollections of dates and facts concerning myself, for my own more ready reference and for the information of my family.

    The tradition in my father’s family was that their ancestor came to this country from Wales, and from near the mountain of Snowden, the highest in Great Britain. I noted once a case from Wales in the law reports where a person of our name was either plaintiff or defendant and one of the same name was Secretary to the Virginia company. These are the only...

  7. 2 Legislating Independence
    (pp. 13-33)

    In May 1769 a meeting of the General Assembly was called by the Governor Lord Botetourt. I had then become a member; and to that meeting became known the joint resolutions and address of the Lords and Commons of 1768—9 on the proceedings in Massachusetts. Counter-resolutions, and an Address to the King, by the House of Burgesses were agreed to with little opposition, and a spirit manifestly displayed of considering the cause of Massachusets as a common one. The Governor dissolved us: but we met the next day in the Apollo of the Raleigh tavern, formed ourselves into a...

  8. 3 Fighting For Virginians’ Rights
    (pp. 34-51)

    [Articles of Confederation] reported July 12 ’76 were debated from day to day, and time to time for two years, were ratified July 9 ’78 by 10 states, by New Jersey on the 26th of November of the same year, and by Delaware on the 23d of February following. Maryland alone held off 2 years more, acceding to them March 1 ’81 and thus closing their obligation.

    Our delegation had been renewed for the ensuing year commencing August 11 but the new government was now organised, a meeting of the legislature was to be held in October and I had...

  9. 4 Governing Virginia
    (pp. 52-58)

    On the 1st of June 1779 I was appointed Governor of the Commonwealth and retired from the legislature. Being elected also one of the Visitors of William and Mary college, a self-electing body, I effected, during my residence in Williamsburg that year, a change in the organisation of that institution by abolishing the Grammar school, and the two professorships of Divinity and Oriental languages, and substituting a professorship of Law and Police, one of Anatomy, Medicine and Chemistry, and one of Modern languages.

    Elected by the legislature with a slim majority, he succeeded Patrick Henry, who had served three terms....

  10. 5 Embarking on Diplomacy
    (pp. 59-64)

    The Minister of France, Luzerne, offered me a passage on the Romulus frigate, which I accepted. But she was then lying a few miles below Baltimore blocked up in the ice. I remained therefore a month in Philadelphia looking over the papers in the office of State in order to possess myself of the general state of our foreign relations, and then went to Baltimore to await the liberation of the frigate from the ice. After waiting there nearly a month, we received information that a Provisional treaty of peace had been signed by our Commissioners on the 3d of...

  11. 6 Succeeding Dr. Franklin
    (pp. 65-80)

    On the 7th of May Congress resolved that a Minister Plenipotentiary should be appointed in addition to Mr Adams and Doctor Franklin for negociating treaties of commerce with foreign nations, and I was elected to that duty. I accordingly left Annapolis on the 11th, took with me my elder daughter then at Philadelphia (the two others being too young for the voyage) and proceeded to Boston in quest of a passage. While passing through the different states, I made a point of informing myself of the state of the commerce of each, went on to New Hampshire with the same...

  12. 7 Seeing Inside the French Revolution
    (pp. 81-88)

    On my return from Holland, I had found Paris in high fermentation still as I had left it. . .² The American war seems first to have awakened the thinking part of this nation in general from the sleep of despotism in which they were sunk. The officers too, who had been to America, were mostly young men, less shackled by habit and prejudice, and more ready to assent to the dictates of common sense and common right. They came back impressed with these. The press, notwithstanding it’s shackles, began to disseminate them: conversation too assumed new freedoms; politics became...

  13. 8 Going Back to Old Virginia
    (pp. 89-92)

    On the 26th of September I left Paris for Havre, where I was detained by contrary winds until the 8th of October. On that day, and on the 9th I crossed over to Cowes, where I had engaged the Clermont, Captain Colley, to touch for me. She did so, but here again we were detained by contrary winds until the 22d when we embarked and landed at Norfolk on the 23d of November.¹

    They must have made quite an entourage with Jefferson and the two girls in one cabin, the two Hemings servants in an adjacent cabin, and countless boxes...

  14. 9 Splitting the Cabinet
    (pp. 93-100)

    I arrived at New York on the 21st of March where Congress was in session¹ . . . after as laborious a journey of a fortnight from Richmond as I ever went through; resting only one day at Alexandria and another at Baltimore. I found my carriage and horses at Alexandria, but a snow of 18 inches deep falling the same night, I saw the impossibility of getting on in my own carriage, so left it there to be sent to me by water, and had my horses led on to [New York], taking my passage in the stage, though...

  15. 10 Rusticating
    (pp. 101-108)

    I return to farming with an ardour which I scarcely knew in my youth, and which has got the better entirely of my love of study. Instead of writing 10 or 12 letters a day, which I have been in the habit of doing as a thing of course, I put off answering my letters now, farmer-like, till a rainy day, and then find it sometimes postponed by other necessary occupations.¹ On returning home, after an absence often years, I found my farms so much deranged, that I saw evidently they would be a burthen to me instead of a...

  16. 11 Liberating the Presidency
    (pp. 109-117)

    To the state of general peace [in December 1801] one only exception exist[ed]. . . . I sent a small squadron of frigates into the Mediterranean with assurances to [Tripoli] of our sincere desire to remain in peace, but with orders to protect our commerce against the threatened attack. . . . One of the Tripolitan cruisers. . . was captured, after a heavy slaughter of her men, without the loss of a single one on our part. The bravery exhibited by our citizens. . . [would] be a testimony to the world that it is not want of that...

  17. 12 Retiring in Monticello
    (pp. 118-126)

    I am retired to Monticello, where, in the bosom of my family, and surrounded by my books, I enjoy a repose to which I have been long a stranger. My mornings are devoted to correspondence. From breakfast to dinner, I am in my shops, my garden, or on horseback among my farms; from dinner to dark, I give to society and recreation with my neighbors and friends; and from candle light to early bed-time, I read. My health is perfect; and my strength considerably reinforced by the activity of the course I pursue; perhaps it is as great as usually...

  18. 13 Troubled in Paradise
    (pp. 127-140)

    Troubled for years with rheumatism, in August 1818 Jefferson sought relief at Warm Springs (now part of West Virginia), but the cure produced boils and carbuncles. These eruptions were then medicated, which almost killed him.

    The cause of the eruption was mistaken and it was treated with severe unctions of mercury and sulphur. These reduced me to death's door and on ceasing to use them I recovered immediately. . . except some small effects on the bowels produced by these remedies.¹

    The next summer, his rheumatism returned with a vengeance (“the most serious attack of that disease I ever had”).²...

  19. Notes
    (pp. 141-148)
  20. Sources
    (pp. 149-152)
  21. Index
    (pp. 153-162)