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The Paris Years of Thomas Jefferson

The Paris Years of Thomas Jefferson

William Howard Adams
Copyright Date: 1997
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 364
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    The Paris Years of Thomas Jefferson
    Book Description:

    In 1784 Thomas Jefferson moved to the sophisticated and exhilarating city of Paris, where he spent the next five years as minister from the new United States of America. These were formative years for France, for the United States, and for Jefferson's cultural and intellectual development. This engaging book recreates in word and illustration the atmosphere and personalities of prerevolutionary Paris, and it reveals the profound impact they had on one of America's first transatlantic citizens.William Howard Adams discusses how the provincial Virginian became a cosmopolitan connoisseur in the rarefied intellectual, political, scientific, and artistic circles of the city. He describes Jefferson's relationships with such luminaries as Lafayette, Condorcet, Lavoisier, Baron Grimm, La Rochefoucauld, John and Abigail Adams, Gouverneur Morris, and J.-L. David, as well as his involvement with the English painter Maria Cosway. His alleged affair with his slave Sally Hemings is critically examined in the context of all available evidence.Adams's principal focus is on Jefferson's role as the preeminent American envoy in Europe after the departure of Franklin, his participation in the cultural and political life of the city, and his private intrigues to help his friends bring the Bourbon monarchy to heel. Finally, he places the author of the Declaration of Independence in the middle of his second revolution and chronicles the dramatic events leading up to the upheaval of 1788-1789.The book is richly illustrated with art of the period and with specially commissioned photographs of Parisian sites by Adelaide de Menil.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16154-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Chapter 1 Taking Leave
    (pp. 1-24)

    THE AIR IN PARIS had turned suddenly chill as the autumn equinox arrived. While the days were still washed with the soft gold light of early fall, fires appeared in drawing rooms, announcing the season’s change.¹ On September 17, 1789 the American minister to the court of France was expecting four friends for dinner at the Hôtel de Langeac, his house at the corner of the rue de Berri and the Champs-Elysées. It would be his last entertainment before he departed on a six-month leave. Thomas Jefferson had no doubt ordered fires to be laid in the morning and again...

  5. Chapter 2 A Provincial Prelude
    (pp. 25-36)

    JEFFERSON DID NOT FOLLOW a straight Cartesian road from Virginia to Paris. But the collaboration of the French army in the American Revolution had helped pave the way and build a bridge of understanding between New World and Old. When Filippo Mazzei, Jefferson’s Albemarle neighbor, reported from Paris in 1780 that the French were afraid the Americans might settle for a separate peace with Britain, Jefferson, then governor of Virginia, was shocked. “Beleive me no opinion can have less foundation,” he replied immediately. “The disinterested exertions of France for us have not only made real impression on the leaders of...

  6. Chapter 3 The City
    (pp. 37-77)

    JEFFERSON FELL UNDER THE SPELL OF PARIS the moment he set foot on its “vaunted scene” on August 6, 1784. The public openness of the carefully orchestrated mise-en-scène, framed by the broad, tree-lined avenue Champs-Elysées leading into the metropolis from the Etoile, seemed to contradict the idea of a city laid out and ruled by an authoritarian government. But the rational planning of cities has always required ruthless political power, something the French have never hesitated to wield when it came to making a great urban setting. The Paris that Jefferson entered was in the throes of dynamic modernization, both...

  7. Chapter 4 The Patriot Aesthete
    (pp. 78-122)

    HIS KINSMAN PEYTON RANDOLPH said that Jefferson “panted” after the fine arts and “ran before the times in which he was born.” If there is a hint of heavy breathing in his letter to Carlo Bellini, then teaching modern languages in Williamsburg, it is because of his sudden discovery of the high-charged Parisian art world. Among the founding fathers, for all their learning and abilities, Jefferson’s passion for the arts was unique. John Adams was unapologetically indifferent. “I would not give six pence for a picture of Raphael,” he wrote the sculptor Binon in his old age, “or a statue...

  8. Chapter 5 The Liberal, Literary, Scientific Air of Paris
    (pp. 123-158)

    ON AN APRIL MORNING IN 1782, the marquis de Chastellux finally reached his destination—a striking new house, a small temple perched on a low mountaintop in the Virginia foothills. Following the wagon ruts through the forest thick with spring growth, he was eager to meet the American who had been, in the Frenchman’s words, the “author of the revolution.” After playing “a distinguished role on the theatre of the New World,” this remarkable man had withdrawn to his rural estate, where, as “a Philosopher retired from the world and its business,” he could devote himself to his private intellectual...

  9. Chapter 6 The Diplomat
    (pp. 159-206)

    WHEN IT CAME to his revolutionary colleagues, John Adams was not given to gratuitous compliments. But his characterization of Jefferson in Philadelphia during the tense days of 1775 as “prompt, frank, explicit, and decisive” sums up the Virginian’s operating style in Paris.¹ Methodical habits, self-control, and an obsessive determination to keep busy were his nature to a fault. This intuitive aggressiveness in the management of affairs was the very signature of Jefferson the diplomat. He took literally Virgil’s advice in theGeorgicsthat “hard work overcomes everything.” His powerful ambition to secure the ultimate eighteenth-century prize of “fame” may well...

  10. Chapter 7 The Women in His Life
    (pp. 207-250)

    WOMEN BECAME AN INCREASINGLY VITAL, leavening part of Jefferson’s existence in the imaginative space of Paris. Their wit, manners, and sensibility softened his stereotyped reactions to European society, which often failed to meet his conventional Puritan standards. They regularly interrupted the long hours in his study in the rue de Berri with invitations, visits, dinners, and conversation. Few women outside his immediate family ever enjoyed such unrestricted access to his company. Since Henry Adams’s day, biographers have speculated about the “wall of silence” Jefferson supposedly threw up to protect his privacy. But in Paris, when women played a more intimate...

  11. Chapter 8 “Storm in the Atmosphere”
    (pp. 251-298)

    IN AUGUST 1785, on the first anniversary of his arrival in Paris, Jefferson confided to his friend and former landlady in Philadelphia, Elizabeth House Trist, his candid assessment of French society. His affection for the French people was clear: “The roughnesses of the human mind are so thoroughly rubbed off with them that it seems as if one might glide thro’ a whole life among them without a justle. Perhaps too their manners may be the best calculated for happiness to people in their situation.” But the repressive French government was another matter. “Bad in form,” its authoritarian structure was...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 299-330)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 331-339)
  14. Index
    (pp. 340-353)