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Seeing Jefferson Anew

Seeing Jefferson Anew: In His Time and Ours

John B. Boles
Randal L. Hall
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt6wrhz6
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    Seeing Jefferson Anew
    Book Description:

    Thomas Jefferson's ideas have been so important in shaping the character and aspirations of the United States that it has proven impossible to think about the state of the nation at almost any moment without implicit or explicit reference to his words and actions. In similar fashion, each generation has understood Jefferson in the context of the central issues of its time. Jefferson has, for better or for worse, been a man for all seasons.

    The essays in this collection seek to update and reevaluate several key aspects of Jefferson's attitudes and policies in light of the newest research and at the same time take care to consider his ideas about such controversial topics as race, gender, and religion in the context of his own time and place. Simultaneously, the contributing authors analyze the relevance of Jefferson for our own age, conscious of how contemporary judgments about slavery, religion, and Native Americans, for example, shape our coming to terms with the nation's history. Here is no simple search for a usable past, but instead a tough-minded but fair examination of a complex man who in fundamental ways represents both the promise and the problems of the American experience.

    ContributorsJohn B. Boles, Rice University * Thomas E. Buckley, Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University at Berkeley * Andrew Burstein, Louisiana State University * Randal L. Hall, Rice University * Peter J. Kastor, Washington University at St. Louis * Jan Ellen Lewis, Rutgers University * Peter S. Onuf, University of Virginia * Andrew J. O'Shaughnessy, Director of the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies * Adam Rothman, Georgetown University * Eva Sheppard Wolf, San Francisco State University

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-2997-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    In a readily understandable way, history is—as one definition has it—a conversation between the present and the past. Such a definition suggests that as present concerns and issues change, then the nature of the conversation will change too. New questions will be asked, old assumptions will be reexamined, and current perspectives will shed fresh light on what once were considered settled opinions. For that reason, revisionism, much maligned in the popular mind, is the meat and potatoes of history. Every topic, person, and event of significance is subject to constant restudy: new methodologies are employed, recently discovered evidence...

  5. Thomas Jefferson and American Democracy
    (pp. 13-39)
    Peter S. Onuf

    The continuing cascade of scholarship on Thomas Jefferson suggests that the third president retains his exalted standing in the American pantheon, notwithstanding iconoclastic assaults from both right and left.¹ In the wake of the civil rights movement, Jefferson’s ownership of large numbers of slaves represented the biggest threat to his reputation. Yet even his bitterest critics invoked the natural rights principles of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence in their assaults on Jefferson. Failing to free his slaves, Jefferson may have fallen far short of his own lofty standard, but few commentators concluded that the standard itself was thus compromised. Jefferson promised...

  6. Natural Politics: Jefferson, Elections, and the People
    (pp. 40-65)
    Eva Sheppard Wolf

    In January 2007 at the ceremonial opening of the 110th Congress, the first to be led by a female Speaker of the House, minority leader John Boehner and the incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi referred repeatedly to the nation’s Founders when trying to put the historic event in context. Boehner acknowledged the significance of electing the first woman Speaker of the House and commented graciously that he thought the Founders would approve of the innovation. Pelosi invoked the Founders frequently in her speech as she called on the members of Congress to fulfill the Founders’ vision of a “new America driven...

  7. The Many Wests of Thomas Jefferson
    (pp. 66-102)
    Peter J. Kastor

    “Jefferson and the West” is a phrase that rolls off the tongue. It seems familiar. It suggests continuity. After all, what account of Thomas Jefferson is complete without a discussion of his abiding interest in the West? Indeed, it is almost impossible to conceive of Jefferson without the West, for it was in the West that Jefferson found the means to understand human nature and America’s future.

    Jefferson’s fascination with the West likewise lends itself to discussions that often seek to celebrate or to condemn Jefferson. Whether in academic or public circumstances, these discussions tend to characterize Jefferson in two...

  8. Jefferson and Slavery
    (pp. 103-125)
    Adam Rothman

    Once on a magnificent Sunday afternoon I sat with a group of Georgetown University undergraduates on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial, where we discussed the legacy and memory of the author of the Declaration of Independence. What better way to kick off a new semester of “Society and Politics in Jeffersonian America”? Jefferson loomed over us, larger than life. It dawned on me that I was about to spend the next few months attempting to topple that bronze statue from its granite pedestal, hammering away at the gleaming white edifice that shelters it. In 1943 Franklin Roosevelt dedicated the...

  9. Placing Thomas Jefferson and Religion in Context, Then and Now
    (pp. 126-151)
    Thomas E. Buckley

    The letter Thomas Jefferson penned to the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut, in January 1802 ranks among the most important ever composed by any president. The previous October the Baptists had written him a congratulatory letter on his inauguration. In it they expressed their desire that complete religious freedom might one day be achieved in Connecticut. There the Congregational clergy enjoyed a church establishment linked to the Federalist Party. So effectively did the Congregationalists dominate the state that the Reverend Timothy Dwight of Yale College was referred to as the pope of Connecticut.¹ The Baptist clergy knew that the First...

  10. Jefferson and Women
    (pp. 152-171)
    Jan Ellen Lewis

    Thomas Jefferson’s attitudes about women were remarkably conventional, so conventional, for the most part, that to describe them is essentially to provide an account of the standard views about sexual difference and women’s roles held by men of his time, place, and social standing. To be sure, different men (and women, for that matter) had somewhat different ideas: the views and practices of a Jefferson, a Hamilton, an Adams, or a Franklin are so different, and so well known, that it may be sufficient merely to mention them and a few details of their lives to make the point that...

  11. Jefferson in the Flesh
    (pp. 172-194)
    Andrew Burstein

    Thomas Jefferson devoted his energies to scientific study at least as much as he speculated on the art of government. Nothing was too big or too small for his mind: he was interested in the operations of all-encompassing natural forces and the interior nature of the human organism. As a materialist and an empiricist, he subscribed to the Newtonian universe and to a neurophysiological basis for mental activity. This pairing of interests—the material outer world and the material inner world—in many ways defines Jefferson’s lifelong intellectual perspective. When we read Jefferson’s correspondence with like-minded thinkers, we cannot but...

  12. Afterword
    (pp. 195-200)
    Andrew J. O’Shaughnessy

    The past decade has witnessed a resurgence of popular interest in the lives of the Founders with best-selling biographies by authors like David G. McCullough, Joseph J. Ellis, Ron Chernow, and Walter Isaacson. However, the celebratory tone of such books is rarely found in modern works on Thomas Jefferson. Indeed, in venerating his opponents and rivals, these biographers are often hostile in their treatment of Jefferson. The disparity is further widened by the iconoclastic scholarship on Jefferson that is expressed at its most extreme by the work of Conor Cruise O’Brien, who notoriously likened Jefferson to Pol Pot. As Peter...

  13. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 201-208)
  14. List of Contributors
    (pp. 209-210)
  15. Index
    (pp. 211-216)