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In the most controversial analysis ever written of the apostle of American liberty, the distinguished constitutional historian Leonard W. Levy examines Jefferson’s record on civil liberties and finds it strikingly wanting. Clearing away the saintliness that surrounds the hero, Mr. Levy tries to understand why the “unfamiliar” Jefferson supported loyalty oaths; countenanced internment camps for political suspects; drafted a bill of attainder; urged prosecutions for seditious libel; condoned military despotism; used the Army to enforce laws in time of peace; censored reading; chose professors for their political opinions; and endorsed the doctrine that means, however odious, are justified by ends. "Implicitly," Mr. Levy writes, "this book is a study of libertarian leadership in time of power and time of danger...Jefferson should be seen [by his biographers] as a whole man in the perspective of his times, but my task is to determine the validity of his historical reputation as the apostle of liberty." "Blunt words and blunt facts...an indispensable book."—Commentary.
A distinguished constitutinal historian examines Jefferson's record on civil liberties and finds it strikingly wanting.
Posted June 28, 2000
This book, which first appeared in 1963, is essential reading for anyone who is interested in civil liberties, Thomas Jefferson, or the early American republic. To be sure, Jefferson, long acclaimed as the preeminent American philosopher of liberty, is the most eloquent defender of liberty in American literature ... but his record as a civil libertarian leaves a lot to be desired. Leonard W. Levy, one of the deans of American constitutional history, assessed Jefferson's actual record on such things as freedom of speech and press, due process, rights of the accused, intellectual freedom, and so forth -- always checking Jefferson's thoughts and deeds against standards of civil liberty that were available, even prevalent, in his own time. His book is a formidably researched and eloquent analysis of the many inconsistencies and hypocrisies in Jefferson's record.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.