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Thomas Jefferson believed that the American revolution was a transformative moment in the history of political civilization. He hoped that his own efforts as a founding statesman and theorist would help construct a progressive and enlightened order for the new American nation that would be a model and inspiration for the world. Peter S. Onuf's new book traces Jefferson's vision of the American future to its roots in his idealized notions of nationhood and empire. Onuf's unsettling recognition that Jefferson's famed egalitarianism was elaborated in an imperial context yields strikingly original interpretations of our national identity and our ideas of race, of westward expansion and the Civil War, and of American global dominance in the twentieth century.
Jefferson's vision of an American "empire for liberty" was modeled on a British prototype. But as a consensual union of self-governing republics without a metropolis, Jefferson's American empire would be free of exploitation by a corrupt imperial ruling class. It would avoid the cycle of war and destruction that had characterized the European balance of power.
The Civil War cast in high relief the tragic limitations of Jefferson's political vision. After the Union victory, as the reconstructed nation-state developed into a world power, dreams of the United States as an ever-expanding empire of peacefully coexisting states quickly faded from memory. Yet even as the antebellum federal union disintegrated, a Jeffersonian nationalism, proudly conscious of America's historic revolution against imperial domination, grew up in its place.
In Onuf's view, Jefferson's quest to define a new American identity also shaped his ambivalent conceptions of slavery and Native American rights. His revolutionary fervor led him to see Indians as "merciless savages" who ravaged the frontiers at the British king's direction, but when those frontiers were pacified, a more benevolent Jefferson encouraged these same Indians to embrace republican values. African American slaves, by contrast, constituted an unassimilable captive nation, unjustly wrenched from its African homeland. His great panacea: colonization.
Jefferson's ideas about race reveal the limitations of his conception of American nationhood. Yet, as Onuf strikingly documents, Jefferson's vision of a republican empire—a regime of peace, prosperity, and union without coercion—continues to define and expand the boundaries of American national identity.
University of Virginia Press
|Introduction: Jefferson's Empire||1|
|1||"We Shall All Be Americans"||18|
|3||The Revolution of 1800||80|
|5||"To Declare Them a Free and Independant People"||147|
|Epilogue: 4 July 1826||189|
Posted October 27, 2003
Recently I have developed a fascination with Thomas Jefferson. This is partly because he was a very strong proponent of states rights within the original union, and I feel that states have surrendered too much power to the Federal government. Another part is that I currently live in Virginia, and he is essentially Virginia's founding father. So after a trip to Monticello in November 2002, I found this book in a used book store and thought it looked interesting, as it is about Thomas Jefferson's political thoughts on the founding of America. If you have an interest in early American political issues, there is a lot to like here. I had never before heard about the 'revolution of 1800,' and it is a very interesting thing, as it was the first big battle of differing political ideologies, and it led to the formation of two distinct political parties. Jefferson's 'republicans' were the victors, and John Adams' party faded away. Neat stuff, and I wonder why I never learned this in school. It was also interesting to see Jefferson's various writings on the slavery issue. Numerous times he tried to abolish slavery in Virginia, but he still kept slaves and definitely had some racist ideologies. If you have an interest in Jefferson's political views and how they affected early American development, track down this book; it's worth your time.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.