Jefferson's Secrets: Death and Desire at Monticello

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When Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, he left behind a series of mysteries that have captured the imaginations of historical investigators for generations. In Jefferson's Secrets Andrew Burstein draws on sources previous biographers have glossed over or missed entirely. Beginning with Jefferson's last days, Burstein shows how Jefferson confronted his own mortality and tackles the crucial questions history has yet to answer: Did Jefferson love Sally Hemings? Did he believe in God? What were his attitudes ...
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New first edition, first printing hardcover and dust jacket in excellent condition. Protective mylar cover. 1.3 x 9.5 x 6.2 Inches 351 pages In this moving and intimate look at ... the final days of our most enigmatic president, Andrew Burstein sheds new light on what Thomas Jefferson actually thought about sexuality, race, gender, and politics. Read more Show Less

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Jefferson's Secrets: Death and Desire at Monticello

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Overview

When Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, he left behind a series of mysteries that have captured the imaginations of historical investigators for generations. In Jefferson's Secrets Andrew Burstein draws on sources previous biographers have glossed over or missed entirely. Beginning with Jefferson's last days, Burstein shows how Jefferson confronted his own mortality and tackles the crucial questions history has yet to answer: Did Jefferson love Sally Hemings? Did he believe in God? What were his attitudes towards women? How did he wish to be remembered? The result is a profound and nuanced portrait of the most complex of the founding fathers.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Perhaps more than any other founding father, the author of the Declaration of Independence has been judged harshly by posterity for being a slaveholder and having a slave concubine. How did Jefferson assess himself at his life's end? Drawing on Jefferson's postpresidential papers, which Burstein says have been little studied, the University of Tulsa history professor (The Passion of Andrew Jackson, etc.) sheds new light on our most enigmatic and interesting founding father from a unique perspective. He presents a vivid portrait of Thomas Jefferson as an old man looking back on life, preparing for death and dwelling on both his successes and his sins. During Jefferson's dotage, as his finances collapsed around him, the old patriot had to confront not only the results of his lifelong fiscal excesses but also the fruits of other excesses. In his last years, Jefferson "permitted" two of his four children by the black slave Sally Hemings-both of whom could pass for white-to "run away." In his will he freed the remaining two, Madison and Eston Hemings, while at the same time making a request (granted) that the Virginia legislature permit them to remain in the state after emancipation-something not normally done. Jefferson had once written that "[t]he only exact testimony of a man is his actions." In his final years, he tangled with the philosophical and religious implications of his life as a holder of slaves and master of a slave concubine. In some moods, Jefferson hoped for God and an afterlife. In others, perhaps dreading what the Almighty might have to say to him, he described human existence as a brief space "between two darknesses." This splendid book shows old Jefferson standing at the precipice, taking stock and perhaps judging himself more harshly than any God might. This is a deeply moving portrait of the aged Jefferson's body, mind and spirit that takes the measure, as Burstein says, of the full range of the founder's imagination. Illus. not seen by PW. Agent, Geri Thoma. (Feb.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Among the things that absorbed the Founding Father's waking thoughts: death, sex, God, and diarrhea. Burstein's title is rather more breathless than the contents of this accessible, scholarly account. Like kindred recent other studies, such as Joanne Freeman's Affairs of Honor (2001), Burstein's takes a confident step toward reviving the old mentalites school of history, examining not just what people did but what they thought and believed. In this regard alone, Burstein (History/Univ. of Tulsa; America's Jubilee, 2001, etc.) adds a nuanced chapter to the ever-roiling debate over whether Jefferson believed in God, much less whether he was a Christian. The best evidence that Jefferson was a believer, Burstein writes, comes late in life in a letter to his old friend and sometime rival John Adams, taking God to be "the mind of the universe"; yet, Burstein adds, Jefferson also took Jesus to be a philosopher and the Bible to be a work of history, not religion, and in general "trusted only in the known world." The known world of Monticello included the eternal verities of birth, life, and death, and Burstein explores each, providing particular insight into the ways in which Jefferson's views of health colored his discourse and conception of other aspects of the world. Agrarianism, for instance, was to be preferred over urbanism because the "mobs of great cities" drain the strength of the body politic "as sores do to the strength of the human body"; the Federalists, his political enemies, were "nervous persons, whose languid fibres have more analogy with a passive than active state of things"; African-Americans were deficient "in physical, if not moral, constitution"; and so on. Burstein addsinteresting footnotes to the discussion surrounding Jefferson's relations with Sally Hemings and his views of slavery generally, but mostly he concentrates on what he started out to do: "to convey the imagination of an eighteenth-century man who read incessantly but safeguarded his innermost thoughts." He succeeds, and students of Jefferson will find his latest effort most illuminating. Agent: Geri Thoma/Elaine Markson Literary Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465008124
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 1/16/2005
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author


Coming soon...

Simon Vance has recorded over four hundred audiobooks and has earned over twenty AudioFile Earphones Awards, including for his narration of Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini. He is also the recipient of five coveted Audie Awards, including one for The King's Speech by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi, and he was named an AudioFile Best Voice of 2009.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xv
Postmortem 1
Medical Concerns
1 Dr. Dunglison's Patient 19
2 A Sensational Vocabulary 43
Domestic Cares
3 An Utopian Dream 65
4 Reading with Women 87
Taking Liberties
5 The Continuing Debate: Jefferson and Slavery 113
6 The New Debate: Sex with a Servant 151
Active Memories
7 Administering (Political) Medicine 191
8 Writing (His Own) History 211
Jefferson Dying
9 Disavowing Dogma 237
10 Engaging the Soul's Passions 265
Acknowledgments 289
Abbreviations 291
Notes 293
Index 345
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2005

    Jefferson's Secrets

    In his book 'Jefferson's Empire,' Peter Onuf quotes University of Virginia professor Merrill D. Peterson on the inner conflicts of Thomas Jefferson and the barriers this raises for biographers. Peterson states that Jefferson's real character is impenetratble and the the REAL man can never be known. Professor Andrew Burstein, in my opinion, has successfully penetrated into the character of Thomas Jefferson by digging into Jefferson's letters written during his retirement years. Burstein reveals Jefferson's inner thoughts on politics, sex, religion, and slavery. No doubt Jefferson was attempting to manipulate history with his private letters but Burstein has worked through this and has produced a revealing and thought provoking MUST read for Jefferson scholars.

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