Jefferson's Secrets: Death and Desire at Monticello by Andrew Burstein, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
Jefferson's Secrets: Death and Desire at Monticello

Jefferson's Secrets: Death and Desire at Monticello

4.0 3
by Andrew Burstein
     
 
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

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.

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

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465008124
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
01/16/2005
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author


Andrew Burstein, a native New Yorker, is the Mary Frances Barnard Professor of 19th-Century U.S. History at the University of Tulsa. He is the author of six books on early America, including The Passions of Andrew Jackson and Jefferson’s Secrets: Death and Desire at Monticello. Burstein lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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