Thomas Jefferson and American Nationhood

Overview

This book emphasizes the centrality of nationhood to Thomas Jefferson's thought and politics, envisioning Jefferson as a cultural nationalist whose political project sought the alignment of the American state system with the will and character of the nation. Jefferson believed that America was the one nation on earth able to realize in practice universal ideals to which other peoples could only aspire. He appears in the book as the essential narrator of what he once called the “American Story”: as the historian, ...
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Thomas Jefferson and American Nationhood

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Overview

This book emphasizes the centrality of nationhood to Thomas Jefferson's thought and politics, envisioning Jefferson as a cultural nationalist whose political project sought the alignment of the American state system with the will and character of the nation. Jefferson believed that America was the one nation on earth able to realize in practice universal ideals to which other peoples could only aspire. He appears in the book as the essential narrator of what he once called the “American Story”: as the historian, the sociologist, and the ethnographer; the political theorist of the nation; the most successful practitioner of its politics; and its most enthusiastic champion. The book argues that reorienting Jefferson around the concept of American nationhood recovers an otherwise easily missed coherence to his political career and helps make sense of a number of conundrums in his thought and practice.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“In this important book Brian Steele interrogates the origins of Thomas Jefferson’s thinking about the meaning and purpose of the United States. Steele delineates how Jefferson crafted an ideal of American nationhood through his politics as well as his study of the history and sociology of the new nation. He does so with verve and style. Steele makes an important and original contribution to our understanding of Jefferson and his time. This book will be a landmark in the literature.” – Francis D. Cogliano, University of Edinburgh, Author of Thomas Jefferson: Reputation and Legacy

“Brian Steele’s new book makes the most compelling case to date for Thomas Jefferson’s central importance to American national mythology and history, offering fresh and crucially important insights to our understanding of his political thought and statecraft. Thomas Jefferson and American Nationhood is a major contribution to the rich literature on the author of the Declaration of Independence.” – Peter S. Onuf, University of Virginia, Author of Jefferson’s Empire: The Language of American Nationhood

“Steele brilliantly dissects Jefferson’s complex relationship with America, portraying American nationhood not just as the intellectual product of a great mind but as the love of Jefferson’s life. Some of the enduring Jeffersonian paradoxes – his cosmopolitanism and his patriotism, his defense of local prerogative, and his embrace of government power – are rendered newly intelligible in this elegant and forceful argument for nationhood as a defining obsession in Jefferson’s thought.” – Paul Quigley, University of Edinburgh

“Was Thomas Jefferson a localist or a nationalist? Did he give his first allegiance to Virginia or to the United States of America? How is he to be situated with regard to the nullificationists of 1832 and the secessionists of 1860? These have long been disputed questions, and in this volume Brian Steele addresses them in a manner not only forthright and eloquent but also scrupulous and rigorous. He will no doubt be attacked, but his argument cannot be ignored.” – Paul A. Rahe, Hillsdale College

“It would be hard to deny that Jefferson still matters to us today when we engage in our own acts of imagining America, and Steele’s book, Thomas Jefferson and American Nationhood, helps us to see where that story begins. In his absorbing and informative study, Steele shows himself to be an expert interpreter of the Jefferson canon, familiar and unfamiliar alike. Readers will come away from this book with an enhanced appreciation of Jefferson’s many ways of understanding America.” – Herbert Sloan, Barnard College

"In the introduction to his work, Steele wondered if the world needed yet another book about Thomas Jefferson. He need not have worried. He has written an important study that requires the attention of all students of not only Jefferson but also the early republic itself." -J. C. A. Stagg, Virginia Magazine

"With unblinking clarity, he has given us a Jefferson that is capacious enough for renewed attention by a new generation of scholars and has delivered a must-read book." -Jeremy D. Bailey, Journal of the Early Republic

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Brian Steele is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. His work has appeared in the Journal of American History and the Journal of Southern History.
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Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Jefferson's America; 2. American story; 3. American woman; 4. American character; 5. American public; 6. American state; 7. American union; 8. Epilogue: America's Jefferson.
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