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Thomas Jefferson (American Presidents Series)

Thomas Jefferson (American Presidents Series)

1.5 2
by Joyce Appleby, Arthur M. Schlesinger (Editor)

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An illuminating analysis of the man whose name is synonymous with American democracy

Few presidents have embodied the American spirit as fully as Thomas Jefferson. He was the originator of so many of the founding principles of American democracy. Politically, he shuffled off the centralized authority of the Federalists, working toward a more diffuse and


An illuminating analysis of the man whose name is synonymous with American democracy

Few presidents have embodied the American spirit as fully as Thomas Jefferson. He was the originator of so many of the founding principles of American democracy. Politically, he shuffled off the centralized authority of the Federalists, working toward a more diffuse and minimalist leadership. He introduced the bills separating church and state and mandating free public education. He departed from the strict etiquette of his European counterparts, appearing at state dinners in casual attire and dispensing with hierarchical seating arrangements. Jefferson initiated the Lewis and Clark expedition and seized on the crucial moment when Napoleon decided to sell the Louisiana Territory, thus extending the national development. In this compelling examination, distinguished historian Joyce Appleby captures all of the richness of Jefferson's character and accomplishments.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Thomas Jefferson, so multifaceted and long-lived, tries the skills of most who venture to write his biography, especially a short one like this. But UCLA historian Appleby (Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans) has succeeded in writing as good a brief study of this complex man as is imaginable. Another in a series on the American chief executives edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., her elegant book is a liberal's take on the complex, sphinxlike founder of American liberalism. Appleby convincingly argues that the third president's greatest legacies were limited government (breached, however, by the opportunism that characterized his own presidency) and the great expansion of democracy. If some of her criticisms of Jefferson seem more perfunctory than heartfelt, she fully explains the man's sorry record and tortured views on slavery and race. Providing along the way a short, up-to-date history of the early 19th-century nation, she also concisely surveys the day's great issues-voting, democracy, political parties, commerce, westering and religion. Yet such a balanced picture of Jefferson remains somehow unsatisfactory, no doubt because a man of so many contradictions slips away from every biographer, the tensions in the man mirroring those of his times. Appleby tries to toss a bouquet to the man who vanquished the Federalist Party and purchased the Louisiana Territory. She wants to convince us that Jefferson was "one of history's most intuitive politicians," but even in Appleby's capable hands, Jefferson remains the most unfathomable political figure in our history. (Feb. 1) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
On the heels of recent publications like Joseph Ellis's Founding Brothers and James Srodes's Franklin comes Appleby's Thomas Jefferson, part of the "American Presidents" series edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. Though touted as a biography, the work is more a study of Jefferson's years as chief executive, with lengthy discussions of his political philosophy and only intermittent information on his years outside the White House. Appleby (history, UCLA; Inheriting the Revolution) provides an excellent and concise study of our third president's time in office, rich with detail and sharp insights. Her summary and evaluation of the current research on Jefferson's relationship with Sally Hemmings is clear and fair. Most important, her portrait of President Jefferson presents the man in all his complexity: as democrat, people's champion, intellectual, social engineer, and racist. Clearly sympathetic to her subject, Appleby judiciously and objectively balances her work so that readers may draw their own conclusions about this multifaceted and brilliant individual. Recommended for all public libraries.-Thomas J. Baldino, Wilkes Univ., Wilkes-Barre, PA Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A portrait of our most controversial Founding Father as a genuine radical possessed of dangerous, frightening ideas about human nature and government. Thomas Jefferson was alone among his revolutionary peers in anticipating the advent of American democracy and striving to assure its peaceful birth, the author writes: "He resisted the notion that political equality was a chimera and strove to root out the last monarchical remnants from American culture," a project that set him in constant opposition to his privileged peers and particularly in opposition to the Federalist Party, the political organ of their class. Appleby (History/UCLA; Inheriting the Revolution, 2000, etc.) takes quite seriously Jefferson’s boast that his election represented "as real a revolution in the principles of our government as that of 1776 was in its form"; furthermore, she reckons with some amazement that no American with such a radical bent has met with quite the same level of electoral approval as did Jefferson, though it could be argued that we have never achieved his vision of a liberal, democratic America in which the governors and governed alike possessed "rationality, the drive for self-improvement, the capacity to work independently and to cooperate without coercion." Jefferson was a dreamer, impractical and torn by contradictions, Appleby allows; what is remarkable is that a man of such resolute devotion to liberty could have emerged from his class and position, even if his notion of liberty kept it the province of white men. For all that, Appleby insists again and again, Jefferson was a true radical whose polished words were not mere rhetorical exercises. When he said, "I like a little rebellion fromtime to time. It clears the atmosphere," he meant it. A useful slap against the reactionaries who today claim descent from Jeffersonian ideals.

Product Details

Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
American Presidents Series
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.79(w) x 8.55(h) x 0.79(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Thomas Jefferson

By Joyce Appleby

Times Books

Copyright © 2003 Joyce Appleby
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-805-06924-0

Chapter One

A Pivotal Election

On March 4, 1801, a tall, narrow-shouldered man in his late fifties emerged from a boardinghouse in the capital city of the United States. He was heading for his inauguration as the country's third president. Disdaining the company of dignitaries or an honor guard, Thomas Jefferson walked with friends and supporters to the Capitol, where Chief Justice John Marshall administered the oath of office. Only a salute from a detachment of the Alexandria mi a and the applause of the men and women gathered on the Capitol steps marked the special occasion. He had declined to wear even the ceremonial sword that John Adams had sported four years earlier. After thirty-five years in the public limelight, Jefferson was now to govern the nation according to ideas still deemed radical by almost half the voters. As he took office, the wounds from a searing presidential campaign and a cliffhanger of an electoral vote had not yet begun to heal.

Nor did the day start propitiously. The nation's second president had decamped earlier that morning in high dudgeon over his defeat, leaving Jefferson a curt note informing him that there were seven horses and two carriages in the White House stables. In the waning hours of his presidency, Adams had also appointed a slew of federaljudges to dog his successor's days in the White House. Despite Jefferson's popularity with the voters, he now faced a thoroughly entrenched opposition in the Supreme Court and in a civil service honeycombed with Federalists.

Chief Justice Marshall was but the most conspicuous of the midnight judges. A Virginian like Jefferson, Marshall was no friend of the incoming administration. "Today ... the new order of things begins," he had written that morning, adding ominously, "The democrats are divided into speculative theorists & absolute terrorists. With the latter I am not disposed to class Mr. Jefferson." This was hardly the expression of confidence the new president needed after his election ordeal, but it was an honest response. The campaign had aroused fear and fury. Profound political disputes during the previous decade had rent asunder that collection of disinterested leaders the Founders had envisioned running the country.

When George Washington took office in 1789, few imagined that partisan disputes would disrupt the civic peace that the Constitution was designed to secure. The Federalist Papers, which explained the virtues of the Constitution, had actually banked on the formation of ad hoc majorities, not permanent ones organized to win elections. Neither did Jefferson nor James Madison imagine that they were jump-starting party politics when they went public with their concerns about the elitist cast of Washington's policies, though they certainly wanted to oust Federalists from office. Their cries of anguish about Alexander Hamilton's financial schemes and the administration's tilt toward Great Britain exposed the tip of an iceberg. Beneath lay profound differences dividing the old revolutionary leadership. Soon the electorate itself became polarized. The ill-fated Adams presidency unfolded under the shadow of partisan activity. Events knocked against each other like so many pool balls. The Alien and Sedition Acts, meant to rein in the routine invective found in newspaper columns, provoked the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions; the quasi-war with France prompted the expansion of the army, which was followed by a taxpayers' revolt.

Federalists depicted a Jefferson so besotted with love for France that he would pervert America's most precious institutions to aid the French revolutionary cause. Republicans likewise wildly exaggerated the Federalist partiality to aristocratic rule. With so much at stake in the presidential election, dire warnings filled both the public realm and private letters. Virginia, Hamilton warned, would "resort to the employment of physical force" should Republicans lose. Writing his mother from Europe, John Quincy Adams passed along a French report "that the friends of liberty in the United States ... [would] probably not wait for the next election, but in the mean time [would] destroy the fatal influence of the President and Senate by a Revolution." Other Federalists feared that the Jeffersonians planned a military takeover. Theodore Sedgwick and Fisher Ames predicted that the Republicans in the large mid-Atlantic states would attempt a coup once they had made their militia as formidable as possible. "It is obvious to me," Ames explained in early 1800, "that all other modes of decision will be spurned" as soon as the Republicans "think they have force on their side."

Republicans were no less alarmist, some even urging secession at the same time that they charged the Federalists with intending to introduce a monarchy or aristocracy before they had to yield power in March 1801. Because both parties had a strong regional basis, talk of disunion abounded in New England and the South. Both Federalists and Republicans expressed doubts that there would even be an election. Since the public had tolerated the detested Alien and Sedition Acts, Jefferson feared that the Federalists would pass "another act of Congress, declaring that the President shall continue in office during life." Referring to Hamilton as "our Bonaparte," he imagined a military intervention in support of Adams with a "transfer of the succession to his heirs, and the establishment of the Senate for life."

By the time the election year rolled around (and the process did take a year, because the states chose their presidential electors in many different ways), the two parties assumed the worst about each other, and party discipline had replaced independent balloting. Party slates like that of Jefferson and Aaron Burr replaced lists of candidates from which electors chose victor and runner-up for president and vice president. When the actual voting ended, chimeras became real threats. Jefferson defeated Adams, but his electors had so loyalty voted for both him and Burr that they produced a tie, catapulting the final choice into the House of Representatives that had been elected in 1798. There, a dozen devilishly partisan schemes hatched. The Constitution stipulated that when no one candidate had a majority, the names of the top five contenders be forwarded to the House. In this case there were only four contenders in all. "One state, one vote" was the constitutional rule, even though Delaware and Rhode Island had populations under 70,000 and Virginia contained close to 900,000 people. With only eight of the sixteen state delegations (Vermont, Tennessee, and Kentucky had now joined the union) firmly supporting Jefferson, there were not enough votes in the old House to elect him, but a sufficient number to drag out the balloting for nearly three weeks and thirty-five rounds of balloting.

The switch from the Electoral College turned Jefferson and Burr into competitors for the presidential plum. Since Burr was willing to play the spoiler, the Federalists had a field day voting on various combinations of Jefferson, Burr, Adams, and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. They toyed with bizarre states, even with the outrageous reversal of their standardbearers, Pinckney and Adams. Through round after round of balloting, representatives ignored the voters' intentions. Even the defeated president deplored the possibility that Burr - "this dexterous gentleman" - might become president: "What a discouragement to all virtuous exertion, and what an encouragement to party intrigue, and corruptions Most of the Federalists could not decide what they feared more: Jefferson's election or a revolutionary break with the new - hence fragile - constitutional government. Rumors of conspiracies and usurpations had been circulating since presidential voting began in the early fall. One contemporary characterized them as "uncommonly extravagant ravings."

War had again broken out in Europe. That and the raging political passions at home prompted dire conjectures about the fate of the union. As so often happens at critical moments, someone found the courage to act honorably. That someone in 1801 was James Bayard, Delaware's sole representative and a Federalist, who deferred to the will of the people by withholding his vote from Burr. Just two weeks before the official inauguration day, March 4, the House named Jefferson president-elect. Three years later, Congress would propose and the states ratify the Twelfth Amendment, separating the ballots for president and vice president. Not men to shy away from realities, America's political leaders recognized that parties had come to stay.

After taking the oath of office, Jefferson delivered his presidential address in as inauspicious a manner as he had arrived at the Capitol. No doubt relieved by the peacefulness of his inauguration, he tried to douse the partisan flames that had burned fiercely and unchecked for months. Ingeniously, he turned the vitriol of the presidential campaign into proof of democratic vigor, describing it as mere "animation of discussion" which would worry only "strangers unused to think freely and to speak and to write what they think." He then appealed to his fellow citizens to "restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things," a sentiment that paved the way for his famous declaration: "We are all Republicans - we are all Federalists." Emphasizing this point, Jefferson admonished his fellow Americans to "bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority, is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate which would be oppression." He also warned the people against "entangling alliances," coining a phrase commonly attributed to George Washington. At the completion of the inaugural address, the crowd dispersed, and Jefferson returned to his lodging, where he took a place among his fellow boarders at the noon dinner table.


Excerpted from Thomas Jefferson by Joyce Appleby Copyright © 2003 by Joyce Appleby. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Joyce Appleby (1929-2016) was the professor emerita, University of California, Los Angeles, and was president of both the Organization of American Historians and the American Historical Association. Specializing in the study of early America, she is the author of Thomas Jefferson: The American Presidents Series: The 3rd President, 1801-1809, The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism and Shores of Knowledge: New World Discoveries and the Scientific Imagination.

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Thomas Jefferson 1.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is just the same old biography of the 3rd US president. I would never recommand this book to anyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The usual well written, well edited biography of Thomas Jefferson that Thomas Jefferson slips away from, so to speak. This book is the same old serving of Jefferson fare warmed over with a different set of opinions, and not very different at that. This is just a repeat, I'm afraid. There's nothing new here.