Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

by Jon Meacham


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Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham

The New York Times Book Review • The Washington Post • Entertainment Weekly • The Seattle Times • St. Louis Post-Dispatch • Bloomberg Businessweek

In this magnificent biography, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of American Lion and Franklin and Winston brings vividly to life an extraordinary man and his remarkable times. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power gives us Jefferson the politician and president, a great and complex human being forever engaged in the wars of his era. Philosophers think; politicians maneuver. Jefferson’s genius was that he was both and could do both, often simultaneously. Such is the art of power.
Thomas Jefferson hated confrontation, and yet his understanding of power and of human nature enabled him to move men and to marshal ideas, to learn from his mistakes, and to prevail. Passionate about many things—women, his family, books, science, architecture, gardens, friends, Monticello, and Paris—Jefferson loved America most, and he strove over and over again, despite fierce opposition, to realize his vision: the creation, survival, and success of popular government in America. Jon Meacham lets us see Jefferson’s world as Jefferson himself saw it, and to appreciate how Jefferson found the means to endure and win in the face of rife partisan division, economic uncertainty, and external threat. Drawing on archives in the United States, England, and France, as well as unpublished Jefferson presidential papers, Meacham presents Jefferson as the most successful political leader of the early republic, and perhaps in all of American history.
The father of the ideal of individual liberty, of the Louisiana Purchase, of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and of the settling of the West, Jefferson recognized that the genius of humanity—and the genius of the new nation—lay in the possibility of progress, of discovering the undiscovered and seeking the unknown. From the writing of the Declaration of Independence to elegant dinners in Paris and in the President’s House; from political maneuverings in the boardinghouses and legislative halls of Philadelphia and New York to the infant capital on the Potomac; from his complicated life at Monticello, his breathtaking house and plantation in Virginia, to the creation of the University of Virginia, Jefferson was central to the age. Here too is the personal Jefferson, a man of appetite, sensuality, and passion.
The Jefferson story resonates today not least because he led his nation through ferocious partisanship and cultural warfare amid economic change and external threats, and also because he embodies an eternal drama, the struggle of the leadership of a nation to achieve greatness in a difficult and confounding world.

Praise for Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
“This is probably the best single-volume biography of Jefferson ever written.”—Gordon S. Wood
“A big, grand, absorbing exploration of not just Jefferson and his role in history but also Jefferson the man, humanized as never before.”Entertainment Weekly

“[Meacham] captures who Jefferson was, not just as a statesman but as a man. . . . By the end of the book . . . the reader is likely to feel as if he is losing a dear friend. . . . [An] absorbing tale.”—The Christian Science Monitor

“This terrific book allows us to see the political genius of Thomas Jefferson better than we have ever seen it before. In these endlessly fascinating pages, Jefferson emerges with such vitality that it seems as if he might still be alive today.”—Doris Kearns Goodwin

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812979480
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/29/2013
Pages: 800
Sales rank: 58,778
Product dimensions: 9.18(w) x 6.16(h) x 1.42(d)

About the Author

Jon Meacham received the Pulitzer Prize for American Lion, his bestselling 2008 biography of Andrew Jackson. He is also the author of the New York Times bestsellers Franklin and Winston and American Gospel. Executive editor and executive vice president of Random House, Meacham is a contributing editor to Time magazine, a former editor of Newsweek, and has written for The New York Times and The Washington Post, among other publications. He is a regular contributor on Meet the Press, Morning Joe, and Charlie Rose, and is the editor at large of WNET, the New York public television station. Born in Chattanooga in 1969, Meacham was educated at The University of the South. He lives with his family in New York and in Tennessee.

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Table of Contents

A Note on the Text xv

Prologue The World's Best Hope xvii

Part I The Scion Beginnings to Spring 1774

1 A Fortunate Son 3

2 What Fixed the Destinies of My Life 16

3 Roots of Revolution 27

4 Temptations and Trials 40

5 A World of Desire and Denial 51

Part II The Revolutionary Spring 1774 to Summer 1776

6 Like a Shock of Electricity 67

7 There Is No Peace 78

8 The Famous Mr. Jefferson 85

9 The Course of Human Events 98

10 The Pull of Duty 109

Part III Reformer and Governor Late 1776 to 1782

11 An Agenda for Liberty 119

12 A Troublesome Office 129

13 Redcoats at Monticello 137

14 To Burn on Through Death 144

Part IV The Frustrated Congressman Late 1782 to Mid-1784

15 Return to the Arena 153

16 A Struggle for Respect 161

17 Lost Cities and Life Counsel 166

Part V A Man of the World 1785 to 1789

18 The Vaunted Scene of Europe 179

19 The Philosophical World 188

20 His Head and His Heart 197

21 Do You Like Our New Constitution? 205

22 A Treaty in Paris 216

Part VI The First Secretary of State 1789 to 1792

23 A New Post in New York 231

24 Mr. Jefferson Is Greatly Too Democratic 246

25 Two Cocks in the Pit 259

26 The End of a Stormy Tour 271

Part VII The Leader of the Opposition 1793 to 1800

27 In Wait at Monticello 283

28 To the Vice Presidency 299

29 The Reign of Witches 311

30 Adams vs. Jefferson Redux 321

31 A Desperate State of Affairs 332

Part VIII The President of the United States 1801 to 1809

32 The New Order of Things Begins 347

33 A Confident President 360

34 Victories, Scandal, and a Secret Sickness 372

35 The Air of Enchantment! 383

36 The People Were Never More Happy 394

37 A Deep, Dark, and Widespread Conspiracy 415

38 This Damned Embargo 425

39 A Farewell to Ultimate Power 436

Part IX The Master of Monticello 1809 to the End

40 My Body, Mind, and Affairs 445

41 To Form Statesmen, Legislators and Judges 462

42 The Knell of the Union 474

43 No, Doctor, Nothing More 490

Epilogue All Honor to Jefferson 497

Author's Note and Acknowledgments 507

Notes 515

Bibliography 691

Illustration Credits 731

Index 737

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Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 140 reviews.
perrybette More than 1 year ago
Mr. Meacham is one of my favorite authors.  I have read two other books by him and felt privileged to be able to read his work.  I have been reading about Our Founding Fathers for the last four years.  I was waiting for this book to be published and was glad when it became available.  It is well researched, documented, and written.  Mr. Jefferson does not come across as as someone above humanity.  He is all too human.  He is complex, deeply academic ,and curious of life.  I never knew that he spoke and wrote against slavery.  But he was a man of his time and even though he personally believed slavery to be evil, he was not willing to fight against  that ghastly institution.  Jefferson owned over a hundred slaves and had six children by one, Sally Hemings.  I would respectfully disagree with those who take Mr Mecham to task for not editorializing against Jefferson's hypocrisy.  Mr. Mecham does not have to .  The reader can certainly draw his or her own conclusion that Thomas Jefferson had feet of clay. concerning slavery But this does not disqualify him from his truly remarkable words and work that helped to found our nation.  
SteveJ54 More than 1 year ago
As a retired military man, I really enjoyed this book. Despite how people feel about Jefferson's personal life choices, he was without a doubt one of the most influential leaders in early America. This book offers both timeless wisdom, and fresh insight into what made him such an inspiring and effective leader.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is the work of one man. Hundreds have written about Jefferson. Please take the time to study the entire person, flaws and all. I too was offended that Thomsas Jefferson not only owned slaves but had relations with Sally Hemming. But, if you read a variety of the works of Jefferson, you'll realize that he lived in a time when slavery was acceptable, not right, but acceptable. He felt strongly that this battle was for another generation. In his 40 or so years of public service, he was a Representative, Governor of Virginia, Secretary of State, Vice President and President. Oh, and did I forget to mention that he authored the Declaration of Independence and fought hard to see that our nation didn't turn into a monarcy.He wasn't perfect, but pretty close.
TucsonTommy More than 1 year ago
Jefferson’s history as a political leader, philosopher and student of republican government, scientist, planter, slave-owner, and gentrified land owner was what defined him as perhaps our most famous president. As a member of the House of Burgesses, Continental Congress, Governor of Virginia, Minister to France, Secretary of State, Vice-President, and President, Jefferson used his background and experiences to define not only his own personal beliefs, but also the politics of his days given the power that he held in those offices. For me this was the most interesting aspect of the book. In this book Jon Meacham illustrates how Jefferson was such an important figure in the process of defining what the United States was to become, how it was to be governed, and how it was to be led. My take is that Jefferson was the right person at the right time concerning our country. Born in 1743, Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence at 33 in 1776, was elected president in 1800 after a bitter political fight, served 2 terms as President, and died on the same day, July 4th, 1826 as the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. That same day in 1826, near Boston, John Adams also died. For me, the most interesting aspect of the book is that from the very beginnings of the United States, politics have played major roles. Even “the father of our country,” George Washington was thought of as a Federalist, even by some of the democratic-republicans of Virginia such as Jefferson and Madison. John Adams, our 2nd president, was traditionally a Whig in the early days of the revolution, but also realized that a monarchial form of government was not in the best interest of liberty loving Americans. It was the political differences between Jefferson, the democratic-republican, and Alexander Hamilton, the staunch Federalist, that fueled the heated discourse during the presidential election of 1800, manifested in the political conflict between Jefferson and John Adams in that election. From page 458, Meacham quotes from a letter written by Jefferson to John Adams in June, 1813, “Men have differed in opinion, and been divided into parties by these opinions, from the first origin of societies, and in all governments where they have been permitted freely to think and to speak. The same political parties which now agitate the U.S. have existed through all time. Whether the power of the people, or that of the [best men; nobles] should prevail, were questions which kept the states of Greece and Rome in eternal convulsions…As we had longer than most others on the public theatre, and our names therefore were more familiar to our countrymen, the party which considered you as thinking with them, placed your name at their head, for the same reason selected mine.” At Monticello, Jefferson was master of his own domain which included land, plantations, buildings, and slaves. While there was certainly abolitionist movements within the states,“southern states” including Virginia depended upon slavery. Jefferson was certain slavery would be abolished, but he felt it would be left to succeeding generations to make that happen. While he was still alive, his children from Sally Hemings, a slave and half-sister of his wife, were considered slaves. When he died, Sally and all children and grandchildren were considered to be free.
Olivia72 More than 1 year ago
Wonderfully Written. I always enjoy books about our founding fathers!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A must-read for info on an important founding father. Compelling and interesting.
WaldoRWE More than 1 year ago
Gordon S. Wood says this is the best single volume about Thomas Jefferson. That is enough for me. I have asked for it as a Christmas present.
FoxDown More than 1 year ago
This is one of the most insightful probings of Jefferson and his life that I have ever read! I have many books on Jefferson and his style of power, but this one I truly believe is at the top of the heap!
Jim-Palermo More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be heavy on detail but lacking in substance. The author only mentions in passing the debate while drafting the Declaration of Independence regarding separation of church and state. I would have enjoyed a discussion of the various positions taken by the founders. Also, when discussing the roles Jefferson and Adams played as diplomats to France and Great Britain, respectively, I would have appreciated a fuller discussion of what arguements they used in an effort to convince Great Britain that it was better off without the colonies. But, the author chose to spend more time dealing with petty matters such as Jefferson's personal correspondence, and the gifts he purchased for himself and the Adams. After a while, this book becomes tedious.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've read TJ's letters and many books on him, and unfortunately, I am finding it difficult to say much good about this book. Meacham does little else than recount historical details; the book fails to depict a cognitive construct from which a level of artistry in achieving power could be claimed; why, then, title the book "the art of power"? Meacham's Jefferson is astute, intelligent, educated, but also reactive and a bit whiny. I'm not seeing any art of power.... The book is also in need of a good editor - someone who could pull together the many disparate pieces of this book into coherent angles.
Iluvwords More than 1 year ago
As in the case of most biographers the author describes Jefferson in the most positive of lights yet he makes great efforts to show that Jefferson was also an imperfect man. I liked how the author included the other principle figures of the day (Washington, Franklin, Madison, Monroe and Adams) as integral to Jefferson's life. Some of the biographers of these men I have read go out of their way to belittle the others or pay scant attention to their contributions. I'm not sure I learned anything about the art of power but today's political divisions are similar to those of the new republic. The names may change but not the fundamental divides. I found myself making copious highlights and notes. It is a thought provoking read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you like to read about presidents, then read this book. Jon Meacham has a way of writing that makes history so interesting. A must for your personal library.
CarolJIN More than 1 year ago
All I can say is another excellent biography By Author Jon Meacham. He gets his facts straight and gets into person's character. A must read if you are an American and want more information on our founding fathers.
Anonymous 5 months ago
Long but good
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
ZachWilliams More than 1 year ago
Terrific read. Meacham is an outstanding biographer. Highly recommended.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jon Meacham has written a great biography of one of our founding fathers. He captures very real concerns of America's early days; particularly the Federalist versus Republican struggles and the threat that the British might reclaim our newly free land. Meacham deals realistically the alliances which were constantly in flux, with the recurring theme of our fluid relationship with the French during their time of great upheaval. His focus on Jefferson the man, with the great sadness he faced in his life and his conflicting feelings about slavery, being a slaveholder while fathering several children by Sally Hemings, lent a much more revealing portrait of Jefferson than a basic education lends. Fine work by a tremendous historian.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this book because of the favorable hype. One size does not fit all. I was disappointed from the get-go in that the prologue was a summary judgment on Jefferson's character without any substantiation. It set the wrong tone for the book. The prologue was like reading the conclusion of a study without any evidence. In addition, Meacham's writing style is not lively. Too many words and a lack of vigor in his prose. I enjoy Walter Isaacson's work much more. I haven't finished the book, yet, so I am hopeful it gets progressively engaging.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author puts you in Jefferson's mind and world.