Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History

By Fawn M. Brodie | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER VII

The Revolutionary

As long as we were young and weak, the English whom we had left behind, made us carry all their wealth to their country, to enrich them; and, not satisfied with this, they at length began to say we were their slaves, and should do whatever they ordered us. We were now grown up and felt ourselves strong; we knew we were as free as they were.

Jefferson to Jean Baptiste Ducoigne,
Kaskaskia Indian chief, June 1781 1

John Adams as a young man kept a diary, in which one can see his fascination with politics as early as 1759, and his progressive explosions in ever increasing crescendo against British encroachments on colonial power. But with Jefferson, though his evolution into a revolutionary is clear enough in his actions, the indignation and rage that fired these actions have to be ferreted out. Merrill Peterson, noting that Jefferson was "remarkably inarticulate about the process of thought that conducted him to the revolutionary event," believed he found the secret in Jefferson's extraordinary intellectuality, holding that he "approached the world through his understanding rather than his feelings." 2 But no man escapes the inexorable though often hidden commands of his emotions. It is true that Jefferson more than most men did seek to guide his actions by intellect and reason, but he was no less pulled by affection or driven by indignation and rage than the other revolutionaries of his time. As he put it in a celebrated letter, "If our country, when pressed with wrongs at the point of the bayonet, had been governed by it's heads instead of it's hearts, where should we have been now? hanging on a gallows as high as Haman's." 3 Though much

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