Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History

By Fawn M. Brodie | Go to book overview

CHAPTER X

Jefferson and the War

I am always mortified when anything is expected from me which I cannot fulfill.

Jefferson to James Monroe, May 20, 1782 1

Jefferson, with some kind of intuitive self-knowledge, had kept himself isolated from real military involvement in the Revolution. In no sense a soldier, with little interest in military history or strategy, he was preeminently a builder, educator, legislator, and tree planter. He could plan for growth and flowering, but not for pillage and killing. Unlike Alexander Hamilton, who as an adolescent had pined for war to open up roads to glory, Jefferson's fantasies seem to have been channeled in peaceful directions. For this and other reasons he was ill equipped to face personal failure in war. His hatreds were generalized. He hated England, not Englishmen. He hated Tories—which he defined as traitors in thought, not in deed 2—but only in the abstract. He gave orders as governor of Virginia that any loyalist taken for "treason" should be committed "with no Insult or Rudeness, unnecessary for their safe Custody." 3

There were two exceptions, one the British governor of Detroit, Henry Hamilton, who had encouraged the Indians to barbarous atrocities against men, women, and children on Virginia's far western frontiers. When "the scalp buyer" was captured by George Rogers Clark and brought to Williamsburg, Jefferson had him put in irons and forbade him either writing materials or visitors. A letter from Washington got him to relax these orders. Similarly he hated Benedict Arnold and wrote secretly to J. P. G. Muhlenberg suggesting that he

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