A Companion to Thomas Jefferson

A Companion to Thomas Jefferson

A Companion to Thomas Jefferson

A Companion to Thomas Jefferson


A Companion to Thomas Jefferson presents a state-of-the-art assessment and overview of the life and legacy of Thomas Jefferson through a collection of essays grounded in the latest scholarship.
  • Features essays by the leading scholars in the field, including Pulitzer Prize winners Annette Gordon-Reed and Jack Rakove
  • Includes a section that considers Jefferson's legacy
  • Explores Jefferson's wide range of interests and expertise, and covers his public career, private life, his views on democracy, and his writings
  • Written to be accessible for the non-specialist as well as Jefferson scholars



On February 17, 1826 Thomas Jefferson wrote to his close friend James Madison. After discussing the appointment of a law professor for the University of Virginia, Jefferson lamented his crushing debts and outlined a lottery scheme which he hoped would solve the problem and save his home. At age eighty-two and in declining health, Jefferson was preoccupied with his legacy. He wrote to Madison, “It has … been a great solace to me, to believe that you are engaged in vindicating to posterity the course we have pursued for preserving to them, in all their purity, the blessings of self-government, which we have assisted too in acquiring for them.” Jefferson worried that future generations would forget, misconstrue, or misuse his historical legacy. He closed his letter with a plea that his friend “Take care of me when dead.” (TJ to James Madison, February 17, 1826, TJW, 1515)

Jefferson need not have worried. Although his reputation has waxed and waned over time he has not wanted for the attention of posterity. Since his death on July 4, 1826 biographers and historians have sought to come to grips with Jefferson. They have done so for a vast and interested audience of fellow scholars, politicians, and a general public that has a seemingly insatiable appetite for things Jeffersonian. Several examples illustrate the ubiquity of Jefferson and Jefferson’s image in contemporary America, and beyond. On March 17, 2009 a new play, Red-Haired Thomas by Robert Lyons debuted at New York’s Ohio Theater. Set on Manhattan’s West Side, the play “opens with a scene of a half-naked Thomas Jefferson who congratulates himself for having “fathered the most human of all human rights – and the most elusive: the right to pursue happiness.” He also claims to have fathered two singularly unhappy men: Cliff, “a delusional dreamer with a penchant for violence,” and Ifthikar, “an immigrant from Asia Minor who runs a newsstand.” The play examines modern New York life, terrorism, the global financial crisis, and family relationships through the men’s imagined relationship with Jefferson whom a reviewer in the New York Times described as “still our shiniest symbol of the democracy that some see as our most valuable export” (Soloski 2009, Gates 2009).

Several days after Red-Haired Thomas debuted in New York the right-wing Republican congresswoman from Minnesota, Michelle Bachmann, invoked Jefferson . . .

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