Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation: A Biography

Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation: A Biography

Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation: A Biography

Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation: A Biography

Synopsis

The definitive life of Jefferson in one volume, this biography relates Jefferson's private life and thought to his prominent public position and reveals the rich complexity of his development. As Peterson explores the dominant themes guiding Jefferson's career--democracy, nationality, and enlightenment--and Jefferson's powerful role in shaping America, he simultaneously tells the story of nation coming into being.

Excerpt

The present work grows out of a line of inquiry commenced some twenty years ago. In the Preface to The Jefferson Image in the American Mind, in 1960, I forewarned the reader that the book dealt not with Thomas Jefferson but with his shadow, not with the "living" but with the "posthumous" figure, not with the history he made but with what history made of him. Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation treats the historical Jefferson, and in this sense--in the sense of shadow and substance--may be viewed as a biographical companion to the former work.

The Jefferson Image suggested that the historical Jefferson could never be truly discovered. The point strikes me even more forcibly now after more years of research and reflection. Jefferson became so much a part of the nation's ongoing search for itself, so deeply implicated in the whole epic of American democracy, that succeeding generations were unable to see him clearly and objectively in his own life and time. This is, I think, less the case today than it used to be, for in our kinetic age the epic itself has gradually receded from view and the twin hysterias of exaltation and denunciation that once surrounded the Jefferson symbol have given way to a more neutral climate in which scholars might assert their legitimate claims and seek to restore the integrity of the historical personage. Even now, however, the student of Jefferson cannot be truly detached and disinterested. I have not been, though I have sought that "disciplined subjectivity" someone has defined as the essence of the historian's craft.

In addition to the first obstacle--the obstacle presented by the Jefferson image--the biographer must also contend with the obstacle . . .

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