Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History

By Fawn M. Brodie | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI

Jefferson Writes a Book

In literature nothing new; for I do not consider as having added anything to that field my own Notes of which I have had a few copies printed.

Jefferson to Charles Thomson, July 21, 1785 1

Jefferson had retired from office at the worst moment in his state's history, and at the absolute nadir of his own career. "While an enemy is within our bowels," he wrote shortly afterward, "the first object is to expel him." 2 But it was when the enemy was within the bowels of Virginia that Jefferson retired from office, and it was this retirement, far more than his mistakes when Arnold first invaded Virginia or his own flight over Carter's Mountain, that cost Jefferson the esteem of some of his countrymen and stimulated the humiliating inquiry into his record.

Virginia was saved and Cornwallis defeated because American and French regulars blocked off the British forces at Yorktown, and the French fleet of Admiral de Grasse cut off his escape by sea. But the very necessity that forced Cornwallis to settle in at Yorktown had to do with his failure to subdue the American interior. All his ravaging had resulted not in increased attachment to the crown, but in either a totally hostile countryside area, or at best a divided one, with Americans engaged in savage encounters with each other. The terrain and constantly reinvigorated guerrilla patriots helped defeat the British, and to the extent that Jefferson contributed to this guerrilla effort, as well as to "the Virginia line," he could rightly claim some credit for the military victory.

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