Thomas Jefferson: Reputation and Legacy

By Francis D. Cogliano | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION:
THE ESTIMATION of the WORLD

I

In March of 1807 Thomas Jefferson wrote to the comte de DiodatiTronchin, an old friend from his days among the diplomats at Versailles. Reminiscing about 'the many happy hours' he had spent with the comte and Madame Diodati on the banks of the Seine, Jefferson recalled, 'those were indeed days of tranquility & happiness'. Jefferson then shifted his focus from personal matters to the geopolitical situation. Writing from the comfort of his home at Monticello, he drew an unfavorable contrast between the tumult to be seen in Napoleonic Europe and the supposed tranquility of Jeffersonian America.

Were I in Europe pax et panis would certainly be my motto. Wars &
contentions indeed fill the pages of history with more matter, but more
blest is the nation whose silent course of happiness furnishes nothing for
history to say. That is my ambition for my own country, and what it has
fortunately now upwards of 24 years while Europe has been in constant
volcanic eruption.1

Jefferson boasted of the peace enjoyed by the United States when he was halfway through his difficult second presidential term. As he wrote to Diodati his former vice president, Aaron Burr, was awaiting trial in Richmond, Virginia on charges of treason for allegedly attempting to detach the western states from the American union. American commerce was beset by trade restrictions imposed by France and Britain. Within two months the British warship Leopard would fire on the USS Chesapeake, threatening to start a war between Britain and the United States. Given such turmoil, how could Jefferson justify his optimistic view of recent American history?

Jefferson believed that if the American republic succeeded, the result would be a republican millennium that would witness the triumph of liberty over tyranny across the globe. As a consequence there would be no more 'wars and contentions' and history itself would end. He believed, as

-1-

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Thomas Jefferson: Reputation and Legacy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Abbreviations xi
  • Introduction - The Estimation of the World 1
  • Chapter 1 - History 19
  • Chapter 2 - The Revolution 44
  • Chapter 3 - Jefferson's Papers 74
  • Chapter 4 - Monticello 106
  • Chapter 5 - Jefferson's Epitaph 137
  • Chapter 6 - Sally Hemings 170
  • Chapter 7 - Slavery 199
  • Chapter 8 - America and the World 230
  • Conclusion - Jefferson Survives 259
  • Index 269
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