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PRESIDENTIAL SERIES > 1. AMERICAN SPHINX ~ PROLOGUE - 1 (BEG) (3 - 26) (01/01/10 - 01/07/10) ~ No spoilers, please

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message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Jan 31, 2010 01:14PM) (new)

Bentley | 39814 comments Mod
KICKOFF DAY - February 1, 2010

Hello Everyone,

Tomorrow is the first day in the kickoff week for AMERICAN SPHINX: THE CHARACTER OF THOMAS JEFFERSON. This begins the first week's reading in our new Presidential Series group discussion.

The complete table of contents is as follows:

Prologue. Jefferson Surge: America, 1992-1993 p.3
1. Philadelphia:1775-76 p.27
2. Paris: 1784-89 p.75
3. Monticello: 1794-97 p.139
4. Washington, D.C.: 1801-1804 p.200
5. Monticello: 1816-1826 p.273
Epilogue. The Future of an Illusion p.349
Appendix. A Note on the Sally Hemings Scandals p.363


The assignment for this week includes the following segments/pages:

Week One - February 1st - February 7th -> Prologue. Jefferson Surge: America, 1992-1993 p.3-26

We look forward to your participation; but remember this is a non spoiler thread.

We will open up threads for each week's reading. Please make sure to post in the particular thread dedicated to those specific chapters and page numbers to avoid spoilers.

This book is being kicked off on February 1st. This will be the first week's assignment for this book.

We look forward to your participation. Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other noted on line booksellers do have copies of the book and shipment can be expedited. The book can also be obtained easily at your local library, or on your Kindle.

A special welcome to those who will be newcomers to this discussion and thank you to those who have actively contributed on the previous Presidential Series selection. We are glad to have you all.

~Bentley

TO ALWAYS SEE ALL WEEKS' THREADS SELECT VIEW ALL

American Sphinx The Character of Thomas Jefferson by Joseph J. EllisJoseph J. Ellis Joseph J. Ellis


message 2: by Joe (last edited Feb 16, 2010 07:49AM) (new)

Joe (Blues) To start things off, I would like to welcome everyone to the Presidential Series here at the History Book Club. We will be discussing Joseph Ellis' biography of Thomas Jefferson called, "American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson." You will notice that Ellis did not choose to write a complete biography of Jefferson. Ellis states early on that his "approach is a selective one. Another full-scale, multivolume narrative of Jefferson's life and times is clearly unnecessary. My goal is to catch Jefferson at propitious moments in his life, to zoom in on his thoughts and actions during those extended moments, to focus on the values and convictions that reveal themselves in these specific historical contexts, all the while providing the reader with sufficient background on what has transpired between sightings to follow the outline of Jefferson's life from birth to death." pg xvi

Ellis has chosen five separate eras in Jefferson's life. I thought it was quite evident that he skipped Jefferson's years as Governor of Virginia during the war, but he did choose to include the following: Philadelphia 1775-76, Paris 1784-89, Monticello 1794-97, Washington, D.C. 1801-1804, and Monticello 1816-1826. Ellis has divided these chapters into separate sub-chapters, and we will be reading a few of these each week. Starting next week we will read the first two in chapter 1 called, Young Jefferson and Prose Orations. You can find our syllabus at the following thread.

Syllabus for American Sphinx
http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/2...

Syllabus
American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson

Table of Contents

Prologue. Jefferson Surge: America, 1992-1993 p.3
1. Philadelphia:1775-76 p.27
2. Paris: 1784-89 p.75
3. Monticello: 1794-97 p.139
4. Washington, D.C.: 1801-1804 p.200
5. Monticello: 1816-1826 p.273
Epilogue. The Future of an Illusion p.349
Appendix. A Note on the Sally Hemings Scandals p.363

Week One - February 1st - February 7th -> Prologue. Jefferson Surge: America, 1992-1993 p.3-26

Week Two - February 8th - February 14th -> 1. Philadelphia:1775-76 p.27 - 54 - Young Jefferson - Prose Orations

Week Three - February 15th - February 21st ->1. Philadelphia:1775-76 p.54 - 74 - Texts and Contexts - American Creed, American Dream - Escape

Week Four - February 22nd - February 28th -> 2. Paris: 1784-89 p.75 - 106
Friends And Pirates - Diplomatic Futilities - Voice of America

Week Five - March 1st - March 7th -> 2. Paris: 1784-89 p.106 - 138
Sentimental Journeys - Madisonian Advice - Revolutions and Generations

Week Six - March 8th - March 14th -> 3. Monticello: 1794-97 p.139 - 170
Passions and Parties - Dreams and Debts

Week Seven - March 15th - March 21st -> 3. Monticello: 1794-97 p.171 - 199
Slavery - Madisonian Minuet - Lucky Losers

Week Eight - March 22nd to March 28th -> 4. Washington, D.C.: 1801-1804 p.200 - 240 - Republican City - First Inaugal - The Textual Presidency - Debts, Federalists, Indians

Week Nine - March 29th - April 4th -> 4. Washington, D.C.: 1801-1804 p.240 - 272 - Western Magic - Scandals - Gibraltar - Lists and Losses

Week Ten - April 5th - April 11th -> 5. Monticello: 1816-1826 p.273 - 300
Words and Music

Week Eleven - April 12th - April 18th -> 5. Monticello: 1816-1826 p.300 - 334 - Retrospectives - Consolidation and Diffusion - Rebel Reactionary

Week Twelve - April 19th - April 30th -> 5. Monticello: 1816-1826 p.334 - 347 & Epilogue p.349 - 362 - Educational Dreams - Tragedy - Epilogue


message 3: by Joe (new)

Joe (Blues) Why have so many claimed Thomas Jefferson's allegiance?

Below are two of the most recent examples where I have come across someone quoting Thomas Jefferson.

Within the Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union Address, Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia mentioned Thomas Jefferson twice. The first time Jefferson was mentioned was within his introduction. It was to commend Jefferson, Virginia's second governor, for designing the House Chamber of Virginia's Capitol where they were then speaking. Gov. McDonnell used that introduction to prepare us for his quote of our 3rd President in defence of his conservative values. "We must enact policies that promote entrepreneurship and innovation so America can better compete with the world. What government should not do is pile on more taxation, regulation and litigation that kill jobs and hurt the middle class. It was Thomas Jefferson who called for "a wise and frugal government which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned." He was right.

The second time I noticed someone quoting Jefferson was during our extended weekend away in Memphis, TN two weeks ago. We had the chance to walk through the National Civil Rights Museum which was erected at the site of Martin Luther King Jr's assassination at the Lorraine Motel. Most of the museum is designed to present the history of the Civil Rights movement, and I am not exaggerating when I say that it was quite moving. Towards the end of the exhibit, I noticed a plaque with the following inscribed: "Every generation needs a new revolution." - Thomas Jefferson. This quote is one of Jefferson's most famous, and it exemplifies yet again that people from all aspects of society, whether they are modern Republican governors arguing in support of their constituents or civil rights advocates from the likes of Dr. King, everyone wants to align Thomas Jefferson with their cause.

Ellis points out early in his prologue that more people have claimed to enlist Jefferson to their cause than any other figure in American history. Surprisingly, these people, put together, are from vastly different backgrounds. They are liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, even Confederates and Unionists, who have consistently turned to Jefferson for support throughout history. Why do so many continue to claim Thomas Jefferson's allegiance? Hopefully, as we progress through this book, we can better understand Jeffersonian principles and be able to answer this question.

Source - State of the Union Response:
http://soturesponse.com/SOTUResponse/...

National Civil Rights Museum:
http://www.civilrightsmuseum.org/perm...


message 4: by Joe (new)

Joe (Blues) The Thomas Jefferson (Memorial) Foundation statements

On February 24, 2003, The Thomas Jefferson (Memorial) Foundation revised their statement regarding the children of Sally Hemings:

Although the relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings has been for many years, and will surely continue to be, a subject of intense interest to historians and the public, the evidence is not definitive, and the complete story may never be known. The Foundation encourages our visitors and patrons, based on what evidence does exist, to make up their own minds as to the true nature of the relationship.

Their previous statement dated July 15, 2002, read as follows:

It likely will take newly uncovered historical evidence or scientific methods still unknown to determine beyond doubt the truth about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, and the complete story may never be known. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation stands by its original findings – that the weight of evidence suggests that Jefferson probably was the father of Eston Hemings and perhaps the father of all of Sally Hemings’ children – but is ready to review new evidence at any time and to reassess its understanding of this matter in the light of new information.

This revised statement can be found at:

http://www.monticello.org/plantation/...

Source:
http://jeffersondna.com/


message 5: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 39814 comments Mod
Joe...great..you have already begun. Brilliant.


message 6: by Jim (last edited Feb 01, 2010 05:21AM) (new)

Jim (JimPChip) | 29 comments Joe, I agree, great start.

What’s interesting to me and what I really thought the Prologue was all about is the almost deity or idolization of the founding fathers that we’ve created that extends far beyond the realty. The fact that so many on both sides take Jefferson as their idol is rather fascinating and, in fact, Ellis makes the point that the whole of Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence can be rather contradictory. This makes the whole personification of an obviously faulty personality a little difficult.

Ellis will, no doubt, do an excellent job bringing him to life but I'm not sure Jefferson will end up standing up to his legacy as most of us non-history majors know it. This happens a lot with the human race as we set on a pedestal those that we idolize only to find - lo and behold - that they have faults (Tiger Woods comes immediately to mind but you can list others without any problems). In cases like Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers (and Mothers - a shout out to Abigail Adams) they are no longer around and the records too incomplete to ever satisfactorily place them on the proper rung of the ladder of perfection. I guess in the end that makes them all the more interesting and the debate that much more fun.

There’s a quote that I thought was appropriate on page 22: “Wood argues that the core of the Jefferson problem was not his inevitable flaws but our unrealistic expectations.” I read this and immediately thought of those that invoke his name in the spirit of patriotism when there are so many other worthy characters from that time (Adams and Mason comes to mind immediately).

On another note, one of the things that struck me from the Prologue was the confirmation for me that Joseph Ellis is a great writer. This is the third book I’ve read by him and it’s just a great joy to read his work. One quote that stuck out as I was reading was on page 9: “Jefferson was no longer just an essential ingredient in the American political tradition; he was the essence itself, a kind of free-floating icon who hovered over the American political scene like one of those dirigibles cruising above a crowded football stadium, flashing words of inspiration to both teams.”

It may get better than this in the literary world but not much.

Ellis goes on to note that Jefferson was more a visionary and rhetorician than an active political player. Based on the two other books I’ve read by Ellis (American Creation and Founding Brothers – links below), this is not the case. Without getting into spoilers, Jefferson was a lot more of a politician than this gives him credit for.

Man, this is going to be a great book.

American Creation Triumphs and Tragedies in the Founding of the Republic by Joseph J. Ellis
Founding Brothers The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph J. Ellis
Joseph J. Ellis


message 7: by Doug (new)

Doug (dfechter) This is my first book with the group so I'm looking forward both to reading it and to reading people's views here.

One quick comment. In discussing Jefferson's unique place in American history and culture, Ellis says, "Although Lincoln was more respected, Jefferson was more loved." That is a purely subjective comment; obviously there is plenty of love for Lincoln and plenty of respect for Jefferson. In fact, I might have put it the other way around. So much more is known about Lincoln the person that it is perhaps easier to love him than Jefferson.


message 8: by Joe (new)

Joe (Blues) One of my favorite quotes so far is on page xiv within the Prefix and Acknowledgements where Ellis remembers a "fellow Southerner," C. Vann Woodward, mentoring him of the dangers of attempting biography. "One should not attempt biography until a bit further down the trail of life." Ellis adds to that saying, "As for Jefferson, he was such a sprawling and famously elusive subject that any young historian who sallied forth after him was like the agile youth sent forth against impossible odds in a story about the tragic casualties of war." I am looking forward to reading Ellis' "American Sphinx," and learning from all of your comments.


message 9: by Joe (new)

Joe (Blues) Jim wrote: "Ellis will, no doubt, do an excellent job bringing him to life but I'm not sure Jefferson will end up standing up to his legacy as most of us non-history majors know it. This happens a lot with the human race as we set on a pedestal those that we idolize only to find - lo and behold - that they have faults (Tiger Woods..."

That is so true, Jim.
We are in for a treat here, and am looking forward to getting to know Jefferson as best as possible, with all his and faults.


message 10: by Joe (new)

Joe (Blues) Jeff wrote: "Great intro by Joe and some great observations by Jim as well. I read this book several years ago and am really looking forward to following this discussion. Jefferson is just such a difficult character to comprehend in our time....

Jefferson is a massive contradiction. Hopefully we can better understand why as we read along.


message 11: by Joe (new)

Joe (Blues) Doug wrote: "One quick comment. In discussing Jefferson's unique place in American history and culture, Ellis says, "Although Lincoln was more respected, Jefferson was more loved.""...

Yes, very interesting, Doug. I think I would put it the other way around as well.


message 12: by Joe (new)

Joe (Blues) Who was Sally Hemings?

Sally Hemings was an African-American slave owned by President of the United States Thomas Jefferson. She was said to have been the half-sister of Jefferson's wife Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson. Journalists and others alleged during and after Jefferson's presidency that he had consensual sex with her and may have fathered several children with Hemings after his wife's death, but few historians credited the allegation. However, DNA testing conducted in 1998 indicated that a male in Jefferson's line was the father of at least one of Sally Hemings's children, reigniting the debate.

The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed In Defense of Thomas Jefferson The Sally Hemings Sex Scandal by William G. Hyland Jr.

Annette Gordon-Reed
William G. Hyland Jr.

Source:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sally_He...


message 13: by Joe (new)

Joe (Blues) I posted this over in the Jefferson Introduction thread and thought that I would repeat it here.

For those of you who own, or plan on acquiring, a hardcover 1st edition of this book published by Knopf, there were "several silent revisions" made to the Vintage paperback edition in April 1998. I quote Ellis on page xix of the revised edition. "The Vintage edition requires more extensive revisions in light of the publication of a DNA study by Dr. Eugene Foster that significantly changes the terms of the long-standing debate over Jefferson's relationship with Sally Hemings. Ellis states that he made 4 substantial changes, and outlines where those changes were made and also states that he changed his mind in light of this study.

I do own a 1st edition hardcover, and was lucky enough to find the Vintage edition the other day for almost nothing. By having both editions, it's very revealing how we can go back and see what changes were made and why.

Also, I would like to strongly emphasize that both editions are not required to participate in our discussion. And I hope it doesn't have to be repeated that either edition will do just fine. I just want to let everyone know that there were changes made in the newer Vintage edition that we should be aware of.

The Knopf hardcover edition of American Sphinx by Joseph Ellis:

American Sphinx The Character of Thomas Jefferson by Joseph J. Ellis

The Vintage paperback edition of American Sphinx by Joseph Ellis:

American Sphinx The Character of Thomas Jefferson by Joseph J. Ellis


message 14: by Joe (new)

Joe (Blues) What is presentism?

Ellis brings up the concept of presentism and I thought it would be a good idea to ask the following questions because it highlights Jefferson's contradictions.

Is judging Jefferson as a slave owner presentism?
Is the issue of Jefferson's relationship with Sally Hemings presentism?


message 15: by Jim (new)

Jim (JimPChip) | 29 comments Joe and Jeff;

I think the whole issue of Jefferson owning slaves and his relationship with Hemings is very much a presentism issue. Wealthy individuals in the South owned slaves. It was part of the culture and economic system. I’m not defending the practice but to criticize Jefferson today for owning slaves 250 years ago seems a little short sighted.

As for Hemings, I’m falling along the same lines. Slaves were bought and sold to serve the owners. It sounds awful but slaves were looked at mostly as property and to hold Jefferson who was immersed in that culture to a higher standard seems inconsistent.

Just my two cents.




message 16: by Joe (last edited Feb 01, 2010 07:21AM) (new)

Joe (Blues) I am having a hard time with this one. The main reason why I wanted to bring this up was because Jefferson's attitude towards slavery was inconsistent. In the one hand, Jefferson writes one of the most famous lines in American history that, "all men are created equal," but on the other hand he does not shy away from the convenience of their services when it comes to personal comfort and fortune. Does this contradiction negate the presentism issue?

Also, I wanted to ask everyone's opinion on whether or not you think Thomas Jefferson fathered children with Sally Hemings. Ellis states that he has changed his mind on this issue since the DNA tests. What do you think? Again, in message #4 I posted the official Thomas Jefferson (Memorial) Foundation statements concerning the Sally Hemings issue.


message 17: by Jim (new)

Jim (JimPChip) | 29 comments Jeff wrote: "Jim, I agree with you on Jefferson's owning of slaves in and of itself. Judging that alone would be presentism. However, I think it is fair to judge the contradiction of his appearing to oppose t..."


An entirely fair point and it does call into question his convictions regarding the ending of slavery. It suggests that is was nothing more than lip service given the very small chance that it would pass.



message 18: by Jim (new)

Jim (JimPChip) | 29 comments Joe wrote: "I am having a hard time with this one. The main reason why I wanted to bring this up was because Jefferson's attitude towards slavery was inconsistent. In the one hand, Jefferson writes one of the ..."

Joe, in regards to whether it's been proved that Jefferson father a child by Hemings it's certainly hard to argue with the DNA evidence but as you noted above, there's a case against it as well. I'm going to go with "yes" he did. I'm open to thinking otherwise since it appears that Jefferson had other blood relatives with opportunity.



message 19: by Joe (last edited Feb 01, 2010 07:24AM) (new)

Joe (Blues) Jim wrote: "Joe wrote: "I am having a hard time with this one. The main reason why I wanted to bring this up was because Jefferson's attitude towards slavery was inconsistent. In the one hand, Jefferson writes..."

I have to admit that my initial reaction to the scandal was that he did not father Sally Hemings' children, (probably because he has yet to be removed from that idol status) but since my further study in the matter has matured a bit, I too have changed my mind.



message 20: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 39814 comments Mod
Interesting point..when Jefferon wrote all men are created equal...he was not talking about a black man at the time and certainly not a black woman. Even when you look at the original constitution, a black man wasn't even worth one white man only 3/5's. So equality was beyond the reach of African Americans at the time of Jefferson and though he may have felt at some level that it was not Christian to hold men in servitude...nevertheless he did it. I think part of the Hemings debacle was also about control...the owner of slaves could do whatever he wanted to his chattel, his property. I think Jefferson was very much an enigma because of this dichotomy of thinking...beautiful words with not so beautiful deeds...sounds like a normal politician to me (smile).


message 21: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 39814 comments Mod
Here is a definition of presentism which I think fits in this case by the way; but I also vote yes on the fathering issue:

"Presentism is also related to the problematic question of history and moral judgments. Among historians, the orthodox view may be that reading modern notions of morality into the past is to commit the error of presentism.

To avoid this, some historians restrict themselves to describing what happened, and attempt to refrain from using language that passes judgment.

For example, when writing history about slavery in an era when the practice was widely accepted, some believe that using language that condemns slavery as wrong or evil would be presentist, and should be avoided.

There are many critics of this application of presentism. Some argue that to avoid moral judgments is to practice moral relativism, a controversial idea.

Some religious historians argue that morality is timeless, having been established by God, and therefore it is not anachronistic to apply timeless standards to the past. (In this view, while mores may change, morality does not.)

Others argue that historians, like all humans, cannot truly be objective, and so moral judgments will always be a part of their work. David Hackett Fischer, for his part, writes that historians cannot avoid making moral judgments, and indeed they ought to make them, but that they should be aware of their biases, and write history in such a way that their biases do not create a distorted depiction of the past.

Disambiguation: The term "presentism" is also used in Ethics, to indicate an attitude that since the present is the only thing that really exists (the past being being made up of nothing but present memory traces and the future being made up of nothing but present anticipations), ethical judgments need to weigh actual present good on a different scale than hypothetical past good or future good. This ethical use of "presentism" and the historical use of the term seem to have little in common."


Source: Wikipedia

Note: I will open a glossary so that non spoiler items may be placed there and any spoiler discussion can take place there.


message 22: by Viviane (new)

Viviane Crystal | 22 comments Thanks for the definition and more re presentism. I distinctly remember seeing the show, "1776," on Broadway - it was clear that if the representatives meeting to draft a Constitution had to free slaves, the Constitution would never have come to fruition. Revisionist history is fine for condemning slavery, but Jefferson was forced to face a very controversial topic and he is certainly not the only leader to be torn between wanting equality and facing economic disaster if slaves were freed.

I am admiring this author's balanced perspective in the Prologue on the highs and lows of Jefferson worship/admiration/denigration. Sounds like contemporary political commentary, :)
Either way, Jefferson was a dynamic, linguistic, gifted leader facing a revolutionary form of government. No easy task!


message 23: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Feb 01, 2010 08:31PM) (new)

Bentley | 39814 comments Mod
Yes Viviane...Jefferson was a fine dynamic writer; but he did have different sides to his beliefs. He practiced one thing and sometimes appeared to preach another. That is what I have problems with a bit. Many Southerners practiced slavery and espoused those beliefs..whether you agreed with them or not...they spoke the same as they acted. With Jefferson it was not always that way. Sometimes he argued both sides of an argument and could be quite duplicitous. So this book should be extremely interesting. I do not fault Jefferson for not wanting economic disaster or for protecting his own interests; but sometimes Jefferson appeared to be acting like he supported conflicting opinions depending upon who was his audience. Jefferson's rhetoric has done a great deal for America and we should be and are eternally grateful.

I can't wait to find out more about him.



message 24: by Don (new)

Don (DonaldLee) | 36 comments Joe wrote: "Why have so many claimed Thomas Jefferson's allegiance?

Below are two of the most recent examples where I have come across someone quoting Thomas Jefferson.

Within the Republican response to Pres..."

more people have claimed to enlist Jefferson to their cause than any other figure in American history. Surprisingly, these people, put together, are from vastly different backgrounds. They are liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, even Confederates and Unionists, who have consistently turned to Jefferson for support throughout history. Why do so many continue to claim Thomas Jefferson's allegiance?

Ellis gives us a clue. "Jefferson was not a profound political thinker. He was, however, an utterly brilliant political rhetorician and visionary....The genius of his rhetoric is to articulate irreconcilable human urges at a sufficiently abstract level to mask their mutual exclusiveness."



message 25: by Don (new)

Don (DonaldLee) | 36 comments Joe wrote: "I am having a hard time with this one. The main reason why I wanted to bring this up was because Jefferson's attitude towards slavery was inconsistent. In the one hand, Jefferson writes one of the ..."

Concerning the question of Jefferson fathering Sallie Hemings' children, Fawn Brodie makes an excellent case for concluding that he is the father. Examining historical evidence prior to the DNA evidence, she states that TJ was present with Sallie nine months before the birth of each of her children, and other male relatives of TJ were not.
Thomas Jefferson An Intimate History by Fawn M. BrodieFawn M. Brodie


message 26: by Joe (new)

Joe (Blues) Don wrote: "Ellis gives us a clue. "Jefferson was not a profound political thinker. He was, however, an utterly brilliant political rhetorician and visionary....The genius of his rhetoric is to articulate irreconcilable human urges at a sufficiently abstract level to mask their mutual exclusiveness."

Thanks for that comment, Don.
I'm looking forward to reading more about Jefferson as this book progresses. Your quote there goes a long way in helping us further.




message 27: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig I worked at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation (TJF). One thing of interest, the TJF sided on fathering because they looked at the most likely dates TJ would be around based on conception and he was at Monticello at the right time. To be honest that revised statement sounds more of a public "pr" thing to back away from a little controversy, I think. I know the bulk of the staff at the TJF are yes on fatherhood.

Another thing I found is that TJ is a guy that sometimes is too much of a politician in that he won't state in his letters his true feelings. He is a pretty private man. It is a shame he never wrote a diary.

I plan to start the book tonight since I was in New Mexico, so it should be interesting.




message 28: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Feb 02, 2010 07:37PM) (new)

Bentley | 39814 comments Mod
Bryan, your post is interesting. In fact, he never wrote a book aside from the one that was published first in France...Notes on the State of Virginia.

Notes on the State of Virginia was Thomas Jefferson's only book. It had its genesis as a written response to a set of questions from French delegates, but it would evolve into one the most important works by an American writer during the 18th century. It was also the greatest single expression of the American Enlightenment.

In fact, he wanted to get rid of the books after they were printed.

http://www.ansp.org/museum/jefferson/...


Notes on the State of Virginia by Thomas Jefferson Thomas JeffersonThomas Jefferson


I will place the free on line copy in the glossary.

So I assume you are on the side of the yes on fatherhood. It will be great to get your opinions on the Ellis book considering your background.


message 29: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig I am on the side of fatherhood. He did start an Autobiography, but he did not finish it and it didn't give any grand details either.


message 30: by Joe (last edited Feb 03, 2010 06:08AM) (new)

Joe (Blues) Bryan, thanks so much for your comments. Your background makes the discussion step it up another notch.

It's so interesting to hear the views of the TJF staff. Just a few weeks ago I would have predicted the opposite view from them.

I skimmed through "In Defense of Thomas Jefferson: The Sally Hemings Sex Scandal" by William G. Hyland Jr during a visit at Barnes and Noble but didn't like the tone of the first chapter, so I decided not to purchase it. I'm curious what his main points are in defense though. Maybe I'll see if I can find a copy of it at the library.

In Defense of Thomas Jefferson The Sally Hemings Sex Scandal by William G. Hyland Jr.
William G. Hyland Jr.


message 31: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig Joe-I remember Hyland's book. He does have an agenda walking into all this, so I'm not surprised you were turned off. It's funny, because we had a fellow at Monticello, who is a lawyer herself, go through the DNA and other materials about the time Hyland was working on the book. I'm not sure if she has plans to write a book or not, and she left before I had a chance to talk to her at the very end to see what conclusions she came up with.

Glad to be a part of the discussion!


message 32: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Feb 03, 2010 01:52PM) (new)

Bentley | 39814 comments Mod
Preface and Acknowledgements - (since I am using a Kindle for this reading - unsure of the exact page)

It is interesting to me that Ellis knew that he would do well to listen to Thomas Jefferson's own words which was to say that "no one should undertake yet another book on Thomas Jefferson for "light and transient causes" Ellis then tries to cross reference some similarities in appearance that he has to TJ which I thought was rather amusing.

Ellis comes off as still a little unsure of himself emotionally as one possibly not worthy of some of the fine works that he has written. Even his southern accent doesn't escape his glare.

"Jefferson and I were kindred spirits, I told myself, allies in this alien world where a southern accent seemed inversely correlated with one's seriousness of purpose."

Here is the likeness of Thomas Jefferson that hung on his mentor's office wall: (Thomas Jefferson - Rembrandt Peale likeness of 1800)

http://74.125.47.132/search?q=cache:m...

Even C. Vann Woodward who was a fellow southerner tried to warn Ellis.

"My recollection is that C. Vann Woodward, a fellow southerner also recently arrived in New Haven - though as a mature and not just budding historian - alerted me to the dangers. One should not attempt biography until a bit further down the trial of life, he suggested. As for Jefferson, he was such a sprawling and famously elusive subject that any young historian who sallied forth after him was like the agile youth sent forward against impossible odds in a story about the tragic casualties of war."


The imagery of the agile youth facing his certain demise probably was apropos; but Ellis's insecurities seem to always be bubbling on the surface. I think for the most part it makes the author more human. I am not sure what the others of you might think of Ellis, the man and historian.

I have placed some additional information on C. Vann Woodward in the glossary.



message 33: by Joe (new)

Joe (Blues) I also was struck by that, Bentley.

Message #9 above quotes part of that same passage you have there. That quote was the very first thing I copied down in preparation for this discussion. And it is so true, especially with Jefferson in mind.


message 34: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Feb 03, 2010 11:52AM) (new)

Bentley | 39814 comments Mod
Yes Joe...I must have missed your excerpt. However, it was so telling when I went and reread that portion that I felt it was important to quote...it really is a statement which is indicative of a lot of folks who ignore these warnings and write biographies anyways. Then we as readers have to sift through the fact from opinion, the plausible from the implausible.

I do think that Ellis (the man) has more than a few insecurities which he carries along through life...for me he seems more human and more real and more able to cut the historic figure some slack and the benefit of the doubt...or at least be able to present both sides of the picture. I guess I like to understand my source a bit before I set off on his biography. I think we are in good hands.


message 35: by Joe (last edited Feb 03, 2010 12:07PM) (new)

Joe (Blues) I did some rereading as well, last night. I think I'll be doing much more rereading this time around.

I wasn't gonna post this, but you mentioned "Ellis (the man)," now I can't resist. This doesn't take away from his abilities as a biographer, but he does get slapped around pretty good.

http://jeffersondna.com/joseph-ellis/


message 36: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 39814 comments Mod
Yes, I knew about that flap; but chose not to mention it. I pointed out the insecurities that I saw in the preface as some of the demons that I think he carries along every day making him believe he is not worthy.

He really is worthy and did not need to enhance his background. He got the correct measure of punishment and folks at Mount Holyoke...(I think that is where he is right now) did not care that much about his transgression...but it will always be with him.


message 37: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Feb 03, 2010 03:10PM) (new)

Bentley | 39814 comments Mod
Preface and Acknowledgements:

I really liked this passage as well because I am a defender (I think) of John Adams even before McCullough wrote his book and the film.

I think that he was one of those unsung heroes. He was not particularly attractive in personage and maybe talked a lot and maybe repeated his agenda multiple times which probably annoyed some; but he was assiduous, brilliant, steady and loved his country; yet he is not nearly as beloved as the others.

The quote:

"Adams has a truly a special relationship with Jefferson that developed out of their common cause against English imperial rule and their different roots in the regional cultures of New England and Virginia. As a result, Adams admired, even loved Jefferson; they sustained a fifty-year friendship that culminated in an exchange of letters in their twilight years that most historians regard as the intellectual capstone to the achievements of the revolutionary generation. But Adams also disagreed profoundly with Jefferson's version of the American Revolution. Indeed he thought that Jefferson's entire political version rested on a seductive set of attractive illusions. The more I read, the more I concluded that Adams was right. For the first time I began to see Jefferson critically and ironically."

I am looking forward to discussing what the "seductive set of attractive illusions" that belonged to Jefferson were and their impact.

I liked the phrase that Jefferson was "electromagnetic" and that "he was one of those dead white males who still mattered."

John Adams by David McCullough David McCulloughDavid McCullough


message 38: by Joe (last edited Feb 03, 2010 03:14PM) (new)

Joe (Blues) I totally agree, Bentley. I actually was looking through my copy of John Adams this past weekend... in between my John Marshall bio. I'm after Jefferson related material.


message 39: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 39814 comments Mod
There was a fair amount there from what I can recall.


message 40: by Joe (last edited Feb 03, 2010 03:33PM) (new)

Joe (Blues) Oh yes... I am thinking I'm gonna reread that Adams book after I finish John Marshall.

John Marshall Definer of a Nation by Jean Edward Smith
Jean Edward Smith


message 41: by Lori (new)

Lori I've only read a couple of pages, but I think the title is interesting. I mean, we have Thomas Jefferson--American Sphinx, we have Andy Jackson--American Lion, and we have MacArthur--American Caesar. I find it interesting how different men (and maybe women too; I don't know) become the American this or that.

And here are the covers and authors of the books I referenced:

American Lion Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham by Jon Meacham

and

American Caesar Douglas MacArthur 1880 - 1964 by William Raymond Manchester by William Raymond Manchester William Raymond Manchester


message 42: by Joe (last edited Feb 04, 2010 06:05AM) (new)

Joe (Blues) Lori wrote: "I've only read a couple of pages, but I think the title is interesting. I mean, we have Thomas Jefferson--American Sphinx, we have Andy Jackson--American Lion, and we have MacArthur--American Caes..."

Yes, good point, Lori.
This fits in quite well with our previous posts. The following is Ellis' explanation/justification of his title. And in retrospect, this should have been one of my first posts. Thank-you for mentioning this.

Jefferson was not like most other historical figures - dead, forgotten and nonchalantly entrusted to historians, who presumably serve as the grave keepers for those buried memories no one really cares about anymore. Jefferson has risen from the dead. Or rather the myth of Jefferson had taken on a life of it's own. Lots of Americans cared deeply about the meaning of his memory. He became the Great Sphinx of the American history, the enigmatic and elusive touchstone for the most cherished convictions and contested truths in American culture. It was as if a pathologist, just about to begin an autopsy, had discovered that the body on the operating table was still breathing. pg 12.

(This text was taken from my brand new Sony Reader Daily Edition. I can barely hold back the enthusiasm!) :-P
http://www.sonystyle.com/webapp/wcs/s...


message 43: by Jim (new)

Jim (JimPChip) | 29 comments Joe wrote: "Lori wrote: "I've only read a couple of pages, but I think the title is interesting. I mean, we have Thomas Jefferson--American Sphinx, we have Andy Jackson--American Lion, and we have MacArthur--..."

Joe, thanks. I'm wondering, though, about the use of Sphinx to describe Jefferson. Here is the definition from the online version of the Webster Dictionary:

1 a capitalized : a winged female monster in Greek mythology having a woman's head and a lion's body and noted for killing anyone unable to answer its riddle b : an enigmatic or mysterious person
2 : an ancient Egyptian image in the form of a recumbent lion having a man's head, a ram's head, or a hawk's head

Link -
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictio...

It seems an odd characterization to me and I was wondering about everyone else's thoughts. Maybe there's a metaphor that I'm missing.


message 44: by Joe (new)

Joe (Blues) Jim wrote: "Joe wrote: "Lori wrote: "I've only read a couple of pages, but I think the title is interesting. I mean, we have Thomas Jefferson--American Sphinx, we have Andy Jackson--American Lion, and we have..."

Yes, I do agree. It does seem quite odd.

I don't know... how about this.... to the Egyptians, the Sphinx is not odd to them. It is something they look back to historically and idolize in the form of a huge sand statue. It is revered, and held up to an extremely high standard. Our Spinx is Jefferson. Idolized, as the Egyptians idolize their Spinx.


message 45: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Feb 04, 2010 07:50AM) (new)

Bentley | 39814 comments Mod
Joe wrote: "Lori wrote: "I've only read a couple of pages, but I think the title is interesting. I mean, we have Thomas Jefferson--American Sphinx, we have Andy Jackson--American Lion, and we have MacArthur--..."

You sound like a proud parent..I sometimes feel that way about my Kindle DX. (smile) Thank you for adding the quote which really gives the rationale for the title.


message 46: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Feb 04, 2010 08:05AM) (new)

Bentley | 39814 comments Mod
Jim wrote: "Joe wrote: "Lori wrote: "I've only read a couple of pages, but I think the title is interesting. I mean, we have Thomas Jefferson--American Sphinx, we have Andy Jackson--American Lion, and we have..."

Jim..I am sure there is a metaphor in there somewhere.

I found this reference about the interpretation of a sphinx:

Sphinx: Symbolic meaning of the sphinx deals with guardianship and protection of the secrets of life. Long considered to be a tyrant in myth , the sphinx was said to incessanty provoke passersby with riddles; only those who could answer their riddles were allowed entrance into the gates they guard. The sphinx's physical construct (part man part beast) is also symbolic of the senses. When the sphinx paws its way into our attention in a reading we are called to answer a riddle - using all of our senses and determing the secrets that may be holding us back.

Did Ellis think that Jefferson provoked people into doing things; and stood in the background even though he was the puppeteer. Was he a combination of human ideal characteristics; yet have a segment which was not nice and did some unimaginable things. Or maybe the sphinx just indicates all of the secret things that Jefferson held back from the real world and maybe folks never really knew him. All sorts of possibilities I would imagine. The Sphinx as Joe has stated is idolized; but I wonder how often are our heroes idolized; yet we still do not know them. In terms of using our senses; maybe Ellis is calling upon us to really try to see Jefferson "critically and ironically" like he did (calling upon all of our senses to answer the Sphinx's riddle). At the very least we know that Jefferson guarded his privacy and his personal life and protected his secrets.


message 47: by Joe (new)

Joe (Blues) Very well put, Bentley. Thanks for that.


message 48: by Jim (new)

Jim (JimPChip) | 29 comments Bentley wrote: "Jim wrote: "Joe wrote: "Lori wrote: "I've only read a couple of pages, but I think the title is interesting. I mean, we have Thomas Jefferson--American Sphinx, we have Andy Jackson--American Lion,..."

I think that's a great summation and makes it a lot more clear. I had originally missed the comments in Joe's original posting.

Thanks, guys.


message 49: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 39814 comments Mod
You are welcome Jim, Joe.


message 50: by Charles (new)

Charles Traupmann (GnarlyOak) Joe wrote: "I totally agree, Bentley. I actually was looking through my copy of John Adams this past weekend... in between my John Marshall bio. I'm after Jefferson related material."


I found the Marshal book very illuminating, especially the 2nd read (which I seldom do). Hopefully we can address this book (if it hasn't already been a club choice).
John Marshall Definer of a Nation by Jean Edward Smith
Jean Edward Smith

This current discussion on presentism , cannot ignore the writings contained in the library of Thomas Jefferson. John Locke was a great influence to Jefferson; Locke is often sited as the liberal thinker influencing our Declaration of Independence, but he also wrote the Carolina Constitution which explicitly establishes slavery.

From my reading, Thomas Jefferson was America's Politician. His chameleon nature is what confounds us, for he takes many opposing stances.
In my mind, he had one great ability, he was able to take the thoughts and writings of others and use them well. His use of language has inflated his history, but it is still an extremely interesting history.




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