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PRESIDENTIAL SERIES > 6. AMERICAN SPHINX ~ CHAPTER 3 (139 - 170) (03/08/10 - 03/14/10) ~ No spoilers, please

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message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Hello Everyone,

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

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 was kicked off on February 1st. This will be the sixth 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.



Here also is the syllabus:

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

message 2: by Joe (last edited Mar 08, 2010 06:29AM) (new)

Joe (blues) Welcome to Chapter 3 everyone. Please remember that we are reading up to the end of section Dreams and Debts. That relates to page 170 in the paperback, but for all you hardcover fans out there, please take note of the sections in Chapter 3.

message 3: by Joe (last edited Mar 08, 2010 06:12AM) (new)

Joe (blues) Chapter 3 begins with many examples of how Jefferson expressed his longing to retire to Monticello... to farm his land and I quote, "watch for the happiness of those who labor for mine."

An interesting quote... possibly a weakly veiled snide remark against his opponents who have been piercing his thin skin.

But Jefferson truly loved his seclusion, even though it could have been detrimental to his social and physical health at times. He spent the end of 1793 until March 4th, 1797 at Monticello... which was his election to the Vice-Presidency.

message 4: by Joe (last edited Mar 08, 2010 06:13AM) (new)

Joe (blues) Passions and Parties goes into some background on Jefferson's tenure as the 1st United States Secretary of State. He was selected by our first President, George Washington.

1st United States Secretary of State

After returning from France, Jefferson served as the first Secretary of State under George Washington (1790–1793). Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton began sparring over national fiscal policy, especially the funding of the debts of the war, with Hamilton believing that the debts should be equally shared, and Jefferson believing that each state should be responsible for its own debt (Virginia had not accumulated much debt during the Revolution). In further sparring with the Federalists, Jefferson came to equate Hamilton and the rest of the Federalists with Tories and monarchists who threatened to undermine republicanism. He equated Federalism with "Royalism," and made a point to state that "Hamiltonians were panting after...and itching for crowns, coronets and mitres." Jefferson and James Madison founded and led the Democratic-Republican Party. He worked with Madison and his campaign manager John J. Beckley to build a nationwide network of Republican allies to combat Federalists across the country.

Jefferson strongly supported France against Britain when war broke out between those nations in 1793. Historian Lawrence S. Kaplan notes Jefferson's "visceral support for the French cause," while agreeing with Washington that the nation should not get involved in the fighting. The arrival in 1793 of an aggressive new French minister, Edmond-Charles Genêt, caused a crisis for the Secretary of State, as he watched Genêt try to violate American neutrality, manipulate public opinion, and even go over Washington's head in appealing to the people; projects that Jefferson helped to thwart. According to Schachner, Jefferson believed that political success at home depended on the success of the French army in Europe.

Jefferson still clung to his sympathies with France and hoped for the success of her arms abroad and a cordial compact with her at home. He was afraid that any French reverses on the European battlefields would give "wonderful vigor to our monocrats, and unquestionably affect the tone of administering our government. Indeed, I fear that if this summer should prove disastrous to the French, it will damp that energy of republicanism in our new Congress, from which I had hoped so much reformation."


message 5: by Joe (last edited Mar 08, 2010 06:14AM) (new)

Joe (blues) To continue on our theme of how Jefferson lived a life filled with conflicting values and principles, Jefferson, as Secretary of State within George Washington's Administration, was one of the principled leaders of the opposition... the Democratic-Republican party.

message 6: by Joe (new)

Joe (blues) The Democratic-Republican Party was founded by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison around 1792. Supporters usually identified themselves as Republicans, but sometimes as Democrats. The term "Democratic Republican" was also used by contemporaries, but mostly by the party's opponents. It was the dominant political party in the United States from 1800 to 1824, when it split into competing factions.

Jefferson created the political party to oppose the economic and foreign policies of the Federalists, a party created a year or so earlier by Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. The Democratic-Republican party opposed the Jay Treaty of 1794 with Britain (then at war with France) and supported good relations with France before 1801. The party insisted on a strict construction of the Constitution, and denounced many of Hamilton's proposals (especially the national bank) as unconstitutional. The party favored states' rights and the primacy of the yeoman farmer over bankers, industrialists, merchants, and other monied interests. There was always a range of opinion within the Party on issues of commerce, public works, and industrialization, which were more warmly received by Madison and the Democrats than by Jefferson and the Republicans; but this was a preference, not a firm ideology on either side. Jefferson signed a bill funding a canal for the Potomac in 1805; Madison ended his term in office vetoing a public works bill.

Jeffersonian purists, or "Old Republican" wing of the party, led by Jefferson, John Randolph of Roanoke, William H. Crawford, and Nathaniel Macon, favored low tariffs, states' rights, strict construction of the Constitution, and reduced spending. It opposed a standing army. The "National Republicans," led by Henry Clay, John Quincy Adams and John C. Calhoun, eventually favored higher tariffs, a stronger national defense, and "internal improvements" (public works projects). After the Federalist Party broke up in 1815, many former members joined the D-R's nationalist faction.

United States Presidents from the party were: Thomas Jefferson (elected in 1800 and 1804), James Madison (1808 and 1812), and James Monroe (1816 and 1820). The party dominated Congress and most state governments; it was weakest in New England. William H. Crawford was the party's last presidential nominee in 1824 as the party broke up into several factions. One faction, led by Andrew Jackson, would become the modern Democratic Party. Another faction, led by Adams and Clay, was known as the National Republicans. This group evolved into the Whig Party.


message 7: by Joe (new)

Joe (blues) I plan on commenting on section Dreams and Debts later on this week, but if anyone would like to jump in and do that, please feel free.

message 8: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig I found Ellis statement interesting:

"The trouble was that the term 'party,' and the very idea for which it stood, had yet to achieve any measure of respectability...To call someone a member of a political party was to accuse him of systematic selfishness and perhaps even outright treason." p. 122 (hardcover)

He goes on to say there are no rules or neutral vocabulary for talking about parties at this point.

Looking at it this way, I think this helped illustrate how venomous this period was in politics. Jefferson, who was thin skinned as we mentioned earlier, was in the thick of it now. However, it did not stop him from doing what he felt was necessary: opposing the "monarchists ways of the Federalists."

Another example of his kind of dual nature: idealist (fight monarchy) vs. realist (build a political party system and use it to win elections.)

message 9: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Yes, he seemed to be rather troubled in terms of his beliefs morally and otherwise. There was a lot of yin and yang in Jefferson and though quiet and reserved; he also had a calm ruthless streak in him as well.

Being sensitive himself, I wonder if he was prone to imagined slights on top of everything else.

On second thought, I kind of like the definition of that period about parties, it seems apropos even for today's climate. (smile)

In the minds of Americans...I am not sure that we see political parties as being respectful even today; especially if the interests of Americans are being sidestepped.

Do you think that these are actually Ellis' beliefs more than Jefferson's and he morphed the two?

message 10: by Joe (last edited Mar 09, 2010 08:25AM) (new)

Joe (blues) Very good observations, Bryan. I thought that as well.

Also, I took away from the readings that Jefferson's opposition to Washington's administration's policies were partly fueled by a need to oppose Hamilton's influence on Washington. Jefferson saw a desperate need for an opposing viewpoint right from the inside. I'm sure Jefferson was privy to where Washington's views were going, more than most people, and therefore he was in a unique position to formulate a successful opposition.

And a reply to Bentley... I take Ellis' views about the parties as pretty accurate. Although it's very difficult to imagine there being no parties at all.

message 11: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
The question that I was considering was not if what was stated was accurate; I think it was pretty accurate too. But were these Jefferson's beliefs, Ellis's or a combination of the two? I still am not sure.

message 12: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig Bentley, if you are talking about idealist vs. realist, I guess you can look to the Head vs. Heart letter that illustrates it might be a TJ belief that Ellis is drawing on. Overall, I'm not sure either.

Let us know if you are referring to something else.

message 13: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Good point Bryan.

message 14: by Virginia (new)

Virginia (va-BBoomer) | 210 comments Bentley Quote: "In the minds of Americans...I am not sure that we see political parties as being respectful even today; especially if the interests of Americans are being sidestepped."

Talk about an understatement for both today and back then! Now I understand where all the backstabbing and disloyalty of party members started - at the conception of American political parties.

message 15: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Virginia...I was thinking exactly the same thing!

message 16: by Karol (new)

Karol Bryan,

That quote that you pulled re. political parties struck me the most as I read this section. In this day and age, the idea of forming a political party being considered "treason" is a completely foreign one.

The level of nastiness in politics back then doesn't seem much different than today. "Nothing new under the sun" and all that. I wonder if this would surprise some Americans - we tend to hold up the founding fathers as near-perfect icons who would be above all that.

message 17: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig My mind wandered to today when I read it, too. You hear today how the political system is broken, but I hear from historians that there were times that it was just as bad. I think this time of party formation is one of them. It gives me a strange comfort.

message 18: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig Dreams and Debts was a great chapter. It was interesting to read about the poor quality of land TJ had on the mountaintop and he didn't have enough land cultivated to make a decent profit.

I remember reading The Gardens of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello by Peter J. Hatch by Peter J. Hatch saying that TJ had a water problem, too, on the mountain. His springs dried out. I'm surprised Ellis missed this point to add to his argument. Ellis effectively argues TJ was not a great businessman. Washington had a much better handle on things.

message 19: by Karol (last edited Mar 12, 2010 08:57AM) (new)

Karol I found this section of the book (and your post, Bryan) interesting as well. Jefferson's debt was really staggering - but apparently he and others measured wealth by how much land you held, whether or not you were in debt up to your eyebrows. An interesting concept . . . Maybe some people still feel that way today, but my cousin who owns and works 5000 acres of rich farm land (debt free) will insist that he is "dirt poor".

TJ's level of debt also conflicts with a quote attributed to him: "Never spend your money before you have it." If he really said this, I wonder when he did, and how he would reconcile that with his personal financial statement.

As a matter of fact, I have a copy of "Thomas Jefferson's 10 Rules for the Good Life" posted at my desk at work. It came from a credit union newsletter, and their source was I don't know whether any of these are actually things he said, but I thought you might find them of interest given what we've read in American Sphinx so far:

1. Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.
2. Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
3. Never spend your money before you have it.
4. Never buy what you do not want because it is cheap; it will never be dear to you.
5. Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst and cold.
6. Never repent for having eaten too little.
7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
8. Don't let the evils which never happened cause you pain.
9. Always take things by the smooth handle.
10. When angry, count to 10 before you speak; if very angry, count to 100.

message 20: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig Great post, Kay. And what is very interesting is that he clearly saw the trees but not the forest, because he had a daily memorandum book writing down all his transactions as well as providing the advice you posted.

Ellis says he did not deny he was in debt and I think that is true. I'd think it would be a tough thing to face.

To read more about it:

Principle and Interest Thomas Jefferson and the Problem of Debt (Jeffersonian America) by Herbert E. Sloan by Herbert E. Sloan

message 21: by Vincent (new)

Vincent (vpbrancato) | 1245 comments HI Folks

So I have been unable for several days to get onto the internet but here are my comments on Monticello 1794 – 1797 from American Sphinx - and I am far behind – and I will try to read all your notes before posting this to modify if logical.

It is striking me as uncomfortable that Jefferson is so seemingly inconsistent.

Maybe his inconsistency is with the superior image I had of him which is tarnishing somewhat

I note initially his lack of personal – and maybe therefore further eventual- fiscal irresponsibility.

His plot to take a seven-year approach to farming of wheat was logical but he did not stay at Monticello for seven years before returning to politics.

The success of the nail factory was quite interesting and I am curious where he bought the iron or steel. It struck me as so inconsistent that he saw this industrial activity as a path to financial salvation – yet he was in favor of a farming economy. He complained about British imports but he had the “advantage” of slave labor (depending upon cost and efficiency of his labor maybe that part was not an advantage) and transport of the nails from Britain.

I also note that he had a kiln for making bricks and I wonder if the ground was so full of clay that he had no possibility to also manufacture and sell bricks – or did most Virginians set up a kiln and make bricks for their projects?

This chapters continuing exposure of his lack of equality attitude towards slaves is also troubling.

That he felt black and whites could not live together.

That he felt there was an inferiority of blacks in principle.

That the two families in his household and on Mulberry Row were the only blacks and that one of them was the Hemingses is rather telling. That visitors would note that his household slaves were not so black – that up to five of Sally Hemings siblings were part white and half sister to Jefferson’s wife is also incongruous.

I just attended a talk by Annette Gordon Reed the historian who wrote of Sally & Jefferson and made an argument for the link before DNA generally documented it. Jefferson’s high ground at Monticello declines under close examination.

That Jefferson avoided hard contact with “real” slaves is also telling.

I also found his political activities in this time of tremendous interest.
That he felt he could bend the constitution. Well less than ten years after the ratification of the Constitution this was possibly not a crazy thought

On the other hand that Adams and Jefferson could split (breaking their revolutionary alliance) indicates that the success of the Republic was so far string enough that these two patriots that they could break or crack these old revolutionary alliances.

That parties formed with such differences within 20 years of winning independence was maybe the logical continuation of these rebels being individualistic after the Brits were gone.

Annette Gordon-ReedAnnette Gordon-ReedAnnette Gordon-ReedAnnette Gordon-Reed

message 22: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig Good comments Vince.

He bought local iron I think from Richmond and sold the nails to local people and used them himself for the house. He never exported them.

It is common to have your own kiln to make your own bricks, too.

I wanted to ask you Vince where you got your TJ information before reading this book? Lecture? Text-book? It is hard to see at first TJ as human with his flaws as well as his triumphs. In school and the general public, we tend to see him on a pedestal. I think it is important that we read books like Ellis and go to Reed's talk to learn more about him.

message 23: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig I've read the section on Madison and Jefferson as Madison tries to get TJ back into politics. I think it is important that Madison was a equal to TJ in the relationship, not protege. This latter term might apply to Monroe. They were a good team.

You also see how TJ meant good things for Adams' presidency at first. Sad as the two split apart, though.

One comment that stuck out for me is that Ellis mentions that any president after Washington was going to be hard. It was Washington and he left at a good time right before the bitterness of the political parties hit a high point. I think this is a fair statement, but I wonder if TJ could have done a better job than Adams if he won in 1796.

message 24: by Vincent (new)

Vincent (vpbrancato) | 1245 comments Bryan wrote: "Good comments Vince.

He bought local iron I think from Richmond and sold the nails to local people and used them himself for the house. He never exported them.

It is common to have your own ki..."

Hi Bryan

I cannot really specify where/how I build my Jefferson opinion before this book. Just from general reading etc.

I never before had the detail of his special sorting of blacks etc. - that is detrimental to his image that I previously held.

If I think about the most recent book I read that dealt with him noticeably it was Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose

Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose Stephen E. Ambrose

And there was to my memory little mention of non Louisiana purchase and exploration there.

I must admit that since joining this grou on good reads I am more analysising and more learning than my previous reading.


message 25: by Vincent (new)

Vincent (vpbrancato) | 1245 comments Bryan wrote: "Good comments Vince.

He bought local iron I think from Richmond and sold the nails to local people and used them himself for the house. He never exported them.

It is common to have your own ki..."

No I meant that he mentioned the competition of British imported nails.

If the iron from Richmond was made from ore anywhere nearby he should not have had a competition problem except from efficency and productivity.

Another big quesiton in the Iron business is not where he bought it from but where it was produced. Richmond was probalby the nearest commercial center for Monticello.

He made money but he didn't directly pay for labor.

message 26: by Bryan (new)

Bryan Craig Gotcha, thanks Vince.

message 27: by Marje (last edited Mar 29, 2010 05:30PM) (new)

Marje | 12 comments Bryan wrote: "My mind wandered to today when I read it, too. You hear today how the political system is broken, but I hear from historians that there were times that it was just as bad. I think this time of pa..."

Bryan, you voice what I had been thinking myself: I too am strangely comforted and relieved to know that the contention we are currently experiencing among our elected leaders, though disturbing, was part and parcel of the political lives of our founding fathers. The fact that they survived it should give us some hope that civility may eventually return.

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