Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham

Summary
  1. Interesting biography on the philosopher/politician who was responsible for writing the Declaration of Independence, the Louisiana Purchase, instilling a belief in America of continuous improvement and more
Key Takeaways
  1. Can be considered one of the most successful political figures of The first 50 years of the American republic (1743-1826). His dynasty of similar thinking presidents was unmatched and their goal was the development and furtherance of a popular government – the will of an enlightened majority should prevail. The public is the hope and savior of the republic – opposite the view of the Federalists
  2. The greatest leaders are not dreamers nor dictators but those who understand the mechanics of influence and know when to change their minds. People are always torn between the ideal and the real. The true leaders know how to balance this tension. Jefferson’s combination of philosopher and politician is what helped make him so powerful
  3. His escape was Monticello and he was very well read and multidimensional in his talents and studies.
  4. Foes thought of him as an atheist, dreamer, womanizer, Francophile.
  5. Responsible for the rise of individualism, Louisiana purchase and the opening of the west, Lewis and Clark expedition, democratic move in America to check the power of established forces, gave the nation the idea of American progress and the future will be better than the past. Thought of as the designer of America
  6. Jefferson was very worried and perhaps paranoid about Britain and anything remotely resembling monarchy. He considered America in a perennial war and nothing in America to be secure
  7. Jefferson’s father was a rich and powerful farmer who taught him how to wield and handle power effectively. His father died when he was 14 but his mother was very impressive and held down the home
  8. Jefferson headed to William and Mary where he was exposed to the world of politics
  9. Jefferson considered sloth and indolence a sin and was known to spend 15 hours per day studying and reading. Believed history is philosophy teaching by example and spent a lot of time studying history to know how to respond when it repeats itself
  10. Jefferson married Martha Wales Skelton in 1772 when he was 28. His first daughter Jane died before her second birthday and was devastating for him and his wife
  11. Jefferson played a critical role in the second continental congress which was charged with prepping the country for war against Britain
  12. Jefferson was elected governor of Virginia at a very unstable time where Britain was threatening to attack and abolish slavery. Jefferson was not a great leader during this time and failed to react quickly enough to stave off Benedict Arnold, Cornwallis and the English. Soon after he retired from his post and spent much time at Monticello in an almost secluded manner. Although many were fascinated and awed by Jefferson, he considered himself a failure at this point in his life
  13. His wife died when he was only 39 and it caused him severe depression
  14. Jefferson took the post of US Minister to France and moved to Paris with his eldest daughter, Patsy. His goal was to study and adapt the best European inventions, designs and other ways of life for American use. He was enamored with the French culture and later criticized for being a Francophile. He was Franklin’s successor and promoted a strong and united America for Europe. He lived quite lavishly and became close friends with John Adams and his family until e moved back to the US to become Secretary of State
  15. After a contentious bill to abolish slavery was not passed, Jefferson decided it was not worth his political reputation to fight for an idea who’s time he believed had not yet come
  16. Sally Hemings was the slave Jefferson had sexual relations with and was in fact his wife’s half sister
  17. Jefferson butted heads with Alexander Hamilton who was Secretary of the Treasury and who wanted to fund a national debt, charter a national bank, absorb state debts and raise funds from tariffs on imports and liquor. They had a lifelong rivalry that would shape the nation      Republican vs Federalist. Populist vs monarchist
  18. The meeting of principles must often be undertaken away from the public eye
  19. Jefferson retired as Secretary of State but soon returned and won the VP nomination. He was instrumental during the quasi war with France which never escalated to full out warfare
  20. Jefferson was elected as the third president of the US with Aaron Burr as his VP
  21. Although a populist and widely believed in the will of the people, Jefferson was very aware of how important it was to have differing opinions and public discourse. To try to minimize that would lead to tyranny
  22. Tensions with Spain arose as Jefferson expanded and explored the continent westward. However, he decided a stance of neutrality would best serve the nation and did not sign any treaties with Britain
  23. Jefferson, like nearly all politicians, was forced to moderate and compromise his political ideals once he was actually in office
  24. Aaron Burr posed a bug threat for some time as he was thought to be building a militia in the west with possible hopes of either attacking or splitting off from America to form his own empire
  25. Time often resolves the problems of the hour
  26. An attack by a British ship on an American ship almost lead to war and in this time of crisis Jefferson greatly expanded the power of the executive branch. He enacted a very controversial embargo
  27. Jefferson retired after his second term to Monticello where he spent much time with family and studying. He eventually made amends with Adams and corresponded with him regularly
  28. Jefferson fought through old age and illness to make it to his last Fourth of July in 1826
What I got out of it
  1. After reading Hamilton and John Adams, I wanted to get a different perspective and Meacham provided that. Jefferson was a politician/philosopher who believed in the common people and instilled in the nation a sense of progress where the future can always be better than the past