Book Review on Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson by Norman Risjord is a biography of the third president of the United States that takes Thomas Jefferson from his youth through his later years in the early 19th century. The purpose of this book is to give a political and social overview of the Thomas Jefferson’s life and career. It was written for both the student of American history and the casual reader interested in the genesis of the United States government, seen through the eyes of one of its founding fathers.
The value of this book is that it shows that Jefferson was not a saint, yet he was one of the most intelligent presidents that the country has ever had. Risjord has given the book great value because he has framed Jefferson among his peers. Consequently, the book truly comes to life, and the reader is able to learn about Jefferson as well as his contemporaries James Madison, John Marshall, and John Adams.
The scope of the book is all-inclusive. Risjord begins with Jefferson’s birth on April 13, 1743 on his father’s plantation, Shadwell, in Goochland County on the western edge.
The narrative continues on to show Jefferson graduating from William and Mary College, then entering politics in Virginians House of Burgesses in 1769. Jefferson married Martha Skelton on New Year’s Day, 1772.
With the Virginia legislature from 1776 to 1779, Jefferson formed the groundwork for abolition of entail and primogeniture, for the establishment of religious freedom, and not for the public school system.
Jefferson was of course the author of the Declaration of Independence, and because he had set this document in motion, he waited out the Revolutionary War to see if the colonies would win. If they had lost, Jefferson would have been hanged for treason against the King of England.
He served as the minister to France from 1785 to 1789. At this time there was growing opposition to Alexander Hamilton and his policies, and Jefferson associated himself with a group called the Republicans, who were actually forerunners to the present Democratic Party.
While Jefferson was serving as vice President from 1797 to 1801, he drafted the Kentucky Resolutions. He was elected President following a long deadlock with Aaron Burr in the House of Representatives. This happened mainly because Alexander Hamilton considered Burr the more dangerous man and he gave his support to Jefferson.
Jefferson’s election was a great victory for the democratic forces, but it was black Tuesday to the thousands of Federalists who believed that the Republican leader was an atheistic anarchist who feared that his administration would be that of a bloodyhanded revolutionist.
Jefferson was the first President to be inaugurated in Washington, a city that he had helped to plan. He became famous for the republican simplicity that he established there. During his first administration he achieved the Louisiana Purchase and oversaw the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
During his second administration, Jefferson tried to enforce such measures as the Embargo Act of 1807, even though this brought a great deal of opposition. Once he retired from public life, Jefferson moved back to his beloved Monticello. It was at this time that he founded the University of Virginia and continued his activities as a scientist, architect, and philosopher-statesman.
In his later years, Jefferson wrote about his view of the future, when he saw that the people would be enlightened by free education. Under a forward thinking democratic-republican institution, the people could govern themselves better than under any other system.
His friend James Madison evoked these words when Jefferson died on the Forth of July in 1826. He lives and will live in the memory and gratitude of the wise and of the good, as luminary of Science, as a votary of liberty, as a model of patriotism, and as a benefactor of human kind.
The style is controversial and the book offers insights into Jefferson’s psychology as well as historical data. Risjord does well by his chapter headings, as they divide Jefferson’s life into Vice President and President etc. And so they provide easy access.