Thomas Jefferson: Author of America by Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens seems like a smug talking head when it comes to discussing American politics. It isn't per se his English accent that makes him appear smug but his self riotous behavior and his condemnation of anything or anybody that does not agree with him. However his work on Thomas Jefferson surprised me. Clearly he is a fan of Jefferson however he is able to take off the rose colored glasses that many writers about American History's most popular subjects use and honestly put Jefferson's life and his actions in a proper light.
Hitchens properly describes Jefferson's brilliance in drafting the Declaration of Independence and his humble nature in his return to his Virginia farm. When called to be Minister of France, Jefferson was able to embrace the Monarchy in France without compromising his Revolutionary principles. Jefferson's performance as President was in Hitchens estimation uneven and his embrace of isolationism during the Napoleonic Wars put the United States in an economic crisis which made exploitation by the great powers of the day (Great Britain and France) all the more easy. While Jefferson expanded the American "empire" with the Louisiana Purchase his trade policy as well as the general distaste he had for all things British made it impossible to grow the new territories and stabilize the frontier against Indian attacks. (The Indians were being egged on by the British.).
Slavery is the issue which most illustrates Jefferson's inconsistencies. Not only did Jefferson own slaves and allegedly have an affair with Sally Hemmings, but he believed slavery was to be an intergal part of the future of America's economy. Jefferson rejected Alexander Hamilton's embrace of industry and overseas financial markets in favor of an agrarian, rural based economy. While Jefferson believed the slave trade was immoral and deep down had qualms with slavery itself, he made every plausible effort to defend the peculiar institution. Hitchens seems most troubled by an episode that few historians discuss with regards to Jefferson. Despite being the ultimate revolutionary and someone who spoke regularly about Egalitarian principles, Jefferson was the American most concerned about the revolution against France fermenting in Haiti. Jefferson condemned the Haitian revolutionaries in a very public matter and used his position as Secretary of State in George Washington's administration to try and aide France's effort to put down the rebellion. Jefferson's greatest rival Alexander Hamilton, on the other hand sympathized with the rebellion and was able to help thwart any possible American support for the French.
Hitchens does a masterful job of giving an objective view of Jefferson's brilliance and his flaws. I strongly recommend this book as an insightful and quick read.
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- I am the host of the Major League Soccer Talk and EPL Talk Podcasts and am frequent guest on other (world) football shows. I am also the publisher of various other websites including this one. I work in public/government relations in addition to my soccer work and have a keen interest in history, politics, aviation, travel,and the world around us.