Jon Meacham | 2013 | 800 pages
In Meacham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Jefferson is depicted as a complex, largely morally righteous man who willfully thrusts himself to the center of his country’s moment of definition- its rebellion from Britain- and fights virtually to his death to preserve liberty from what he perceived to be relentless monastic threats from all quarters, including congress.
Yet, Meacham reminds us, Jefferson’s principles were often compromised by circumstance. At the heart of the biography’s message is that Jefferson was a pragmatic [in both the best and worse sense of the word] leader who yearned for power and was willing to negotiate to secure it, both for himself and for his state [Virginia] and country. Indeed, in the case of slavery, his generation’s chief social and economic issue, Jefferson chose to remain silent, refusing to take meaningful public steps to eradicate what he privately considered a tragedy- despite the fact that he kept dozens of slaves on his beloved Monticello mountaintop estate until the day he died.
Meacham’s broad-ranging life of Jefferson, though, largely paints the nation’s third president as a sympathetic, courageous leader who saw the country through enormous threats from abroad while vastly growing his country through the Louisiana Purchase and exploring the American West through the Lewis & Clark expedition. Jefferson is portrayed as the right man at the right time in our nation’s history, a lesson we can all embrace in every facet of life- timing is everything and the right people make all the difference.