“Two centuries after he helped create America, Thomas Jefferson remains a figure of enduring fascination…” (Introduction, Thomas Jefferson : America’s Philosopher-King by Max Lerner)
It seems to be true. Thomas Jefferson was a paradox.
A recurring consistency of Jefferson’s character appears to be his inconsistency. This theme appears in every book synopsis, every basic summary of Jefferson that I’ve read so far. Words like ‘ambiguous’, ‘contradictory’ and ‘complex’ fly fast and furious. And, to top it all off, Thomas Jefferson loved to sing…yes, he was a singer, everywhere, all the time! Picture that! I am in Thomas Jefferson heaven, and can barely believe that there was a time not too far back when I had ‘no passion’ for tackling the study and discovery of this infinitely intriguing revolutionary, author and eventual United States president.
Like Washington (link), Thomas Jefferson lost his father at a young age. He was fourteen. Also like Washington, Jefferson was the eldest child (having a brother and six sisters) and became more or less the ‘head’ of the family. (I have noticed, in my own experiences and acquaintances, that persons of exceptional achievements often come from broken/strained/difficult family situations. I have seen it again and again. Certainly not a requirement, but sometimes painful deprivations provide a fertile breeding ground for a character of destiny.)
Most of Thomas Jefferson’s personal papers were destroyed in a fire in 1770, so information concerning much of his earlier life is scarce. A certain amount of guesswork is involved. Interesting, though, that after 1770, even with the availability of evidence, the aforementioned contradictions flourish.
For instance, descriptions of Jefferson’s physical appearance clash. Edmund Bacon, his overseer at Monticello, described Jefferson’s skin as “very clear and pure”, yet most portraits show him as heavily-freckled, his complexion at times reddish. His eyes are said to have been blue, hazel, or green, depending on the teller of the story. An ex-slave recalled Thomas Jefferson’s
stance to be erect, “a tall, straight-bodied man as ever you see”, but many others saw Jefferson as “loosely-jointed and seemingly collapsible, all wrists, elbows and ankles”, according to Joseph J. Ellis, author of American Sphinx: the Character of Thomas Jefferson. While none of these disparate facts in and of themselves really matter, I find it interesting that they should exist at all, given the elusive nature of the mind of the man himself.
Well, ladies & gentlemen, I know this isn’t much, but it’s a start…I have so much more to say, I can feel it growing…I hope to return soon, I hope you will as well…
As we usher in 2009 this New Year’s Eve, may God be with you all, and may He continue to guide our leaders, protect our country and show us His grace, His mercy and His Son.