Thomas Jefferson by R. B. Bernstein

When I was in school, Thomas Jefferson was portrayed as a saint; a man who wrote the Declaration of Independence and helped frame the Constitution. Jefferson spoke of equal rights for all, liberty, justice, and that all men are created equal.

I usually don't read a lot of biographies because I find them too long and mixed with too many irrelevant opinions. Bernstein's bio of Jefferson, however, is concise and is an easy read.

In truth, Jefferson was much more complex than our teachers told us. He found his ideals of limited governmental powers a burden when he was a diplomat and as President trying to get things accomplished. He exercised more power as President that he had often espoused that a President should. He spoke of equality for all, yet he was a slaveowner who wanted the slaves freed, yet bore a hidden fear that if they were, they might revolt and take over. He also was aware of how much he depended upon slave labor to work his beloved Monticello.

The book also speaks of Sally Hemmings, the slave by which Jefferson supposedly had a relationship (this happens years after the death of Jefferson's wife, Martha, it should be noted). The book does not draw conclusions, only presents facts as best as history knows them.

In all, it was the best biography I've read in a long time and recommend it if you would like a new look at one of our most famous Americans.


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