Authors Peter Onuf and Leonard Sadosky want to rescue Jefferson from this rising tide of confusing interpretive currents. They are well qualified for the job. Leonard Sadosky is a PhD student with Peter Onuf, who in turn is the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Professor at the University of Virginia. Sadosky brings to the book the fresh perspective and enthusiasm of a postgraduate student, while Onuf is well known and respected for his work - often collaborative - on Jefferson and his era. The main message of this book, Onuf and Sadosky argue, is that Jefferson had a fairly clear goal. He endeavoured to create a perfect republic: 'a community whose politics, economy, and social life were governed, within and without, solely by republican principles'.(p. 1) His struggle to do so, they assert, illuminates the history of the first fifty years of the United States. Thus 'America' in this period can be seen 'in some meaningful sense' definitively to be 'Jeffersonian'.(p. 1)
Finally, Jefferson also committed his presidency to the protection of civil liberties and minority rights. As he explained in his , "though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression." Jefferson's experience of Federalist repression in the late 1790s led him to more clearly define a central concept of American democracy.
Chapter 7: The Jeffersonian Era | AMERICA TO 1877
As the first peaceful transition of political power between opposing parties in U.S. history, however, the election of 1800 had far-reaching significance. Jefferson appreciated the momentous change and his inaugural address called for reconciliation by declaring that, "We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists."
The Progressive Era Still Haunts Us Today | Mises Institute
The final chapter looks outwards, to the new nation's relations with other states. Tracing the issues and problems confronting the new union of republics from the Revolution to the early nineteenth century, the authors here explore the ways in which Americans defined their sovereignty and their sovereign nation status, and grappled with its attendant dilemmas. Indeed, in struggling for self-preservation within a factious 'Atlantic States System', Republicans and Federalists alike were forced to confront the limits of their own extended republic. As the federal government assumed greater sovereignty over foreign diplomacy, both states and individuals worried that such concentrations of power would undermine cherished republican principles and destroy the union. The ultimate irony lay in the fact that Jefferson's model world order of peaceful republican states was constantly threatened by almost continuous foreign conflict and war and internal dissension. Moreover, it was the Republicans - Jefferson's heirs - not the Federalists, who brought America into a second European war in which they did not hesitate to use the full extent of state power to preserve the union, even at the expense of constitutional principles. In the end, Jefferson himself remained ambiguous, even pessimistic about the future of the federal republic and extended union. He was right to have doubts: the tensions engendered by a republic of republics - each supposedly capable of defining and pursuing their common interests - would only be resolved by a war between the States that started a mere 34 years after Jefferson died.
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These brief summaries cannot do justice to the range of arguments, nuanced interpretations, and extensive historiographic asides that the authors employ in this text. It is a rich book that moves well beyond summarising principal lines of Jeffersonian scholarship and provides much food for thought for those who might tackle Jefferson yet. But for these same reasons, it is difficult to see how this book can and will be used in the classroom. The series goal is to provide concise books that can supplement a textbook, or perhaps for the advanced student, a text itself that could be supplemented with other readings, including primary sources. Though challenging and provocative at times, few undergraduates, even advanced students, will persevere through the sometimes dense interpretive text, especially if they have just waded through a textbook. The book might yet be used as a core text in an advanced undergraduate class. However, few markers help the slower readers along, and the uninterrupted pages of text will make even the hardiest student blanch. Nor will they be helped by the organization of the book. The interpretive essays make for wide-ranging arguments, but the reader is often left floundering in a sea of detail and diverse arguments that do not make for a straightforward read.