Thomas Jefferson, Neither God Nor Devil
By JENNIFER SCHUESSLER
Thomas Jefferson has long been a lightning rod, but the past year has been tougher on him than usual. Protesters on college campuses have plastered Jefferson statues with Post-it notes reading “racist” and “rapist.” And on Broadway, the musical “Hamilton” has deliciously skewered him as a flamboyantly scheming hypocrite.
Still, on a recent afternoon, there was America’s third president, standing serenely on his pedestal in front of the Columbia School of Journalism, flanked by Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter S. Onuf, the authors of the latest book to plumb the mysteries of his character.
Mr. Onuf arrived wearing a Jefferson-themed tie, which seems appropriate for a scholar who holds the imposing title of Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation professor emeritus at the University of Virginia. But don’t take his and Ms. Gordon-Reed’s book, “‘Most Blessed of the Patriarchs’: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination,” as a defense of the man — or an attack, for that matter.
“Every Jefferson biography on the shelf is a polemic, one way or another, but we wanted to get beyond that,” Mr. Onuf said…
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