Henry Adams (Hardcover)
History of the United States Vol. 1 1801-1809 (LOA #31): The Administrations of Thomas Jefferson (Library of America Henry Adams Edition #2)
Library of America, 9780940450349, 1308pp.
Publication Date: July 4, 1986
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With a cast of characters including Aaron Burr, Napoleon Bonaparte, Albert Gallatin, John Randolph, Toussaint L’Ouverture, and the complex, brilliantly delineated character of Thomas Jefferson, the first volume is unrivaled in its handling of diplomatic intrigue and political factionalism. Upon assuming office, Jefferson discovers that his optimistic laissez-faire principles—designed to prevent American government from becoming a militaristic European "tyranny"—clash with the realities of European war and American security. The party of small government presides over the Louisiana Purchase, the most extensive use of executive power the country has yet seen. Jefferson’s embargo—a high-minded effort at peaceable coercion—breeds corruption and smuggling, and the former defender of states’ rights is forced to use federal power to suppress them. The passion for peace and liberty pushes the country toward war.
In the center of these ironic reversals, played out in a Washington full of diplomatic intrigue, is the complex figure of Jefferson himself, part tragic visionary, part comic mock-hero. Like his contemporary Napoleon Bonaparte, he is swept into power by the rising tide of democratic nationalism; unlike Bonaparte, he tries to avert the consequences of the wolfish struggle for power among nation-states.
The grandson of one president and the great-grandson of another, Adams gained access to hitherto secret archives in Europe. The diplomatic documents that lace the history lend a novelistic intimacy to scenes such as Jefferson’s conscientious introduction of democratic table manners into stuffily aristocratic state dinner parties. Written in a strong, lively style pointed with Adams’s wit, the History chronicles the consolidation of American character, and poses questions about the future course of democracy.
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