Saturday, February 19, 2011

Thomas Jefferson: Public Servant

During a July 2010 tour of Monticello, a guide told us Thomas Jefferson was such an introvert, one year he mailed in his state of the union address so that he wouldn’t have to make the speech. Surprising, considering the length of Jefferson’s public service (1770-1809) and constant stream of uninvited visitors to his home.  Another tour guide also told us that Jefferson’s guests had to wait in Monticello’s foyer until he had finished his daily readings and correspondence. Perhaps this was simply his discipline, but it may also have reflected his introverted nature.

Ninety miles south of Monticello, his main residence, Jefferson built a personal retreat home and ran a working plantation on inherited land called Poplar Forest. Only John Adams and a small number of friends even knew about Poplar Forest; even fewer were ever invited there, though family was always welcome. In those days, 90 miles was a two-and-a-half- to three-day journey. As one of his granddaughters noted, Jefferson found at Poplar Forest time to “carry on his favorite pursuits—to think, to study, to read.”

In Poplar Forest and Thomas Jefferson, S. Allen Chambers, Jr. underscores this with several direct quotations. Chambers says, “Throughout these (1774-1778) and later years of public service, Jefferson regularly expressed the wish to be at home, among his family and friends. Less than a month after he became governor of Virginia, on June 1, 1779, he wrote, ‘The hour of private retirement to which I am drawn by my nature with a propensity almost irresistible, will be the most welcome of my life.’”

I have long admired Thomas Jefferson for his personal and professional accomplishments; his appreciation of French culture; his passion for bringing life to and from land; his moral compass; his contribution as a Founding Father. Just the more notable tumultuous events of the time—the Revolutionary War, federalist-antifederalist (predecessors to modern-day Democratic-Republican) arguments, attacks on American trade ships by France and Britain, America’s war against pirates of the Barbary States, Aaron Burr’s treason, abolition of the slave trade—would challenge any politician. Given Jefferson’s contemplative nature, I have a new appreciation for his public service.

1 comment:

Ferree Bowman Hardy said...

If he can do it, I can do it--yikes, and probably not . . . But it's good to know that he not only overcame so many political obstacles, but also the personal fears, reservations and draining stress of being an introvert. I've enjoyed many of these posts, and your writing is colorful and clear. Good job!