Twilight at Monticello

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  • Copyright: 2009-02-10
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
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Much has been written about Thomas Jefferson, with good reason: His life was a great American dramaone of the greatestplayed out in compelling acts. He was the architect of our democracy, a visionary chief executive who expanded this nation's physical boundaries to unimagined lengths. ButTwilight at Monticellois something entirely new: an unprecedented and engrossing personal look at the intimate Jefferson in his final years that will change the way readers think about this true American icon. It was during these yearsfrom his return to Monticello in 1809 after two terms as president until his death in 1826that Jefferson's idealism would be most severely, and heartbreakingly, tested. Based on new research and documents culled from the Library of Congress, the Virginia Historical Society, and other special collections, including hitherto unexamined letters from family, friends, and Monticello neighbors, Alan Pell Crawford paints an authoritative and deeply moving portrait of Thomas Jefferson as private citizenthe first original depiction of the man in more than a generation. Here, told with grace and masterly detail, is Jefferson with his family at Monticello, dealing with illness and the indignities wrought by early-nineteenth-century medicine; coping with massive debt and the immense costs associated with running a grand residence; navigating public disputes and mediating family squabbles; receiving dignitaries and corresponding with close friends, including John Adams, theMarquis de Lafayette, and other heroes from the Revolution. Enmeshed as he was in these affairs during his final years, Jefferson was still a viable political force, advising his son-in-law Thomas Randolph during his terms as Virginia governor, helping the administration of his good friend President James Madison during the "internal improvements" controversy, and establishing the first wholly secular American institution of higher learning, the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. We also see Jefferson's views on slavery evolve, along with his awareness of the costs to civil harmony exacted by the Founding Fathers' failure to effectively reconcile slaveholding within a republic dedicated to liberty. Right up until his death on the fiftieth anniversary of America's founding, Thomas Jefferson remained an indispensable man, albeit a supremely human one. And it is precisely that figure Alan Pell Crawford introduces to us in the revelatoryTwilight at Monticello. 'Crawford (Thunder on the Right) offers his own equally compelling look, in this case at Jefferson's life, post-presidency, from 1809 until his death in 1826. Then a private citizen, Jefferson was burdened by financial and personal and political struggles within his extended family. His beloved estate, Monticello, was costly to maintain and Jefferson was in debt. Newly studying primary sources, Crawford thoroughly conveys the pathos of Jefferson's last years, even as he successfully established the University of Virginia (America's first wholly secular university) and maintained contact with James Madison, John Adams, and other luminaries. He personally struggled with political, moral, and religious issues; Crawford shows us a complex, self-contradictory, idealistic, yet tragic figure, helpless to stabilize his family and finances. Historians and informed readers alike will find much to relish in both of these distinctive works of original scholarship. Both are recommended for academic and large public libraries. Library Journal "In "Twilight at Monticello," Alan Pell Crawford treats his subject with grace and sympathetic understanding, and with keen penetration as well, showing the great man's contradictions (and hypocrisies) for what they were." Wa

Author Biography

Alan Pell Crawford is the author of Unwise Passions: A True Story of a Remarkable Woman–and the First Great Scandal of Eighteenth-Century America and Thunder on the Right: The “New Right” and the Politics of Resentment. His writings have appeared in American History, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, and he is a regular book reviewer for The Wall Street Journal. Crawford has had a residential fellowship at the International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello. He lives in Richmond, Virginia.

From the Hardcover edition.

Table of Contents

Prologue "I Shall Be for Ever at Ease"p. xiii
Morning and Midday
A Society of Would-be Country Squiresp. 3
An Upcountry Princep. 8
The Education of a Philosopherp. 14
The Young Revolutionaryp. 17
The Crucible of Revolutionp. 20
"Whence He Might Contemplate the Whole Universe"p. 24
"The Hated Occupations of Politics"p. 26
The Revolutionary Takes Commandp. 33
"In a State of Almost Total Incapacity"p. 41
Late Afternoon and Sunset
"A Prisoner Released from His Chains"p. 55
"Elevated Above the Mass of Mankind"p. 63
"When I Expect to Settle my Grandchildren"p. 70
"The Shock of an Earthquake"p. 78
Old Friends Reunitedp. 83
At War Againp. 91
"This Enterprise Is for the Young"p. 98
"When I Reflect That God Is Just"p. 105
A Library for "the American Statesman"p. 110
Jeff Randolph Takes a Wifep. 113
The Realm of "Sobriety and Cool Reason"p. 117
"To Witness the Death of All Our Companions"p. 123
"The Eternal Preservation of Republican Principles"p. 128
The Indulgent Patriarchp. 134
The "Yellow Children" of the Mountaintopp. 139
"Something Very Great and Very New"p. 150
Struggling "All Our Lives with Debt & Difficulty"p. 157
Blood in the Streets of Charlottesvillep. 164
Fire, Sickness, Drought, and Stormp. 170
A Philosophe's Faithp. 182
"We Shall Have Every Religious Man in Virginia Against Us"p. 190
The Death Knell of the Unionp. 194
The "Hideous Evil" of Slaveryp. 197
"Ah, Jefferson!" "Ah, Lafayette!"p. 201
"More Than Patience Could Endure"p. 208
"Take Care of Me When Dead "p. 213
"An Inspiration from the Realms of Bliss"p. 223
"I Have Given My Whole Life to My Country"p. 227
"Is It the Fourth?"p. 234
Epiloguep. 247
Acknowledgmentsp. 265
Notesp. 267
Indexp. 311
Illustration Creditsp. 321
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.


Part One

Morning and Midday

Chapter 1

A Society of Would-be Country Squires

The Virginia Piedmont, to which Thomas Jefferson returned upon his retirement from the presidency early in 1809, had not changed much since his birth there on April 13, 1743. Jefferson was born at his father’s tobacco plantation, Shadwell, on the Rivanna River, which flows through a gap in a small range called the Southwest Mountains. A few miles west of Shadwell, on the far side of the Southwest Mountains, the town of Charlottesville would be established. Just past Charlottesville stood the Blue Ridge Mountains, beyond which lay the Shenandoah Valley, walled off by the more imposing Alleghenies. On the other side of the Alleghenies stretched the great American West.

This was rugged territory in 1734, when Peter Jefferson received his first land grant in what would become Albemarle County, and it would remain rugged for decades to come. As late as the American Revolution, a halfcentury after Shadwell was built, Albemarle was a “dreary region of woods and wretchedness,” in the words of Thomas Anburey, a British officer held prisoner near Monticello but, as a gentleman, given considerable freedom of movement. Wild horses roamed at will, “and have no proprietors, but those on whose lands they are found,” Anburey observed. Hogs ran wild, and packs of wolves preyed on the deer as well as on any sheep the planters kept. Even in Jefferson’s time, a Monticello slave would recall, “you could see the wolves in gangs runnin’ and howlin’, same as a drove of hogs.” The Indians that had once lived there and left traces of their existence—an abandoned burial mound stood on Peter Jefferson’s property—had moved south and west or vanished altogether by the time the Englishmen began to build their houses.

The countryside where Peter Jefferson established his family was unlike that of the Virginia Tidewater, where wide and deep rivers—the James, Potomac, York, Rappahannock, and Appomattox—cut through vast expanses of fertile flatlands. Forty or fifty miles west of Richmond, as the Blue Ridge comes into view, the land becomes hilly; the valleys between the hills are cobwebbed with creeks, a geography that presented a greater agricultural challenge than the planters of the Tidewater were accustomed to, as Peter Jefferson and other settlers would soon discover.

These settlers, unlike the Jeffersons, were not all of English derivation. There were also scores of Scots-Irish and Germans who had come down from Pennsylvania through the Shenandoah Valley. These were farmers who made tidy livings from small but well-tended plots of ground, as John Hammond Moore has written in his history of Albemarle County, “doing their own work, with the help of sons, relatives, and hired hands.” Having never depended upon slaves to labor for them, these hardworking men (and women) either had little patience for the pretensions of the lordly slaveholders—or were intimidated by them.

Two years after Thomas Jefferson’s birth, when the first list of Albemarle County “tithables,” or white males eighteen and older, was compiled, there were only 1,394 taxpayers in the entire county. The total population of Albemarle—male and female, young and old, white and black, was about 4,250. About half of the people of Albemarle were enslaved, many just brought over from Africa.

The smallest group, though they wielded by far the greatest influence, were the self-styled gentlemen who had come from the East, bringing their slaves, their liquor, and sometimes their libraries. The most influential of the English settlers were the Jeffersons and the future president’s maternal relatives, the Randolphs.

To clear Albemarle’s hilly land and grow crops on it proved challenging to all the settlers

Excerpted from Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson by Alan Pell Crawford
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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