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Offers a defense of Thomas Jefferson's advocacy for a strict separation of church and state by examining his views on religious freedom. Shows how the First Amendment's focus on maintaining the authority of states to regulate religious freedom demonstrates that Jefferson demanded a firm separation of church and state within the United States but never sought a wholly secular public square.
Of all the founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson stood out as the most controversial and confounding. Loved and hated, revered and reviled, during his lifetime he served as a lightning rod for dispute. Few major figures in American history provoked such a polarization of public opinion. One supporter described him as the possessor of "an enlightened mind and superior wisdom; the adorer of our God; the patriot of his country; and the friend and benefactor of the whole human race." Martha Washington, however, considered Jefferson "one of the most detestable of mankind"--and she was not alone. While Jefferson’s supporters organized festivals in his honor where they praised him in speeches and songs, his detractors portrayed him as a dilettante and demagogue, double-faced and dangerously radical, an atheist and "Anti-Christ" hostile to Christianity. Characterizing his beliefs as un-American, they tarred him with the extremism of the French Revolution. Yet his allies cheered his contributions to the American Revolution, unmasking him as the now formerly anonymous author of the words that had helped to define America in the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson, meanwhile, anxiously monitored the development of his image. As president he even clipped expressions of praise and scorn from newspapers, pasting them in his personal scrapbooks. In this fascinating new book, historian Robert M. S. McDonald explores how Jefferson, a man with a manner so mild some described it as meek, emerged as such a divisive figure. Bridging the gap between high politics and popular opinion, Confounding Father exposes how Jefferson’s bifurcated image took shape both as a product of his own creation and in response to factors beyond his control. McDonald tells a gripping, sometimes poignant story of disagreements over issues and ideology as well as contested conceptions of the rules of politics. In the first fifty years of independence, Americans’ views of Jefferson revealed much about their conflicting views of the purpose and promise of America. Jeffersonian America
What did Thomas Jefferson look like? How did he carry himself? Such questions, reasonable to ask as we look back on a person who lived in an era before photography, are the starting point for this boldly original new work. Maurizio Valsania considers all aspects of Jefferson’s complex conception of "the body," from eighteenth-century clothing and fashion to manners, adornment, posture, gesture, and visual and material culture. Drawing also from the fields of medical science, psychology, and cultural anthropology, the author conjures a vivid and detailed re-creation of the third president as a living, breathing—and pondering—human being. Having situated Jefferson in his own body, Valsania looks at the embodied Jefferson in the world of his fellow humans. Any one of the other people in Jefferson’s society—whether that other person was male or female, free or enslaved, African American or Native American—was a critical counterexample for the eighteenth-century Virginian to define himself against, and Valsania’s explorations here lead to numerous insightful discoveries about race, gender, and structures of power. The first comprehensive exploration of Jefferson’s corporeal world, Jefferson’s Body brings the man vividly to life for the modern reader while deepening our understanding of what it meant to Jefferson to be alive.
“Excellent . . . deserves high praise. Mr. Taylor conveys this sprawling continental history with economy, clarity, and vividness.”—Brendan Simms, Wall Street Journal The American Revolution is often portrayed as a high-minded, orderly event whose capstone, the Constitution, provided the nation its democratic framework. Alan Taylor, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, gives us a different creation story in this magisterial history. The American Revolution builds like a ground fire overspreading Britain’s colonies, fueled by local conditions and resistant to control. Emerging from the continental rivalries of European empires and their native allies, the revolution pivoted on western expansion as well as seaboard resistance to British taxes. When war erupted, Patriot crowds harassed Loyalists and nonpartisans into compliance with their cause. The war exploded in set battles like Saratoga and Yorktown and spread through continuing frontier violence. The discord smoldering within the fragile new nation called forth a movement to concentrate power through a Federal Constitution. Assuming the mantle of “We the People,” the advocates of national power ratified the new frame of government. But it was Jefferson’s expansive “empire of liberty” that carried the revolution forward, propelling white settlement and slavery west, preparing the ground for a new conflagration.

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