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The story of illustrious men cannot be too often retold. Like great outstanding mountain-peaks, these men invite description but elude definition; they provoke examination but defy exhaustion. The changing hues of political atmosphere, the shifting perspective of social and economic theories, combine with the peculiar equipment, apperception, penchants, and even (alas !) prejudices of each biographer to make any and every interpretation of his hero only a partial, restricted, and temporary one. We grasp so much of the spirit as we can comprehend—and as there are infinite gradations of comprehension, so there are infinite varieties of portrayal. The wonder is not that there are so many different interpretations of the lives of great men, but rather that there is so large a consensus in the case of a great number of them.

Of this number, however, Thomas Jefferson is not one. Though placed by the common consent of scholars in the first class of American statesmen, with Franklin, Washington, Hamilton, Webster, and Lincoln, Jefferson seems far less willing than any of his illustrious compeers to fall into his definitive place of honor. Washington and Lincoln were maligned in life as no other Americans have been;




their abuse, like their merit, was superlative. But to-day their merit alone remains, acknowledged by all. No one contests Benjamin Franklin's position as our first great statesman, philosopher, and scientist-the man who raised common sense to the level of genius, and made the name America known and respected in the world. Few to-day, even though they may detest his politics, would deny to Alexander Hamilton the title of the master genius of American finance or refuse to acknowledge the unique contribution of the Federalist to political theory. But Thomas Jefferson is still a subject for acrimonious criticism and chivalrous defense. The campaign controversies of the year 1800 have not yet died down to silence. The perpetuation or the refutation of slanders, objurgations, innuendoes occupies even the latest of Jefferson's biographers. The very men often who acclaim him cannot refrain from sneers; and even his bitter political enemies lean on his authority. A Populist senator of the last generation remarked that “every opinion delivered in the Senate of the United States was backed by a quotation from Thomas Jefferson.” His name is cited more often than any other in our political platforms, his portrait hangs with Washington's and Lincoln's in our convention halls, his principles are appealed to as the creed of every true American. Surely, there is no stranger problem of our political psychology than this mixture of venera

tion and vituperation, of inspiration and exaspera-
tion, still provoked by the mention of the name of
Thomas Jefferson.

Suggestions in explanation of this anomaly will
appear frequently in the following pages. Here I
can only urge the obvious but too often neglected
truism that the excellences of men are diverse, and
that genius, as Lord Acton said long ago, deserves
to be judged by its own best performance. To call
Kreisler a second-rate fiddler because he cannot
sing like Caruso, or Botticelli a mere dauber because
he does not paint in the style of Raphael, appears
at once as arrant nonsense; yet many a respectable
historian has based his whole condemnatory judg-
ment of Jefferson on the fact that he was not like
Hamilton. Indeed, no more astonishingly persistent
prejudice can be found in our American historiog-
raphy than the treatment of these two great men
like twin buckets in a well, alternately elevated or de-
pressed according as an historian of the Federalist or
the Republican school manipulated the chain. Jef-
ferson was in public life almost continuously from
his entrance into the Virginia House of Burgesses
in 1769 to his retirement from the presidency in
1809. During less than four of those forty years
was he in direct contact with Hamilton in the stormy
scenes around Washington's cabinet table. Grave
and important differences between these men were
there revealed, to be sure; disagreement on the

extent and nature of the powers of the central government, on the relative value of urban-industrial and agricultural communities, on the capacity of the common people for self-government. But important as these matters are, they by no means exhaust the interests of Jefferson's many-sided activity; nor should they be dwelt on, as they often have been, to the exclusion or obscuration of his splendid services to our diplomacy and public law, to the reform of inveterate social despotisms, to the clarification of the political philosophy of democracy, and to the advancement of freedom of thought, speech, and creed through a widely extended system of public education.

It has been my desire to present the whole man Jefferson in this modest volume, and to present him as far as possible in the first person. The portrait need not be less faithful because the canvas is small; though the form and size of my book are themselves a sufficient disclaimer of any attempt to add an "original contribution" to the mass of Jeffersonian scholarship. I have wished only to write a truthful and readable account of the life of a great American citizen, who served his fellow-citizens long and devotedly in public office, and who will continue to serve his fellow-men so long as freedom is loved and fought for.



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