“I am an Anti-Christ/I am an Anarchist…” – John Lydon
American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson (image courtesy Wikimedia)
Joseph J. Ellis’s excellent study of the character of perhaps the most beloved and certainly the most enigmatic member of that group that we think of as the Founding Fathers, is called, aptly, American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson. Ellis’s work is not a biography of Jefferson (he readily admits that there are thorough multi-volume treatments of Jefferson’s life that are, for all intents and purposes, definitive). Ellis tries – and in large part succeeds – in pursing another, certainly elusive, goal: an explication of Jefferson’s character.
Like any human, Jefferson was a person of contradictions and inconsistencies – as Ellis illuminates in this work. What originally attracted Ellis to this project, it seems, was not the desire to point out Jefferson’s flaws but instead a sincere…
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