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Jon Meacham’s View of Thomas Jefferson as a Significant Figure in American History

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Jon Meacham’s ‘Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power’ takes a look into the life of the 3rd President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. However, his story does not begin there, Jefferson was a well-known individual before his presidency. He was a man of culture, philosophy, and politics. Jefferson defied the original thinking of having to be either a person intensely knowledgeable on culture or just politics. Instead, he pursued both of these areas and created thought through looking at the world around him. He was a person who could enter a room and open people up rather than being larger-than life; closing himself off from the ordinary man. Despite this aura, he was in-fact, larger than life. Thomas Jefferson, being one of the founders of the United States, helped to give life to the country we live in today. His thoughts, principals, and actions have carried over into the modern era. Meacham takes a look into this extraordinary figure’s life and weaves together a tapestry that stitches together Jefferson’s life. He meticulously pays close attention to each stitch, thus, showing readers the creation of the Thomas Jefferson.

Meacham’s thesis looks into what influenced Jefferson’s policies and views of the world around him. He dives deep into the thoughts, relationships, and actions that created Jefferson’s perception of how the United States should run. As his title states, “The Art of Power”, shows how Jefferson was able to both move his audience through his words, but also pushed them into action. He was eloquent and charming, but not so flowery and unreachable that he pushed the common man away. In short, Meacham looks into how Jefferson’s experiences and actions were so influential in creating the man that went down in American history.

Jon Meacham is an author who writes biographies looking into the lives of popular American history individuals through the ages. His works are mostly on United State Presidents and how they became the people that would eventual take control stirring the ship that is the United States. Some of these presidents include, respectively, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Andrew Jackson. Meacham works as the editor and the Executive Vice President for the publishing company known as Random House. Not only this, but he also spends time working as an editor for Time magazine. From viewing his works and his career life, it is quite clear that Meacham knows the inner-workings of how to become a successful published author. What was not clear, until reading the book, is that not only does he know how to be a publisher, but he can also write a biographical piece that is both heart-warming and instils American pride without being flamboyant.

Meacham uses many primary and secondary sources that look at the writings and relationships of those who were in Jefferson’s life. This was both from political figures and individuals from his private life who had a more intimate relationship with this revolutionary icon. These writings reveal, not only Jefferson’s thoughts, but the opinions that others had thought of him. This helps readers see not only the public view of Jefferson, but the private view that few would have seen during his time of government politics. These two points-of-view helps show a character that is deeper than his written and spoken words. We see the man, and his passions, that reveal the true magnitude of his life.

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Evidence that Meacham uses to prove his thesis that Jefferson uses the power of words to shift the public to his will is littered throughout the work. However, instances that bring to light the true power Jefferson possessed can be found when Meacham discusses Jefferson’s earlier life. Jefferson was in awe of political figures of his time that had a way with words that he saw that he lacked; one such figure was Patrick Henry. Instead of wishing that he could be an orator, such as these men, he decided to work towards this skill. Jefferson learned how to let the audience talk rather than speaking over them with his ideals. He talked to people about their own lives, he spoke to them about the views they held and the values that were important to them, and most importantly he cared about these views. A visual representation of Jefferson’s power is with the signing of the Louisiana Purchase. Before the actual signing, Jefferson had gotten a name for himself during the Revolutionary War as being a coward. Not because he actually was, but because he had fled Monticello from the incoming British lead by Benedict Arnold and Cornwallis. This did not look good to the colonist, but what would they have had him do? Sit and be captured and hung for treason? Regardless of looking at this from a rational point of view, this had bothered Jefferson. So, when we jump to the time of the Louisiana Purchase, we have more of an understanding of why Jefferson bypassed congressional approval. Originally Jefferson was to go to congress and get approval for the purchase of the French Territory. However, after time had passed with trying to get the deal to go through, Napoleon started to second-guess the selling of the land. To avoid losing out on doubling the size of the country and looking like a coward, Jefferson, with much hast, agreed to the purchase without the approval of congress. This rash decision would be one that would later spark the Louis and Clark expeditions.

Meacham successfully proves his thesis on Jefferson. Jefferson was cultured and endowed in the sense of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. He knew that the forming of a country, split from its master, had challenges ahead, but he took great pride in knowing that these were the necessary steps in creating a place where everyone could prosper. Despite this, Jefferson was not folly to the undertaking of this task. He knew mistakes would be made and there would be disagreements in the direction the country should take. Instead, of hoping for the best, he decided to put use to the great knowledge he had gained through study and use these tools to move the American people. He was able to not only speak to the public but move them like the ebb and flow of the ocean. This is not to say that he did not have off days. One such instance is found in the work done to abolish or reform slavery in the states. Jefferson had tried, in the past, to address the issue of slavery. Alas, things did not always look in his favor. In 1784 he tried to pass the 1784 Northwest Ordinance. This would outlaw slavery in the western portion of the United States. However, this proposal would lose by one vote in congress. Downtrodden by the multiple loses, he would never again visit the topic of slavery reform.

Jefferson was a man who lived in a time where a monarchy was the common form of government. However, after the Revolutionary War happened in the colonies, he was faced with the burden of creating a society from the ground up. What would be the laws, the form of government, how would the powers be checked in order to avoid a monarchy, and how would the people play a factor in this government? These questions had no definite answer, they could only hope that their choices would lead them to prosperity. Not to mention, the British breathing down their necks waiting (and watching) for them to slip up and come back into the arms of the mother they had turned their check to. However, fortune would be good to them and they would prosper; this is not to say there were no bad times, but the country flourished and was accepting of the roles created for this newly formed republic. How was Jefferson responsible for this great change though?

Jefferson, while there were other influential characters at play, can be seen at the creation and growth into maturity of the United States. He also was one of a few founding fathers that got a presidential seat; that must count as something, right? He didn’t rely on only influences from the states or form Britain. He looked to other countries; their creations, their reforms, their art, music, clothing, and even essence. He took their embodiment and held it next to the United States’. He looked at how he could take some of Europe’s style and dress up the U.S. While he was abroad, he also made sure to market. He lifted up his country, while observing other countries, and he showcased the excellency that was the United States of America. Presidents can always be criticized for their works, or the lack-there-of, but Jefferson seems to be one of the rare ones where he worked to do only good onto others. He had his flaws, as men do, but his work, the effort he put into the work, and his innate understanding that all men were created equal, seems to override some of those flaws. Thomas Jefferson was the United States 3rd U.S President; a man who encapsulates the undying spirt of the United States.

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Jon Meacham’s View of Thomas Jefferson as a Significant Figure in American History. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 3, 2024, from
“Jon Meacham’s View of Thomas Jefferson as a Significant Figure in American History.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022,
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