Jefferson & The Rights of Man by Dumas Malone

I recently finished Jefferson & The Rights of Man by Dumas Malone.  This is the second book in the six-volume epic written by Malone.  The author picks up the storyline with the reception in Paris of America’s newest ambassador to France.  The book ends after Washington’s first term in office, but on the heels of Jefferson and Hamilton disagreeing over the direction of the United States government.

Dumas Malone is a former historian and awardee of the Presidential Medal of Freeman.  He was the Thomas Jefferson Foundation President of History at the University of Virginia.  The biography he wrote on Jefferson’s life won a Pulitzer Prize in 1975.  The former Marine Corps officer passed away in 1986 at the age of 94 and is buried at the University of Virginia Cemetery in Charlottesville.

Malone ably breaks down this 523-page tome into six sections spanning 28 chapters.  Jefferson’s time in Europe serving alongside John Adams and Benjamin Franklin is covered in the first half of the book.  Jefferson enjoyed a good relationship with Louis XVI and the French court while strongly representing the best interests of America.  The friendship between Jefferson and John Adams deepened during the time spent together in France.  Later, Jefferson visits Adams in England only to have the English King turn his back towards the author of the Declaration of Independence.  Jefferson departed France right as the country was plunged into civil war.

The second half of Jefferson & The Rights of Man encompasses Jefferson’s time as the Secretary of State for George Washington.  Malone provides an interesting backdrop to the initial squabbles between Jefferson and Hamilton during this portion of the book.  The two men were diametrically opposed on almost every important political issue of the day.  Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury, meddled in Jefferson’s foreign policy with a bent towards England, while the Secretary of State leaned towards the French.  Jefferson opposed Hamilton on the creation of a national bank and the assumption of State debt by the Federal government.  He acquiesced to Hamilton’s plan of assumption, only if the new Federal City, now Washington DC, would be built along the Potomac River.  These are only a few examples of their differences which resulted with the development of political parties identifying with each man.

Jefferson & The Rights of Man comprises the development of Jefferson as an ambassador and national politician in depth.  Malone provides the reader with exhaustive detail on the years the future president spent honing his diplomatic skill and becoming an admirer of the French revolutionaries.  The writer spells out the different views between Jefferson and Hamilton so the reader can better understand the evolution of the two major political parties.  Many readers may find Malone to be consistently sympathetic to Jefferson in every debate with Hamilton, but I must ashamedly admit that I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with Jefferson.

After reading this book, I appreciate the depth of research Malone has put into Jefferson.  As I noted in an earlier blog post, Jefferson represents an ideology that I also believe in.  I have been looking forward to getting a better understanding of Jefferson.  Jefferson & The Rights of Man is essential in better understanding the person who was considered the pen of the American Revolution.  Learning about Jefferson’s ideas on the rights of man versus the tyranny of government is providing me with a deeper appreciation of the man.

My only complainant about the book is that it can be dry at times.  Malone provides so many details, I know now the reason, what originally was supposed to be four books on Jefferson became six.  I thought his initial book, Jefferson: The Virginian (review here) was more exciting than the follow up.  In many ways, I believe this book was the right length, with outstanding research, and a table setter for the rest of Jefferson’s career.

Overall Rating- 3.5 Stars


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