Jefferson the President: Second Term 1805-1809 by Dumas Malone

Finally, finally finished, is how I feel after reading Jefferson the President: Second Term 1805-1809 by Dumas Malone.  This mammoth 704-page manuscript is the fifth book written by Malone about the third president.  Before I go any further- I need to give a shout out to Steve at who completed the book at a much faster pace than I could.  I found this book to be characteristic of Malone’s writing style: comprehensive, yet dry.

The expansive book covers Jefferson’s turbulent final four years in office as he faced problems internally and externally.  The first issue confronting Jefferson was created by the Barbary pirates on the coast of North Africa.  Jefferson dispatched the Navy to fight for independence of sea travel instead of continuing to pay bribes to the buccaneers.  The US Navy launched a successful operation against the loose confederation along the Mediterranean coast giving Jefferson a very public foreign policy victory early in the term.  The return of Lewis and Clark from their wilderness journey provided Jefferson with a domestic achievement.  The explorers discovered a route to the Pacific Ocean, met Indians on the frontier, and contributed greatly to the scientific knowledge of the American West.

Malone dives immediately into the intrigue created by Aaron Burr.  The facts remain murky 200 years later about what the former Vice-President tried to accomplish.  Some reports claim Burr was trying to become the leader of a break away portion of the newly purchased territory in Louisiana or possibly plotting to lead an incursion against the fading Spanish Empire.  The research is phenomenal and in depth, but I came away wondering if I was reading a biography of Thomas Jefferson or a comprehensive account of the Burr affair.  I believe that in wandering so far off topic from Jefferson’s life, Malone loses sight of what is important to the reader- the President.  Many pages did not contain information about Jefferson, which in my opinion, leads the book into the territory of a history book about Jefferson’s second term rather than a dedicated biography.  Malone does weave Jefferson into the account of the Burr Conspiracy, but his account spans 180 pages, much too long for a pure biography.

Jefferson continued to be plagued with problems typical of a President in their second term.  The author does a good job of showing the evolution of Jefferson from an energetic president in his first four years to a man who is ready to escape the office of the chief executive.  Jefferson was worn down by turmoil in Europe with the fighting between France and England.  He scored diplomatic success with the Tsar of Russia, but this was countered by constant bickering between the Federalists and Republicans in Congress.  The enforcement of an embargo against foreign goods wore the President down during his last years in office.  Jefferson left the presidency ready to go home to Monticello and leave politics behind.  His legacy was secured with the election of his protégé James Madison who followed Jefferson into office.

This fifth book on Jefferson highlights Malone’s strengths and weaknesses as an author.  His research into the events from 1805 to 1809 is unparalleled.  Malone recounts these four years to the reader in a very distinctive style as an author.  I cannot criticize the amount of work the historian put into this book, however, I do believe the writer loses focus on his subject.  Malone strays from keeping Jefferson the point of his book in attempt to provide minute details about important events of the day.  I understand that Jefferson’s imprint was on every aspect of early American politics, but this fifth book had too much extraneous information that leads the reader into more in depth examinations of happenings than they may want.

I do recommend this book for anyone who has read the other four works written about Jefferson by Dumas Malone.  I would also tell someone desiring to read a comprehensive history on macro level incidents in the United States from 1805 to 1809 this book would be good for them.  I cannot give this book a stamp of approval for the casual reader, looking to learn more about Jefferson.  As the book went past 400 pages and into 500, I began to put off my reading sessions.  This book is good, but be prepared to slog through many parts of it trying to finish.

Overall- 3 stars.


Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose

I wanted to read more about the Louisiana Purchase, which was the defining event of Thomas Jefferson’s first four year in office upon completion of Dumas Malone’s fourth book, Jefferson the President: First Term 1801-1805 (review here).  Malone’s book spent a good deal of time discussing the politics behind the purchase, but I wanted to read more about the exploration of the new territory.  I selected Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West by Stephen Ambrose.  The book reviews the journey of Lewis and Clark through the new portion of America, which was still a mystery to an overwhelming majority of the citizens of the country.

Stephen Ambrose was a very popular historian and the writer of multiple books on American History.  He wrote two famous biographies on Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon.  I enjoyed his book Citizen Soldiers relating the stories of the soldiers involved in the fighting from Normandy to the end of the war.  While in the Army, Band of Brothers, was required reading for all the officers in my unit because of how it shared the bond of men in war.  I know many of the people reading this blog have heard about Ambrose’s plagiarism and factual errors in at least two books.  I am aware of them, but I feel like this well-read book by a formerly popular author deserves to be included on a list of books about American Presidents.

I added this book to my reading list for a few reasons.  The first is a desire to take a quick break from Malone and his epic six-volume biography on Jefferson.  I am enjoying his books, but they had become slightly dry after couple thousand pages.  A second was after the time spent in the military and my love of outdoors, I was drawn to a real-life adventure story.  Could there be a more exciting exploration conducted by Americans?  These men were walking through virgin forests and unspoiled nature in the early 19th century.  A final reason was because the third American president was a driving force behind the purchase of the new land.  Ambrose mentions Jefferson frequently throughout the book and, as mentioned prior, Malone spent a good portion of his fourth book on the Louisiana Purchase.

Ambrose begins his book with a review of the early life of Meriwether Lewis.  The young man was born in Albemarle County, Virginia.  He was a planter, soldier and eventually trusted secretary to Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson could not have made a better selection to conduct a journey through the heart of America looking for a waterway to the Pacific.  The President desired a scientific review of the new territory and friendship with the Native Americans the men would meet along the way.  He also wanted to discover an all water route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.

Ambrose takes many of his notes from the official diary of Lewis and Clark, which are published and easily accessible for a person desiring their firsthand account.  Since there is a major portion of time missing in their journals, Ambrose uses the records of other explorers on the expedition.  The reader gains a very accurate accounting of the exciting journey the men took.

As with all of Ambrose’s works I have read, the book is very easy to read and fast paced.  I thoroughly enjoyed his writing throughout the book.  Ambrose as a writer is not caught up in trying to sound academic, but more like a grandfather spinning a yarn to his grandkids.  The expedition of Lewis and Clark is an awesome subject that spanned the better part of a decade.  I believe it remains one of the least appreciated feats in American history, overshadowed by other major events, such as major wars or the Great Depression.  A student of American history needs to learn more about the impact of the Louisiana Purchase to better understand the impact of Thomas Jefferson on today’s America.  The effort directed by Jefferson transformed the United States into a power that spanned half a continent.  He added this territory to enhance the greatness of his country and protect it from European empires.  Undaunted Courage is not a biography of Thomas Jefferson, but in my opinion it fits in bigger scope of my project to learn more about the men who were President and the history of the country I love.

Overall Rating- 4 Stars

## I do not endorse the actions taken by Stephen Ambrose during his career as a writer.  I view him in the same way as Joseph Ellis- read and enjoy the books these men wrote, but always remember the allegations made against them.

Jefferson & the Ordeal of Liberty by Dumas Malone

Three down and three to go!  I completed Dumas Malone’s, Jefferson & the Ordeal of Liberty putting me halfway through his six-volume work on our third president, Thomas Jefferson.  The third book begins with Jefferson as the Secretary of State serving at the behest of George Washington.  The author reviews the period between Jefferson as a cabinet member, his four years as Vice-President, and the election of 1800.  So far, the books have given a good depiction of Jefferson’s pre-presidential years readying the reader for his two terms as chief executive.  These books are important to establish who Jefferson was and how he evolved into a defender of the rights of citizens and leader of the Republican party.

Dumas Malone is considered to have written the authoritative biography of Thomas Jefferson.  The Mississippi born author was the director of the Harvard University Press from 1936 to 1943.  Malone started this work on Jefferson while living in Charlottesville, Virginia, providing him access to Jefferson’s letters and notes on file at the University of Virginia.  Jefferson & The Ordeal of Liberty was completed in 1962, almost two decades after the publication of Jefferson: The Virginian (review here).

The first 30% of the book analyzes Jefferson’s stint as Secretary of State during Washington’s first term in office.  Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and Henry Knox were appointed by Washington to his first cabinet.  Malone does a very good job of describing the conflict between the Jefferson and Hamilton eventually leading to two political parties being formed around each leader.  Jefferson believed the majority of the citizenry of a nation should be the guide for governmental policies, whereas, Hamilton believed in a centralized government with a strong executive leading the country.  The author is explicit when describing the meddling of Hamilton in foreign policy, to the advantage of the British, infuriating Jefferson who leaned towards France as an ally.  Malone explains in this portion of the book, that Jefferson normally got his wishes in foreign policy, even though he felt that Washington relied more on Hamilton.

The four years of battling against Hamilton left Jefferson desiring retirement and he departed to Monticello to assume the life of a gentleman farmer.  For the most part, Jefferson was not involved with politics to concentrate of his farming, continuous renovations of Monticello, and spending time with his family.  He did continue to get updates from two of his devotees, James Madison and James Monroe, keeping him informed of activities in the nation’s capital.

Jefferson’s period of solitude ended upon the election of 1796, and his ascendency to the office of Vice-President under John Adams.  The election was close, but the Federalist party controlled just enough votes to deny Jefferson the top office in the land.  The remaining half of the book discusses the four years Jefferson spent in office.  The political battles continued as fiercely during these years as when he was Secretary of State.  Jefferson became the unquestioned leader of the Republican party during this period, leading to his election as the third president of the United States in 1800.  Malone does not discuss the election in great detail and if you want more information on the election, I would refer you to Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 (review here).

Malone continues to give an in depth review of Jefferson’s life.  The book is very good, but in places is dry.  I have found myself appreciating Jefferson, the man and leader, but having to concentrate to ensure I do not skip a word.  The author is an outstanding historian, however his story telling is not as good as a present day writer like David McCullough.  I really appreciate the depth of research and am enjoying the learning about Jefferson, but Malone can bog you down with the most minute of details.  Still- every bit of the book is worth reading for a serious student of Jefferson.

Overall- 3.5 stars