Jefferson the President: First Term 1801-1805 by Dumas Malone

Jefferson the President: First Term by Dumas Malone is the fourth of six books about the third American President.  The book was published in 1970 by the University of Virginia Press and spans Jefferson’s first four years as President of the United States.

Malone starts with the transition from Adams to Jefferson and the difficulties of the change from a Federalist regime to a Republican leader in charge of the Executive Branch of government.  Adams, disgruntled over his loss in the 1800 election, left before his successor was inaugurated as president.  If you are interested in reading more about this election, I recommend Adams vs Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 by John Ferling (review here).  Jefferson was upset by numerous midnight nominations made by Adams in the judiciary which eventually led to multiple judges being impeached in Jefferson’s first term.  Malone discusses Jefferson’s difficulties with the judiciary in multiple chapters during this book.  The famous Marbury vs. Madison court case was decided midway through Jefferson’s first four years in office.

A major portion of the book covered the Louisiana Purchase which defined Jefferson’s presidency in many ways.  Malone conducted a deep dive into the politics of the age, the twisted route that led to the United States doubling in size.  No detail was left undiscovered by the author as he wrote nearly 140 pages on the purchase.  The Louisiana Purchase was engineered in many ways by Jefferson and his desire to ensure the navigation of the Mississippi River, control of New Orleans, and the strengthening of his country.  Jefferson deviated from his usual strict adherence to the Constitution with the purchase of this new territory.

Malone covered different aspects of Jefferson, the man, within this book.  The writer addresses the Sally Hemings affair in the middle of the book.  Malone, at the time, was not convinced that the alleged affair between Jefferson and his slave took place.  The denial of Malone is understandable for two separate reasons.  The first is the advances in DNA evidence of the last 40 years that the researcher did not have access to while writing the book.  The second reason Malone was unconvinced was due to the man who started the slander of Jefferson during his first term.  James Callander was a disagreeable character who began rumor mongering in the early 19th century against more people than just Jefferson.  Based on the nefariousness of Callander’s character, who began the rumor of Jefferson relationship with Hemings, one could easily be persuaded to discount the validity of the affair.

Jefferson the President missed the mark for me as a biography of Thomas Jefferson.  Malone did not write the book as a biography, but as a history book on the period that covered 1801-1805.  Even though Malone brought the Hemings affair into the story, along with Jefferson the scientist, and Jefferson’s view on freedom of religion, the book did not read as a biography.  The book reminded me of some of the less exciting texts I read in college.  I do not think less of Jefferson as a president, but was not thrilled by Malone’s recounting of his first term.  Malone covered the events of the day, but added more detail than was necessary.

Overall Rating- 3 Stars





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

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