In Pursuit of Reason

The signature of Thomas Jefferson, 3rd Preside...

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During a recent vacation trip, Grandma Peggy and I visited Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. The visit is on my list of things to do and see sometimes called a “bucket list.”

We enjoyed every moment of our time there. I love touring mansions, and this house is definitely a mansion. Jefferson spent a lot of his energy and time designing and building Monticello. His ideas for the layout are definitely unique. The level of detail within the rooms is amazing. Jefferson loved science and incorporated many slick little features to make his dream house work for him. For example, the twin doors separating the living area from the main entry hall  has a unique feature. One has only to open a single door, and the matching unit swings open automatically. The right hand door is independently actuated by the one on the left. The mechanism is completely hidden from view. The door opens as if by magic. As we walked up the stairs to the entry, I noticed a dial on the ceiling rotating to and fro. The letters N,S,E,W encircled the dial. Above the porch, on the roof  a weather vane danced with the wind. The dial on the porch ceiling danced in unison. All the man had to do is to look out at his porch ceiling to find which direction the wind came from. Useful? Perhaps, but certainly novel.

During the tour of the house, A peculiar device jumped out at me. We were in his office. There, placed on his writing desk sat a pantograph. The guide explained that Jefferson wrote many letters and made a copy of everything he wrote. The pantograph was his copy machine. SInce he saved copies of his writings, Historians have a trove of material to research.

While in the museum bookstore, search the racks for a biography. Another item on my bucket list is to read the biographies of the presidents. I had started with Jefferson years ago, but the book wasn’t readable. It was one of few I never completed. There were many biographies on the rack. Choosing the right one seemed impossible. Grandma Peggy pulled one down, looked at the price and said, “how about this one?” I took it from her without examining the jacket. The book titled “The pursuit of Reason, The Life of Thomas Jefferson,” by Noble E. Cunningham, Jr. turned into one of my best historical reads.

Cunningham’s style and my reading taste coincided completely. I found reading easy and entertaining. The one negative is that the print is small. Even though the book is three-hundred and fifty pages it took me as long to read as a five-hundred page novel. One of the biggest impressions Cunningham left on me was the parallel between Jefferson’s problems, during his two terms in office as President, with those of current affairs. He served as the third president. Only Washington and Adams served before him, yet one of his major concerns was the effort by the Federalist party to disregard the Constitution. In fact, Jefferson himself had problems adhering rigidly to the Constitution. During his negotiations to buy Louisiana from France, he realized the need for an amendment.  At the same time, he knew an amendment would need two or more years to realize. He feared losing the deal, and took it upon himself  to use the executive power of the office to buy the land extending to the Mississippi.

Jefferson wrestled the slavery issue from the time he authored the Declaration throughout his political career, but in his personal life he owned slaves and did not emancipate them. His daughter inherited the slaves upon his death. He spoke of emancipation often, but always pushed the problem to a younger generation. In other words, he kicked the can down the road. Where have we heard that before?

I am glad I read this book. My respect for Thomas Jefferson increased by one-hundred fold. He is a bigger man than I imagined.

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