Founding Brothers

by

Joseph J. Ellis

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Thomas Jefferson Character Analysis

Thomas Jefferson was a member of the Founding Fathers and the author of the Declaration of Independence. He was Governor of Virginia during the Revolutionary War and went on to be the third president of the United States, having served as vice president under John Adams. He was born in Virginia and was a wealthy landowner and slaveholder, although he publicly stated that he opposed slavery and believed it should be abolished. (Although this does not appear prominently in the book, it has been proven that Jefferson fathered several children with one of the enslaved women on his estate, Sally Hemings.) Jefferson served as Minister to France, and developed a highly favorable opinion of the French Revolution. Jefferson was a Republican; although he denied being strongly partisan, his behavior often indicated otherwise. His strong opposition to what he saw as the Federalist takeover of government at times took the form of a paranoid “conspiracy theory,” and even led him to fall out with George Washington. He had a close but tumultuous friendship with Adams, which involved a period of twelve years in which they did not speak. The two reconciled later in life, and exchanged many letters in which they nostalgically reflected on the revolutionary era and continued to debate political matters. He and Adams both died on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of American Independence.

Thomas Jefferson Quotes in Founding Brothers

The Founding Brothers quotes below are all either spoken by Thomas Jefferson or refer to Thomas Jefferson. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Founding Brothers published in 2002.
Chapter 2 Quotes

In fact, Jefferson’s headache coincided with a veritable plague that seemed to descend on the leadership of the Virginia dynasty. Madison was laid up with dysentery, Edmund Randolph remained in Virginia to care for his wife, who had nearly died delivering a stillborn baby, and, most ominously of all, George Washington came down with the flu and developed pulmonary complications that the physicians considered life-threatening. "You cannot conceive the public alarm on this occasion," Jefferson reported to William Short, his former secretary in Paris, adding that Washington's demise would in all probability have meant the abrupt end of the whole national experiment.

Related Characters: Thomas Jefferson (speaker), George Washington, James Madison
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

The permanent residence of the capital on the Potomac institutionalized political values designed to carry the nation in a fundamentally different direction. It was also symbolic in a personal sense for Jefferson and Madison. For the Compromise of 1790 signaled the resumption of their political partnership after five years of separation. Now, “the great collaboration" was truly an alliance worthy of its name.

Related Characters: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison
Related Symbols: The Capital
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

For that city and the name it was destined to carry, symbolized the conspiracy that threatened, so Jefferson and his followers thought, all that Virginia stood for.

Related Characters: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson
Related Symbols: The Capital
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

Jefferson's position on political parties, like his stance on slavery, seemed to straddle a rather massive contradiction. In both instances his posture of public probity—slavery should be ended and political parties were evil agents that corrupted republican values—was at odds with his personal behavior and political interest.

Related Characters: Thomas Jefferson
Page Number: 210
Explanation and Analysis:

The correspondence can be read as an extended conversation between two gods on Mount Olympus because both men were determined to project that impression.

Related Characters: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson
Page Number: 225
Explanation and Analysis:
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Thomas Jefferson Character Timeline in Founding Brothers

The timeline below shows where the character Thomas Jefferson appears in Founding Brothers. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Preface: The Generation
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...leaders” of the time: Abigail and John Adams, Aaron Burr, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington. The book focuses on a series of episodes that illustrate... (full context)
Chapter 1: The Duel
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...his imminent death. The day before, Hamilton had held a dinner party and invited Thomas Jefferson’s personal secretary, as well as the daughter and son-in-law of John Adams and Abigail Adams.... (full context)
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...one another’s political ambitions since 1789. Yet Burr was not even Hamilton’s main political enemy—Thomas Jefferson was (followed closely by John Adams). Yet Hamilton’s criticisms of Burr were nonetheless exceptionally harsh.... (full context)
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...Burr learned that the Republicans planned to drop him as the vice presidential candidate during Jefferson’s run, he ran for governor as a Federalist, which was the incident that led Hamilton... (full context)
Chapter 2: The Dinner
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In June 1790, Thomas Jefferson ran into Alexander Hamilton by chance outside George Washington’s office. Jefferson wrote that he remembered... (full context)
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According to Jefferson, at the dinner James Madison agreed that Hamilton’s proposal regarding the assumption of the state... (full context)
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On the day the deal was made, Jefferson wrote to James Monroe, his “loyal Virginian disciple,” explaining the necessity of the compromise. Monroe... (full context)
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While Jefferson’s account is thus likely true, it is only partial, as other meetings and discussions about... (full context)
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...his arguments were serious and thoughtful, rather than brash. Madison is often thought of as Jefferson’s “loyal lieutenant,” however his shyness arguably made him seem more subservient to Jefferson than was... (full context)
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...and Hamilton following their work together on The Federalist Papers. At this moment in time, Jefferson and Madison’s political views were not in fact closely aligned. However, in the leadup to... (full context)
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...rational. He reminded his fellow Virginians that the state’s interests would be defended by Washington, Jefferson, Edmund Randolph, and himself. He was certain that “assumption would never pass.” (full context)
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...“urban elite” of bankers and businessmen were the future of America. Virginians like Madison and Jefferson were suspicious of this financial class, seeing land ownership as the only true, reliable form... (full context)
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Jefferson, the host and third member of the dinner party, admitted that he didn’t understand the... (full context)
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At the same time, Jefferson’s time spent abroad in France meant that he was not properly caught up on the... (full context)
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Jefferson had been the governor of Virginia during the Revolutionary War, a role that had ended... (full context)
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Jefferson’s dinner was surely not the only secret political meeting held during the spring and summer... (full context)
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Jefferson’s description of his dinner party leaves out these other negotiations, making his own dinner seem... (full context)
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...the dinner was challenging. People were surprised by the Potomac decision, and many were furious. Jefferson and Madison ensured that the “residency question” would never be raised in Congress, where it... (full context)
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...been successfully executed, differences between the leaders came into focus in a rather dramatic way. Jefferson and Madison’s efforts meant that Virginia continued to have an outsize role in the ongoing... (full context)
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...meant that business and government were separated. On a personal level, the compromise meant that Jefferson and Madison were working together again after five years. Together, they responded to Hamilton’s fiscal... (full context)
Chapter 3: The Silence
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In Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence, he included a paragraph characterizing slavery as a... (full context)
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Right after the war, many northern states abolished slavery. Meanwhile, Jefferson laid out a plan in Notes on the State of Virginia for the gradual emancipation... (full context)
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...sanctioned slavery, as well as quotes from Notes on the State of Virginia in which Jefferson declared that white and black people would not be able to live alongside one another... (full context)
Chapter 4: The Farewell
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...six months. Madison accurately predicted that the first contested American presidential election would be Thomas Jefferson versus John Adams. (full context)
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...furious about his apparent deference to England. This in turn triggered a constitutional crisis, as Jefferson—who opposed the treaty—claimed that the House had power to veto any treaty. (full context)
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...as president. A fierce debate lasted until the spring of 1796. When Jay’s Treaty passed, Jefferson blamed it on the extreme power of Washington’s will, which was such that it could... (full context)
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Jefferson was adamant that any capitulation to England was a betrayal of the Revolution. Ever since... (full context)
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A horrified Jefferson now framed Washington as a man too old and senile to do his job properly.... (full context)
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Jefferson saw England as the “counterrevolutionary villain” in his vision, which was why he was so... (full context)
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Jefferson’s protégé James Monroe, the minister to France, promised the French that Jay’s Treaty would not... (full context)
Chapter 5: The Collaborators
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...The four people who stood out were George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson; because Washington had already served and Franklin was dead, this left the final two. Adams... (full context)
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Jefferson was “an unofficial member of the Adams family,” and Abigail Adams commented on the unique... (full context)
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John Adams and Thomas Jefferson first fell out when Jefferson wrote a blurb for The Rights of Man which mentioned... (full context)
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In the end, Jefferson’s support for the now brutally violent French Revolution led John Adams to deem him a... (full context)
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Jefferson also had a close relationship with Madison, who tended to behave in a subordinate way... (full context)
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...earned the position of president, yet as the election came closer, she correctly anticipated that Jefferson had the upper hand. Still, she confidently dismissed any worries. When the votes began to... (full context)
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On December 30, it was revealed that John Adams had narrowly beaten Jefferson 71 to 68, with Pinckney a close third and Aaron Burr a distant fourth. Jefferson... (full context)
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...closest friends were Republicans. Around this time, Adams developed a bipartisan plan to send either Jefferson or Madison to France to negotiate a Jay Treaty-style deal. As partisanship grew ever more... (full context)
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Madison advised that, instead of sending the letter, Jefferson leak certain parts of it to mutual friends (and Madison had in fact already done... (full context)
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...Adams, even going so far as to claim that Adams wanted war with France—a claim Jefferson came to believe also. When Jefferson defended Adams’ “revolutionary principles,” Madison replied that Adams was... (full context)
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When the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed, Jefferson feared he would be personally targeted. At this point, Jefferson truly believed that the Federalists... (full context)
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Although John Adams did better in the election than many expected, he still lost to Jefferson and Burr. Just before the election, Hamilton published a pamphlet accusing Adams of being unfit... (full context)
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...least left the presidency satisfied that he was able to achieve peace with France. When Jefferson took office as president, Abigail demanded that Adams invite Jefferson to tea and cake. Adams... (full context)
Chapter 6: The Friendship
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...his political grievances and bitterness toward his enemies. Adams was especially resentful of Hamilton and Jefferson. In 1804, Jefferson’s youngest daughter died in childbirth, and Abigail decided to write with her... (full context)
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...to appoint Federalists to judgeships after the election, just before Adams left the presidency. Still, Jefferson told Abigail that he forgave Adams. Abigail was furious and sent a passionate reply in... (full context)
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In reality, Jefferson’s opposition to partisanship, like his condemnation of slavery, was deeply felt yet contradictory to how... (full context)
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In the meantime, Jefferson had a highly successful first term as president, the crowning achievement of which was the... (full context)
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John Adams at first denied that he had much knowledge or opinion of Jefferson in his letters to Rush. However, he eventually came to talk more about his former... (full context)
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In 1809, Rush wrote that he’d had a dream in which John Adams and Thomas Jefferson resumed their correspondence, forgave each other of their mistakes, reflected on the Revolution together, and... (full context)
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...Then, on the first day of 1812, John Adams sent a short, friendly letter to Jefferson, enclosing two pieces of homespun fabric. Rush was thrilled and credited himself for this development.... (full context)
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The correspondence revitalized Jefferson and John Adams’ friendship, including the deep trust that had been lost. Strangely, even the... (full context)
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Whereas Thomas Jefferson was typically elegant and restrained in his writing, John Adams was vigorously argumentative. They mostly... (full context)
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...that the friendship between all three was well and truly repaired. It was clear that Jefferson still maintained a romanticized, even melodramatic version of history which did not necessarily reflect reality.... (full context)
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...of the Universe.” He argued that it was futile to try and fight this fact. Jefferson responded that there was a hierarchy among men, but that it was not an aristocratic... (full context)
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John Adams responded that there was more continuity between Europe and America than Jefferson was allowing. He held that Jefferson’s hope for “a classless American society” was little more... (full context)
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The two also argued about the French Revolution. Jefferson admitted that he had been wrong to dismiss the extraordinarily amount of violence that the... (full context)
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...scarcely mentioned. The one exception came in their discussion of the Missouri Compromise of 1819. Jefferson suggested that abolition was a problem for the next generation to deal with. John Adams... (full context)
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...supposedly authored by a group of people in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, in May 1775. Jefferson told John Adams that the document was “a fabrication,” and Adams responded that he believed... (full context)
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In October 1818, Abigail died. Shortly after, Jefferson observed that both he and John Adams had outlived most of their contemporaries. They reminisced... (full context)
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As the fiftieth anniversary of American Independence neared, Jefferson was very ill with an intestinal disorder that prevented him from attending the celebration in... (full context)
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Jefferson’s interpretation of the meaning of the fiftieth anniversary was given power by his and John... (full context)