The Paris Years of Thomas Jefferson

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9780300082616: The Paris Years of Thomas Jefferson
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In 1784 Thomas Jefferson moved to the sophisticated and exhilarating city of Paris, where he spent the next five years as minister from the new United States of America. These were formative years for France, for the United States, and for Jefferson’s cultural and intellectual development. This engaging book recreates in word and illustration the atmosphere and personalities of prerevolutionary Paris, and it reveals the profound impact they had on one of America’s first transatlantic citizens.

William Howard Adams discusses how the provincial Virginian became a cosmopolitan connoisseur in the rarefied intellectual, political, scientific, and artistic circles of the city. He describes Jefferson’s relationships with such luminaries as Lafayette, Condorcet, Lavoisier, Baron Grimm, La Rochefoucauld, John and Abigail Adams, Gouverneur Morris, and J.-L. David, as well as his involvement with the English painter Maria Cosway. His alleged affair with his slave Sally Hemings is critically examined in the context of all available evidence.

Adams’s principal focus is on Jefferson’s role as the preeminent American envoy in Europe after the departure of Franklin, his participation in the cultural and political life of the city, and his private intrigues to help his friends bring the Bourbon monarchy to heel. Finally, he places the author of the Declaration of Independence in the middle of his second revolution and chronicles the dramatic events leading up to the upheaval of 1788-1789.

The book is richly illustrated with art of the period and with specially commissioned photographs of Parisian sites by Adelaide de Menil.

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Review:

Thomas Jefferson spent five years in Paris, from 1784 to 1789, serving as the representative of a struggling new nation. In this entertaining, scholarly chronicle of those years, we're treated to an account of how the nights spent among the Paris intellectuals influenced Jefferson's thought, and we get a vivid taste of the social whirl in that great European city. William Howard Adams, a leading Jefferson scholar for 25 years, quotes extensively from Jefferson's letters and other writings, and does a commendable job of describing the scenes in which Jefferson would have found himself.

From Kirkus Reviews:

In an elegantly written survey, Adams, a historian, critically examines the effects on Thomas Jefferson of his period as American minister to Paris during the waning years of the ancien r‚gime. In retrospect, Jefferson's arrival in Paris in 1784 as the representative of the fledgling US may seem inauspicious: The new country was mired in debt, particularly to France, from the recently ended revolution; indeed, America may have seemed little more than a banana republic, barely united under the patchwork Articles of Confederation; and Jefferson, a retiring figure from a rural backwater whose principal authorship of the Declaration of Independence was generally unknown in France, seemed ill-suited to succeed the popular, cosmopolitan Benjamin Franklin as America's representative in the sophisticated French capital. In the event, Adams shows, Jefferson excelled as a diplomat. He succeeded in opening up French markets for American exports, in negotiating payment of the enormous debt to France, and in establishing credibility for the new country, while receiving a peerless education in Europe's Machiavellian politics that stood him in good stead when he became president. Meanwhile, as Adams demonstrates at great length, Jefferson fit well into the aesthetic, intellectual, and scientific circles of Paris. His friendships with leading intellects of the period, like Condorcet and Lavoisier, as well as with great salon leaders like Madame d'Houdetot and Madame Helvetius, broadened his outlook and introduced him to the best of European culture. Adams examines in detail the social aspects of Jefferson's life in Paris and his many close friendships with women. He also suggests that Jefferson developed a taste for French radicalism during his Paris years that led him to support the French Revolution even after the Terror had claimed the lives of close friends. A balanced and well-researched look at Jefferson's life and intellect during a crucial period in his development. (68 illustrations, not seen) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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9780300069037: The Paris Years of Thomas Jefferson

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Publisher: Yale University Press, 1997
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