The Paris Years of Thomas Jefferson

William Howard Adams, Author Yale University Press $45 (364p) ISBN 978-0-300-06903-7
In this recreation of Thomas Jefferson's life in Paris from 1789 to 1794, Adams presents the envoy's inner attitudes and feelings. What gives this the ring of truth is that Adams, a fellow at the International Center for Jefferson Studies, backs up his account through quotations provided from memorandum books, correspondence and papers. The portrait that emerges is one that emphasizes the way in which Paris affected Jefferson's thought. He anticipated the French Revolution as ""a validation of American ideals,"" and championed the natural rights of humankind. In Paris, he traveled in a sparkling circle of associates: Condorcet, with his radical ideas on the eventual perfectibility of humans; Lavoisier, malicious-minded but good-hearted, and Lafayette, ""yearning for military glory."" Adams also describes the women in Jefferson's life, from Abigail Adams to Maria Cosway, and asks whether he had an affair with his slave Sally Hemings. (He concludes that little evidence exists to support the assertion.) Although Jefferson opposed slavery, he maintained 200 slaves at Monticello, arguing that we must be patient with ""the workings of an overriding providence."" Above all, Adams shows a man profoundly affected by Parisian culture and by the intellectual conversation in the salons. In cosmopolitan Paris, Jefferson saw the achievements of the Enlightenment concentrated in a city. From that time forward, he dreamed not only of an ideal future for America but for self-ruled republics throughout the world. 68 illustrations. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-0-300-08261-6
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