American Sphinx (summation)

This book was crammed with footnotes, so many that they consumed 12% of the text and I wasn’t ready for the final page. I thought my Kindle had taken a powder.

The author told the story of Thomas Jefferson, the good as well as the not so good. I’m all he showed me a man who was very human, a man who had his share of faults. 

Thanks for taking the time to look. 



The Barbary Pirate War

Apparently, the Barbary Pirates had been working off North African Coast, capturing ships and their crews since the days of the Crusades, 1095 – 1291. Nations had grown accustomed to dealing with them the easy way, paying ransom.

In 1801 Pasha,, a high-ranking military officer, discovered the United States was paying him less than the others and declared war on the United States. Jefferson paused from his mothballing of navy ships, assembled a fleet, and without permission Congress he declared war on the pirates and sailed for North Africa.

The war was in its second year when an American naval officer sailed to Tripoli, set fire to the Algerian Navy ships, and reclaimed the Philadelphia and rescued the crew members were held hostage. Then, in revenge for his brother’s death he engaged them in hand-to-hand. The feat was so remarkable that Lord Nelson declared it the rescue of the age, or words to that effect.

When the war was finished the navy returned and Jefferson resumed his mothballing.


Jefferson’s attitude toward Indians was always profound. In his Notes On Virginia he devoted a chapter to a celebration of the Indigenous Culture of America’s original inhabitants. He called were victims of history [but they are only words].

However, we will never know what he truly thought. We only see the results of his decisions that deported massive segments of Indian populations to land west of the Mississippi. I sensed a bit of over-posturing here. But that’s only my opinion.

A nameless scholar on the subject stated in part: …the seeds of extinction of the Native American Culture were sown under Jefferson’s watch.

Jefferson’s Federal Debt

In 1801 Jefferson inherited a $112 million federal debt. (Perhaps that was why Adam’s left town on the four AM stage?) Jefferson put his Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin, to work seeking ways in which to eliminate it .Gallatin brought him a plan that would require 16 years. Jefferson thought they could raise money more quickly by selling off public lands and laying off some of the 118 federal employees.

Armed with these ideas, he went before Congress and included the possibility of shrinking the sizes of the army and navy. When Congress asked what they would do in case of war (Was the War of 1812 already in the works?) he told them armies and navies don’t prevent wars, they most often cause them
They say there is nothing new under the sun. Well, neither was Jefferson’s report. His first year’s summary read much like today’s Wall Street Journal.

Jefferson’s Renewed Interest In Politics


Jefferson, in spite of his cherished retirement, took a renewed interest in politics. But it probably wasn’t obvious until he sent Ben Franklin Basche eight dollars for a subscription to Bashe’s Aurora (1) the day after Christmas, 1795. Word was out that Alexander Hamilton was resigning from the cabinet and that a rumor of an investigation into his accounting irregularities was afoot. Jefferson thought Hamilton had the books in such a state of confusion that nobody could make sense of them, not even Hamilton himself.

By May 1796 it was assumed that the presidential candidates would be Jefferson and Adams. Neither one was expected to physically campaign because in that early era of democracy it was not considered statesmanlike to appeal directly to the people.

The face of statesmanship has changed over the past 220 +/- years.

(1) Benjamin Franklin Basche was an American journalist who published Bashe’s Aurora six days each week, and not to be confused with our statesman Benjamin Franklin.

Thomas Jefferson On The Farm

In 1794 Jefferson returned to his seven Virginia farms – Monticello, Shadwell, Tugton, Lego, Poplar Forest, Bear Creek, and Tomahawk following a decade of public service. Only about one thousand acres were under cultivation. Apparently there was profit in tobacco, but he refused to grow it. Instead, he turned to wheat because there was a ready market for it in England. However, two years of drought increased his massive debt owed to England and Scotland bankers. The third year the river barge carrying his wheat harvest encountered a heavy storm and ruined what was aboard. Eventually, he turned to nail making which required a small amount of startup capital. In a good year he could turn about one thousand dollars profit.

He employed a dozen boys ages 10 to 16 to manage the forges and anvils. Each morning he weighed out the nail rod and compared it to the weight on the nails. He speaks of beginning at dawn and quitting at dusk. (Perhaps that dark-to-dark was a normal day, but if I were a 16-year-old that would certain infringe on my love life). Without a doubt these boys were slaves because he makes reference to special awards to the best producers. So maybe there was time for chasing skirts after all.

All the while Jefferson was rebuilding Monticello. Once he wrote to George Washington that he was living in a brick-kiln. There were times when one hundred men were laboring on the house.

When he retired to Monticello many thought he would take up farming. In reality, however, he had little patience for farming. Instead his golden years were spent digging, building, and inventing.

First Secretary of State

While Thomas Jefferson was finishing his duties in France President George Washington asked him to be the first ever Secretary of State. While many were searching for work Jefferson was trying to find ways to return to Monticello and stay there. How Washington got his way was not explained.

Being first had its challenges. 

Fake News

In 1785 Ben Franklin wound up his duties in France and was preparing to rotate back to the United States. England had no love for Franklin and couldn’t have been happier when the news reached their shore. I found no explanation for that great dislike other than he was master of his skills with the English language. It is said he could turn a phrase like none other, so I suppose he stepped on some British toes.

When Jefferson reached France the powers that be asked if he was replacing Franklin. “No one can replace Franklin. I’m simply his successor,” Jefferson replied.

After Franklin sailed for the United States Thomas Jefferson was amused by the London newspaper reports that Franklin had either been captured by Algerian pirates while en route, or stoned by mobs upon his arrival at Philadelphia.

I guess there is nothing new under the sun, not even fake news.

Jefferson and Unconscious Emotion

During Jefferson’s search for the correct verbage for the Declaration of Independence two authors influenced his train of thought – John Burgh and James Sheridan. Burgh and Sheridan both made reference to Unconscious Emotion – a speaker stirring the emotions of his audience.

Joseph J. Ellis, author of American Sphinx, states in his text that Jefferson had one version of his Declaration seeded with quotation marks. Ellis surmises that Jefferson was experimenting with Unconscious Emotion. Further on, Ellis suggests that this is still used in politics. If he is correct, I can think of two political candidates who might have used this – John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey.

I was unable to find any direct reference to Unconscious Emotion other than studies pertaining to dreams causing pain, pleasure anxiety, and facial expressions.

Though it was never stated in so many words I came to suspect that Unconscious Emotion and Subliminal Suggestion are closely related.

Thomas Jefferson’s Desk

Thomas Jefferson commissioned his landlord/relative – by way of his wife – Benjamin Randolph, to design and build a writing desk. It is this desk, the one on display at Smithsonian Institute. This is the same desk he used for all his correspondence, including the Summary View and penning the Declaration of Independence. Continue reading