Irish scholar and former diplomat O'Brien (Ancestral Voices, 1995, etc.) examines two dark sides of the Jeffersonian legacy:...


"THE LONG AFFAIR: Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution, 1785-1800"

Irish scholar and former diplomat O'Brien (Ancestral Voices, 1995, etc.) examines two dark sides of the Jeffersonian legacy: his enthusiasm for the French Revolution, and his support for the slave-based Southern economy. O'Brien argues that Jefferson's tenure as an American diplomat in Paris during the last years of the ancien r‚gime were not happy. Unlike Benjamin Franklin, he was not popular in Paris, nor did he seem much enthused by the French ally. However, he was excited by the French Revolution in 1789, so much so, O'Brien argues, that his political philosophy and career were transformed. Jefferson and his Republicans were not troubled by the excesses of the Reign of Terror, O'Brien argues, until the terror became a political liability. Also, because of his belief in revolution, Jefferson viewed with a benign eye such American insurrections as Shays' Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion. O'Brien argues that Jefferson's role in encouraging Citizen Gent in his attempts to undermine President Washington's policy of neutrality in European wars smacked of conspiracy. On the other hand, O'Brien contends, while Jefferson passionately advocated the egalitarian ideals of the French Revolution, he never seriously contemplated manumitting his own slaves. O'Brien argues that the egalitarian promise of the Declaration of Independence and Jefferson's many statements against slavery were partly intended for political consumption and concealed both a deep-rooted support for the Southern slave system and a profound racism. Jefferson was horrified at the violent uprising in Haiti, in which black slaves overthrew their white masters to found their own republic, which brought Jefferson's tendencies into conflict and ended his ""long affair"" with the French Revolution. On Jefferson's legacy to America, O'Brien ends by questioning the future status of a slaveholder with racist views in America's increasingly multicultural society. O'Brien makes a well-argued revisionist contribution to the literature on Jefferson.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1996


Page Count: 385

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1996