THE PARIS YEARS OF THOMAS JEFFERSON by William Howard Adams

THE PARIS YEARS OF THOMAS JEFFERSON

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KIRKUS REVIEW

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 râgime. 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.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0300082614
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.