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Thomas Jefferson

Jon Meacham on Thomas Jefferson:

“He fell in love with his wife. It was a great marriage. Her early death was, for him, an almost suicide-provoking episode. He wandered the woods of Monticello with his daughter afterward, and his friends — Madison, Edmund Randolph, others — worried he wasn’t ever going to come back down from Monticello.

At that point in the traditional biography, the ‘Jefferson-as-lover’ story ends. And then you enter the alleged speculation about Sally Hemings, who was an enslaved person at Monticello. She was also Jefferson’s late wife’s half sister.

I think Sally Hemings reminded Jefferson of his wife.

And I believe that they had a relationship that lasted from 1787 to the day he died. Nearly forty years — the longest relationship he would have with any woman. They had, I believe, six children.

There is DNA evidence — and I think to argue that a man who had an endless appetite for art, for power, for food, for wine, for ice cream, for collecting, for land — to argue that, somehow or another, he would then stop short of engaging in the most sensuous of activities beggars belief.”


Alexander Hamilton

David Brooks on Hamilton:

“This is my big beef with Jefferson. Let me start with Hamilton. I’m going to get the dates wrong, but you’ll get the idea.

So when Hamilton was thirteen, his mom died in the bed next to him. He was adopted by his uncle who died — who committed suicide — then he was adopted by his grandparents who died within a year. So by fourteen he’d lost everybody he ever loved except for his brother. A court came in and took away his property. So at fourteen he essentially had nothing. By twenty-five he is George Washington’s Chief of Staff and a war hero. By thirty-five he’s been the author of The Federalist Papers and is one of the top lawyers in New York. By forty or forty-five he has retired as the most successful treasury secretary in U.S. history.

And so he is a story of intense upward mobility. And his philosophy was to create a system of government which would allow poor boys and girls like him to succeed. And there were two things in the way of that.

One was there were these local oligarchies that were holding down economic dynamism, run by rich plantation owners like that bastard Jefferson. And two: technology. Technology was not advancing as far and as fast as he thought it should. And therefore he created federal research projects. He created in New Jersey a research park which became America’s first industrial center. And so he was an enthusiastic embracer of technological innovation, whereas Jefferson, that old stick in the mud, believed in the yeoman virtues. You know, out there in the fields with the tobacco.”


Excerpts from a conversation between Jon Meacham and David Brooks about Jefferson, Hamilton, and the art of power. Watch the entire entertaining and illuminating discussion below.