History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson

History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson

by Henry Adams

One of the greatest histories ever written in English, Henry Adams's History of the United States is remarkable for its fullness of detail, its penetrating insight, and above all its strong, lively, and ironic style.

The party of small government presides over the Louisiana Purchase, the most extensive use of executive power the country has yet seen.

The passion for peace and liberty pushes the country toward war.In the center of these ironic reversals, played out in a Washington full of diplomatic intrigue, is the complex figure of Jefferson himself, part tragic visionary, part comic mock-hero.

Written in a strong, lively style pointed with Adams's wit, the History chronicles the consolidation of American character, and poses questions about the future course of democracy.

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My second note to self was to wait a few months, give or take a year, before I began volume two of the Adams History of the US, the 1300 plus pages that cover the Madison administrations. Adams is a very fine writer and an early practioner of the kind of intense document research that is the now the norm but was radically new then, so this is certainly a classic of both American Literature and of world history. Adams also makes clear that Jefferson, despite his small government leanings, took many steps that strengthened the Federal government, from the Louisiana Purchase to authorizing of national highways, canals, and other major public works in the national interest. Jefferson was one of our giants for his contribution to American political thought and the writing of the Declaration of Independence but, despite the Louisiana Purchase and some other critical accomplishments, a fairly mediocre President. Adams is a graceful, insightful, engaging writer (though there are dry spots as you might suspect) and despite having to push myself through the final third, I also had to resist taking the second volume off the shelf and begin it immediately.

For the eight years of his presidency, culminating in the Embargo Crisis of 1807-08, these bizarre prejudices motivated his opposition to engage in intrigue and ultimately in unconstitutional conspiracy to thwart Jefferson and his successors. Adams points out that Jefferson was never as radical nor as democratic as his critics feared him to be.

An amazing political history of Thomas Jefferson's presidency.

Adams' history is a must read to understand how fragile the United States was in its infancy during the administration of Thomas Jefferson, who is among the most complex of the Founding Fathers. The subsequent political intrigue to define the borders of the Purchase is a story that has been largely lost, but thanks to Adams we have a substantial record to draw upon. Rather than going to war with England and Napoleon's France over rights of sea passage and economic coercion, the Jefferson administration pushed Congress to enact a comprehensive embargo to change their policies and open up trade.

Adams, the grandson of John Adams, ironically writes a history that focuses on his greatest political rival and his friend, Thomas Jefferson. The real treasure of this history, however, is Adams and his analysis of world events. France still coveted Louisiana, the creation of Louis XIV, whose name it bore, which remained always French at heart, although in 1763 France ceded it to Spain in order to reconcile the Spanish government to sacrifices in the treaty of Paris. The Spanish government of 1783, in thus gaining possession of Florida and Louisiana together, aimed at excluding the United States, not France, from the Gulf. Indeed, when the Count de Vergennes wished to recover Louisiana for France, Spain was willing to return it, but asked a price which, although the mere reimbursement of expenses, exceeded the means of the French treasury, and only for that reason Louisiana remained a Spanish province. After Godoys war with France, at the Peace of Bale the French Republic again tried to obtain the retrocession of Louisiana, but in vain.

Henry Adams is great. But I'm really mainly reading because I love how Henry Adams (genius polymath scion of American political royalty) thinks and writes.

One enormous difference between 1809 and today is the change in the role of the USA in the world.

Taken together they may be read as Adams' spiritual autobiography two monumental volumes in which he attempts to bring together into a vast synthesis all of his knowledge of politics, economics, psychology, science, philosophy, art, and literature in order to attempt to understand the individual's place in history and society.