Thomas Jefferson’s Enlightenment
Thomas Jefferson’s Enlightenment: Paris 1785
Readers who are familair with the last new Thomas Jefferson, being the caricature admiring members of what I call “the political-historical complex” created in the middle of the 20th century, will probably not recognize the man portrayed in this colorful book.
Rather than an iconic social visionary, the man I present is a wayfarer who escaped from a mountaintop utopia that collpased when his handsome young wife died in September of 1782. I accompany this wyafarer to France, where he has gone to begin a new life in the society that produced his recent acquaintance, the marquis de Chastellex.
Thomas Jefferson’s Enlightenment: Paris – 1785 is a new kind of history. I call it a non-fiction narrative. Unlike other histories, it does not recount things Jefferson said and did. It takes readers along as Jefferson says and does them.
Readers come to know this enterpriser during eight divertissements in which French savant Pierre Cabanis shows America’s new Ambassador to the Court of Louis XVI the French capital’s most famous sites and introduces him to influential members of its leading salons. During these excursions, Cabanis, who was Benjamin Franklin’s “dear boy”, introduces his new friend to the ideas that underpin the “enlightenment” then blossoming in France.
It is essential for Jefferson to grasp these concepts. The self-described “savage from the mountains of America” has come to France to become a new man. To complete his rebirth, Jefferson must change his clothes and manners. But he must also speak the language of the French salons, which he means to join.
While accompanying Cabanis through Paris, readers join these two real men as they interact with each other and with the real people they meet.
Under Cabanis’ guidance, Jefferson masters the French concept of Progress and becomes its advocate. He does not know it then, but the knowledge he is acquiring from Cabanis is preparing him for a conflict that will dominate his energies when he returns home.
Within a year of his return, Jefferon will be drawn into a political battle with the most brilliant and energetic man in America – Alexander Hamilton. As he conducts this ten-year duel with Hamilton and his Federalist allies, which I discuss in detail in The Second American Revolution, the political loner who drafted the Declaration of Independence disappears, and in his place appears a fierce political partisan whose mission is to keep the American republic from being subverted by wealthy monocrats.
This man, as I say, was born in France.