April 13, 2013
Historian and biographer Joseph Ellis has called Jefferson, who had a monumental role in shaping American politics, the American sphinx for his enigmatic character. Since his terms in office, presidents and politicians from both ends of the political spectrum have borrowed from Jefferson’s political philosophy in an attempt to link their own leadership with this most influential and admired founding father.
Jefferson’s character–as a man or a president–defies definition in black and white. He was at once an intellectual, architect, philosopher, musician and essayist. His fascination with science prompted his study and collection of fossils. He projected a down-to-earth, relaxed and unconventional attitude and his desire to be seen as a common man was reflected in his penchant for receiving White House visitors in a robe and slippers. Jefferson denounced oppressive government and was a fierce proponent of freedom of speech and religion. He worried that fellow founding fathers George Washington, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton had designs to fashion the American presidency after a monarchy. When Washington and Hamilton proposed a national bank and state assumption of national debt, Jefferson resigned from Washington’s cabinet in protest. He adamantly rejected Hamilton’s plan to build a strong federal military, fearing it might be used by a tyrannical leader against American citizens.