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Thomas Jefferson's Education

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By turns entertaining and tragic, this beautifully written history reveals the origins of a great university in the dilemmas of Virginia slavery. It offers an incisive portrait of Thomas Jefferson set against a social fabric of planters in decline, enslaved black families torn apart by sales, and a hair-trigger code of male honor. A man of “deft evasions” who was both cour By turns entertaining and tragic, this beautifully written history reveals the origins of a great university in the dilemmas of Virginia slavery. It offers an incisive portrait of Thomas Jefferson set against a social fabric of planters in decline, enslaved black families torn apart by sales, and a hair-trigger code of male honor. A man of “deft evasions” who was both courtly and withdrawn, Jefferson sought control of his family and state from his lofty perch at Monticello. Never quite the egalitarian we wish him to be, he advocated emancipation but shrank from implementing it, entrusting that reform to the next generation. Devoted to the education of his granddaughters, he nevertheless accepted their subordination in a masculine culture. During the revolution, he proposed to educate all white children in Virginia, but later in life he narrowed his goal to building an elite university. In 1819 Jefferson’s intensive drive for state support of a new university succeeded. His intention was a university to educate the sons of Virginia’s wealthy planters, lawyers, and merchants, who might then democratize the state and in time rid it of slavery. But the university’s students, having absorbed the traditional vices of the Virginia gentry, preferred to practice and defend them. Opening in 1825, the university nearly collapsed as unruly students abused one another, the enslaved servants, and the faculty. Jefferson’s hopes of developing an enlightened leadership for the state were disappointed, and Virginia hardened its commitment to slavery in the coming years. The university was born with the flaws of a slave society. Instead, it was Jefferson’s beloved granddaughters who carried forward his faith in education by becoming dedicated teachers of a new generation of women.


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By turns entertaining and tragic, this beautifully written history reveals the origins of a great university in the dilemmas of Virginia slavery. It offers an incisive portrait of Thomas Jefferson set against a social fabric of planters in decline, enslaved black families torn apart by sales, and a hair-trigger code of male honor. A man of “deft evasions” who was both cour By turns entertaining and tragic, this beautifully written history reveals the origins of a great university in the dilemmas of Virginia slavery. It offers an incisive portrait of Thomas Jefferson set against a social fabric of planters in decline, enslaved black families torn apart by sales, and a hair-trigger code of male honor. A man of “deft evasions” who was both courtly and withdrawn, Jefferson sought control of his family and state from his lofty perch at Monticello. Never quite the egalitarian we wish him to be, he advocated emancipation but shrank from implementing it, entrusting that reform to the next generation. Devoted to the education of his granddaughters, he nevertheless accepted their subordination in a masculine culture. During the revolution, he proposed to educate all white children in Virginia, but later in life he narrowed his goal to building an elite university. In 1819 Jefferson’s intensive drive for state support of a new university succeeded. His intention was a university to educate the sons of Virginia’s wealthy planters, lawyers, and merchants, who might then democratize the state and in time rid it of slavery. But the university’s students, having absorbed the traditional vices of the Virginia gentry, preferred to practice and defend them. Opening in 1825, the university nearly collapsed as unruly students abused one another, the enslaved servants, and the faculty. Jefferson’s hopes of developing an enlightened leadership for the state were disappointed, and Virginia hardened its commitment to slavery in the coming years. The university was born with the flaws of a slave society. Instead, it was Jefferson’s beloved granddaughters who carried forward his faith in education by becoming dedicated teachers of a new generation of women.

30 review for Thomas Jefferson's Education

  1. 5 out of 5

    The Colonial

    Celebrated professor and historian Alan Taylor returns with scrutiny and questions regarding the foundations of Thomas Jefferson’s plan for a university to equal the likes of the institutes found in the northern states, and Virginia’s own College of William & Mary. Having developed a small library of award-winning works on the early history of North America and the Thirteen Colonies in particular, this is an interesting approach for Taylor as he usually educates from a macro level, rather than a Celebrated professor and historian Alan Taylor returns with scrutiny and questions regarding the foundations of Thomas Jefferson’s plan for a university to equal the likes of the institutes found in the northern states, and Virginia’s own College of William & Mary. Having developed a small library of award-winning works on the early history of North America and the Thirteen Colonies in particular, this is an interesting approach for Taylor as he usually educates from a macro level, rather than as a broad outlook from one single figure’s idealistic aspirations. Indeed, the reader familiar with Taylor’s prior histories will be pleasantly astonished to find a sense of humor right in the opening dialogue, where he asserts that Jefferson may be the first ever student recorded—and likely the last—to honor a pledge of partying less if he gained admittance into college. Taylor begins his account by diving into an informative social history of colonial Virginia, highlighting the inequalities of slaves as well as the acknowledged class barrier dividing the landed gentry (Lee, Burwell, Carter, and Fairfax families are named) from their rugged common white counterparts. Always unique and fundamental to Taylor’s style and his various works are the numerous subchapters that take precedence in-between noteworthy topics, which allow his audience to easily digest and hearken back to specific subjects of interest and importance. After describing Jefferson’s upbringing and privileged status as the firstborn and sole-inheritor of the family estate at Shadwell, Taylor segues to his acceptance at William & Mary at the age of seventeen—where he appropriately gives a blueprint-like history of the campus’ buildings and its faculty’s educational standards and practices. In discussing the everyday life of education and religion in Virginia society, Taylor makes the point that the slave industry in context with the provincials’ calls for liberty from oppression was not seen then as hypocritical, nor was it a topic of division between party lines. Rather, in the eighteenth century there were vast schisms taking place between Episcopalians and secularists, and Jefferson in particular led calls for enforcing a full separation between Church and State. The book has a tendency to move back and forth from one period or year to the next, which can at times be a bit encumbering for all of the information being put forth. For instance, when discussing the social history of colonial Williamsburg, Taylor jumps decades ahead to Jefferson’s presidential inauguration, in effect noting that Virginia held a paramount majority of anti-federalist voters and politicians. Quite a bit of attention is paid to both Jefferson’s offspring and retirement years at Monticello, where Taylor gives a long-winded yet intimate history of the drunken animosity between both of his son-in-laws—with education taking a back seat in an effort to feature some of the more entertaining plights and controversies of the Randolph and Bankhead families. When comparing some of the modern day news coverage of students protesting, vandalizing, and tearing down statues of Civil War leaders and Revolutionary War icons such as George Rogers Clark, it’s rather remarkable to note from Taylor’s work that America has had a rather proud and unwavering history of rambunctious college students causing mischief and debate. Years after the War for Independence, not only did they deface a statue of one of the most esteemed royal governors at the College of William & Mary, but they also were found to debauch and riot outside of the school grounds: In addition to harassing the town, students ambushed one another “in the dark passages of a night at the risk of their necks” in the main college building. Stealing cannon balls from the local powder magazine, they rolled them down the hallways, threatening the ankles of the unwary. After one eggnog party, they brought “a horse into college, riding him about the large area below stairs and then endeavouring to carry him up into the upper stories.” Then they ventured out to “set the town to rights.” More than a third of the book is dedicated to America’s industry of slavery, a shameless past that Taylor appropriately sheds light on by noting that African Americans were keenly aware of the benefits of literacy and an overall education—going to great lengths in hiding their ability to both read and write in order to escape a brutal punishment. Another key message found throughout the chapters is the fact that parents particularly valued an education for their daughters—even in some cases over their sons—in which boys would be thought unmanly and idle if they put too much emphasis on their studies and books, embarrassed for their traits of introversion. Indeed, Taylor at one point addresses Martha Jefferson Randolph as the second-most enlightened and educated Virginian in the early-nineteenth century, but he aptly reminds his audience that her overseas circumstances were far different from that of the boarding and female academies of Virginia, which adhered to the feminine qualities of the day, rather than putting emphasis on a classical education or Latin. Taylor presents Jefferson’s lifetime dream and eventual achievement of funding and building the University of Virginia meticulously—not sparing any of its proud foundations nor hidden faults. Long alleged and suspected by many to have undeniable principles of anglophobia, it’s therefore rather ironic that Jefferson first and foremost set out to find the most esteemed British professors and doctors for his university—and subsequently received the xenophobic diatribes and outcries against foreign educators which were typical of the age. Jefferson enforced a strict policy of only allowing a six week vacation period in the winter, causing professors to protest and collegians to riot during the scorching and humid dog days of summer. It would be these same “honor-bound” students who would be proven innocent of such barbarous acts of cruelty on slaves and servants—with Taylor citing instances of severe caning for serving watery butter, and the sickening rape of a slave who’s assailants complained of the venereal disease acquired after their horrific act. Taylor has written a thought-provoking history on education in early-nineteenth century Virginia, and leaves his audience wondering whether Jefferson’s final gift of a prestigious college was indeed a successful enterprise, or a questionable failure. Regrettably, shortly after his death, the secularist roots that the University had once prided itself on instead became entangled with Christian doctrine and academia, not to mention an increasingly riotous and untamed student body that defended slavery to its core. Concluding with a look into the later history of Jefferson’s Monticello and his surviving relations, Taylor has included over twenty maps and illustrations, as well as an index. Read the Full Review and More

  2. 4 out of 5

    David Eppenstein

    Three stars may seem a bit harsh but for me that means a good book, not a great book but a good one worth your time and expense if you wish to buy it. I bought it after to seeing it on GR but maybe I should have read about it instead of just "seeing" it. The reason I say that is because I expected one thing from this book but got another and was disappointed in my expectation but pleasantly surprised by what was delivered. You see the title, Thomas Jefferson's Education, led me to believe that t Three stars may seem a bit harsh but for me that means a good book, not a great book but a good one worth your time and expense if you wish to buy it. I bought it after to seeing it on GR but maybe I should have read about it instead of just "seeing" it. The reason I say that is because I expected one thing from this book but got another and was disappointed in my expectation but pleasantly surprised by what was delivered. You see the title, Thomas Jefferson's Education, led me to believe that this book would give me some insight into the academic and scholarly roots of this great man's thinking. Having had hints of how Jefferson was educated and what his reading and interests were like from other books and biographies I expected this book to be rather dry and boring and endurable only by history nerds (guilty). Well, thank God, it had nothing to do with that subject. The title is deceptive and a more accurate title might be Thomas Jefferson's Ideas on Education and Their Influence in Post Revolutionary Virginia and on the Founding of the University of Virginia. What this book really is is a history of education in Virginia in the early 19th century. However, to understand the evolution of that subject the author gives us a healthy dose of the culture of Virginia among the generation produced after the Revolution. In particular the author lays bare the concept of the "Southern gentleman" and how it was used by a class of privileged boys to rationalize outlandish behavior that was frequently destructive and violent. It is hard to believe that it would be this generation that produced the officer corps that would lead the Confederacy in the Civil War. That any education was possible in Virginia is hard to imagine because students refused to accept restrictions on their behavior as insults to gentlemen. Criticism by professors that they considered not to be gentlemen but merely hired employees was totally unacceptable and likely to provoke violence or a challenge to a duel. This kind of attitude and behavior wasn't limited to the new University of Virginia but had also been experienced at the older and esteemed College of William and Mary and almost led to its collapse. U.Va. was Jefferson's dream institution meant to vanquish and replace the College of William and Mary and be the breeding ground for the next generation of leaders meant to protect Virginia's position as the power center of the new Union. To say the least the dream became a nightmare. In addition to student disciplinary problems U. Va. and Virginia education in general had its all too familiar problems. It will probably be sad and aggravating to read that the issues faced in Virginia 200 years ago are the same ones faced in just about every state today. State legislature composed of morons to start with. Then partisan and regional antagonisms coupled with arguments to shift financial burdens to local governments instead of the state. Legislators thinking education not being a worthwhile investment of taxpayer money and especially not for educating impoverished citizens that pay little or no taxes. And then the legislature allocates money and doesn't provide oversight to avoid waste and fraud. And while all of this is going on the Sage of Monticello sits on his mountain and expounds on his fantasies and has his minions conduct all the political dirty work to make the fantasies a reality. In case you wonder I am not a fan of Jefferson. I consider TJ our first sleazy president but that's an entirely different subject but one that continues to be reinforced by this book. Jefferson never involved himself in the nasty side of governing, politics, as that was unseemly for a man of his standing. However, to get U. Va. sited where Jefferson wanted it and then funded and built required herculean efforts on the part of the man TJ burdened with the job, a job that ultimately affected that man’s health and shortened his life. U.Va. was built and TJ lived to see it turned into a breeding ground not of future leaders but of debauched miscreants parading as privileged and entitled "gentlemen". That this culture was reversed only came after TJ's death and by the very faith based agents that opposed TJ all during the campaign to build this new sectarian educational institution. Sadly the book ends with TJ's death and the demise of Monticello and the economic hardships visited on his daughter and grandchildren that inherited TJ's enormous debts. Like most Southern gentlemen Jefferson was above caring about financial concerns and management of his properties and just spent money he didn't have and looked to others to bail him out when bills came due. Of course he never paid back the money he borrowed and his creditors carried him on their books because he was the great Thomas Jefferson, Virginia's most favored son. When Jefferson died the favored son status died as well and the bills all came due. It is horrible to think how this country could have lost Monticello because as much as I don't care for TJ I do admire his architecture and Monticello and U. Va. are beautiful and we are fortunate to still have them. The family lost everything and the grandson that TJ made the executor of his estate was ultimately reduced to total poverty after heavily backing the Confederacy in the Civil War. All the family has now is the family cemetery located behind Monticello. The scope of this book is rather narrow but it is interesting as a glimpse into Southern society in the early 19th century as well as early attitudes on education and theories of instruction at that time. The book also explores another side of one of our Founders and gives further insight into what kind of man he really was. He was promoted as a populist that cared about the common man and that was true but only if that common man behaved and believed as Jefferson wanted him to behave and believe. Like I said I don't care for the man. Enjoy.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ddoddmccue

    Thomas Jefferson's Education was an eye opening account of the varied efforts of Thomas Jefferson to influence Virginia's post-revolutionary history. Veiled as educational aspirations, Jefferson's ideas included the brilliant and the undeniably flawed stands on the political, societal, and economic, with unvarnished goals of preserving and refining the genteel. In short, Jefferson's education was unfolding within his endorsement of republicanism, and his adversity to federalism. In Taylor's accou Thomas Jefferson's Education was an eye opening account of the varied efforts of Thomas Jefferson to influence Virginia's post-revolutionary history. Veiled as educational aspirations, Jefferson's ideas included the brilliant and the undeniably flawed stands on the political, societal, and economic, with unvarnished goals of preserving and refining the genteel. In short, Jefferson's education was unfolding within his endorsement of republicanism, and his adversity to federalism. In Taylor's account, Jefferson saw education as necessary to ensure a well informed and functioning government, and his aspired university as a way to assure an enlightened - not religious- experience that also countered the then-available educational alternatives, both in the North (Princeton, Yale, Harvard) and in state (William and Mary). The Northern alternatives were faulted for over promotion of a no-frills life of self discipline, piety, and abolition. William and Mary was faulted for its assent into chaos, marked by riots by its privileged and often over indulged students. The target of his educational efforts were almost exclusively limited to the privileged. Not slaves, women, the poor, even the working class. The sundry barriers to creating his academic village are well documented here and include numerous examples that seem to mirror our contemporary context: lax parenting, reinforcement of privilege, inconsistent value of meritocracy, ethical lapses, questionable political and financial endorsements. The contributions and mistreatment of slaves are acknowledged, with few examples of the recognition of slaves by Jefferson and his peers as valuable assets, not humanity. As one of his contemporaries (Robert Taylor) complained, Jefferson's university, instead of teaching "virtue and intelligence," was an educational failure because of Jefferson's "silly notion that Virginia's youths are not to submit to law & control, but to be governed altogether of their own judgment." (p.280). At the end of this volume UVA is struggling to achieve stability and academic excellence following Jefferson's death. His family, faced with staggering financial challenges, is struggling to adapt to its limited status and resources. A positive spin is the role of Jefferson's granddaughters, who leverage their exposures into a school for women, but motivated as much or more by more by financial crisis than the goal of advancing women's status. Reviewer update: The first African American man was admitted to UVA in 1955, following Brown v. Board of Education. Although women were accepted for certificate programs or limited graduate study earlier, UVA was not fully coeducational until 1970. (Its first woman president recently retired.) Recent reports suggest that UVA is among the US universities discriminating against Asian Americans. UVA is ranked 28 in US News 2020 Best Colleges. UVA's student population is 60% white and 72% are from Virginia. Currently 14 of 140 Virginia legislators are UVA alums.

  4. 5 out of 5

    James Steichen

    As a graduate of U.Va who relished the beloved traditions of my alma mater, I’m grateful that one of its own professors has written this timely and necessary corrective. If you are looking for a straightforward chronological history of the University of Virginia this is not the book for you. If you are seeking to read about how brilliant and amazing Thomas Jefferson was, this book is also not for you. You should read this book if you are interested in a fascinating and quite granular deep dive i As a graduate of U.Va who relished the beloved traditions of my alma mater, I’m grateful that one of its own professors has written this timely and necessary corrective. If you are looking for a straightforward chronological history of the University of Virginia this is not the book for you. If you are seeking to read about how brilliant and amazing Thomas Jefferson was, this book is also not for you. You should read this book if you are interested in a fascinating and quite granular deep dive into the political and economic dynamics of Virginia, built largely by the enslaved labor of African Americans, and how Jefferson used his power and influence to shape the character of educational systems in his home state, culminating in the quite unlikely founding of U.Va. Taylor offers an honest and unvarnished take on Jefferson, attuned to his contradictions and faults and metaphorically taking him down off of the pedestals on which we often encounter him. As a white person seeking to re-educate himself about US history and the legacies of racism and white supremacy I am especially grateful to understand the problematic history of the college that educated me. I was shattered to learn details of the myriad ways that enslaved African American workers suffered to produce capital for the landed classes, including but not limited to the construction and operation of the buildings in which I studied and lived at U.Va. Taylor is a measured and meticulous historian and his history is all the more devastating and convincing thanks to his even-handed approach. But armed with Taylor’s insights I feel empowered to demand that my school acknowledge the ugly truths about its history rather than celebrate what I now realize are fantastical mythologies about its origins, especially but not limited to tales of its troubled “founder.”

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tascha Folsoi

    Taylor's books always do a great job of getting you inside the mind of people in a different time, and this one does as good a job or better as any of his great books. It does have a bit of a Jordan Peele movie feel in that it is inevitably terrifying to get inside the minds of people for whom whipping, raping, humiliating, and even lynching were just de rigeur. I learned new meanings of words. Honor. Honor means doing whatever you want, to whomever, for whatever reason strikes your fancy -usual Taylor's books always do a great job of getting you inside the mind of people in a different time, and this one does as good a job or better as any of his great books. It does have a bit of a Jordan Peele movie feel in that it is inevitably terrifying to get inside the minds of people for whom whipping, raping, humiliating, and even lynching were just de rigeur. I learned new meanings of words. Honor. Honor means doing whatever you want, to whomever, for whatever reason strikes your fancy -usually an insult, imagined or real, slight or serious. Horsewhipping professors, biting peers, vandalizing property were the spoils of the college boy sons of the wealthy in a southern school desperate for tuition. You can only be considered a criminal if you're poor or a savage if you're brown. Whereas I'm driven into states of nervous distraction over things like how I can get my teenage son to stop balling up my socks and throwing them around the living room while watching baseball, wealthy southern women wrestled with how to stop their teenage sons from raping their young, enslaved girls. The brutality is just so much a part of people's daily lives and homes it's mind blowing. There could be many ways to address this savagery inculcated into the young men of the gentry class: free the slaves, accept that being poor is preferable to raising your kid into a life of being a psychopath. But no. Jefferson's answer to tame the youth raised in this environment of rapacious, brutal excess? You got it. The schools. Education will fix the ills of society without ever compromising the wealth of those whose affluence is dependent upon those ills. The school is beholden to the tuition paid by men who own slaves, rape slaves, beat slaves, sell slaves away from their parents. The school cannot operate independently from that, and this dooms its early mission. While we are not living in this Jordan Peele movie today, we still have an education system that is heavily influenced by rich people who profess a desire to use education to "close the achievement" gap while maintaining the wealth gap and protecting corporate interests. Great read for anyone who is interested in history, education, and human psychology. There is much, much more to read than what I have described, but the book's too good to ruin with spoilers.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sher

    3.5 I liked this book, but it wasn't what I expected. The U of VA isn't really covered until mid-way through the book. Great focus is laid on the moral state of the young men belonging to the wealthy Virginian planter class. Admittedly Jefferson had great challenges trying to reach his goals, but was he naive in his goals? He hoped to educate the next generations in Virginia, that these men would participate rationally in civic life thereby upholding democratic ideals. But, Jefferson had little 3.5 I liked this book, but it wasn't what I expected. The U of VA isn't really covered until mid-way through the book. Great focus is laid on the moral state of the young men belonging to the wealthy Virginian planter class. Admittedly Jefferson had great challenges trying to reach his goals, but was he naive in his goals? He hoped to educate the next generations in Virginia, that these men would participate rationally in civic life thereby upholding democratic ideals. But, Jefferson had little in the way of decent men to work with. The U was built by slaves, and great sums of money went into the architecture (Jeffersons' pet passions), instead of being spent to maintain professors etc. Another issue is the U was secular, so the calming , controlling influence of Christianity was not upon the institution, and students spent their time drinking, gambling, carousing, terrorizing the townsfolk, and fighting. The view presented of these young American gentry is appalling. Shows Jefferson's idiosyncrasies, and I think his weaknesses for romantic, impractical ideals that were not well grounded in what would work! He was such a contradiction- he wanted progress, but he also wanted his vision of deism and high culture to reign, while also wanting a civilized polity to come later that would enact progressive reforms. It was all mixed up, and in the end he was seen as an impediment to the university's success and progress.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Debra

    A history of education during the slavery era, with an emphasis on Jefferson's University of Virginia. Not what I was expecting (which is probably my fault) but glad that I listened anyway. A history of education during the slavery era, with an emphasis on Jefferson's University of Virginia. Not what I was expecting (which is probably my fault) but glad that I listened anyway.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Richard Edwards

    A somewhat dry academic read. Thomas Jefferson would be at home with the limousine liberals. He wrote all men are created equal, but he practiced naive elitism along side fiscal irresponsibility.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Richard de Villiers

    I really did not know what to expect when I purchased this book. I recall reading one of Taylor's works a while back (a really long while back) in college. I am eternally fascinated by the paradox that is Jefferson and the book promised to tell the story of his founding of the University of Virginia. If this was just about UVA I'm sure Taylor would have succeeded but this is so much more. Taylor builds on themes, layer by layer setting the foundation for his story as he proceeds. This is not a n I really did not know what to expect when I purchased this book. I recall reading one of Taylor's works a while back (a really long while back) in college. I am eternally fascinated by the paradox that is Jefferson and the book promised to tell the story of his founding of the University of Virginia. If this was just about UVA I'm sure Taylor would have succeeded but this is so much more. Taylor builds on themes, layer by layer setting the foundation for his story as he proceeds. This is not a narrative but Taylor drives forward in his story as he explores pre-Revolutionary, Revolutionary and post-Revolutionary Virginia. We learn plenty about the failings of William & Mary and how society played a role in the hard to handle students. How some of Jefferson's reforms actually hurt education in general. How they hypersensitive code of honor that resulted in dueling evolved and of course slavery, the moral rot that was eating at the core of Virginia. Jefferson's hopes that his new school would educate a new generation that would solve the slavery question were dashed and in fact probably made things worse. This is a great book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Alisa

    I couldn't even get through the book. The book was written in a very negative light of Thomas Jefferson and others of that time. I grew tired of the assumptions & implications that were not at all based on fact. I couldn't even get through the book. The book was written in a very negative light of Thomas Jefferson and others of that time. I grew tired of the assumptions & implications that were not at all based on fact.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    The book attempts to come off as being more scholarly than it actually is. The title is also somewhat misleading, as the book only thinly addresses the actual "education" of Thomas Jefferson. There are many other books about Jefferson that are better. This was a disappointment. The book attempts to come off as being more scholarly than it actually is. The title is also somewhat misleading, as the book only thinly addresses the actual "education" of Thomas Jefferson. There are many other books about Jefferson that are better. This was a disappointment.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Stan Prager

    Review of: Thomas Jefferson’s Education, by Alan Taylor by Stan Prager (6-9-20) Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom & Father of the University of Virginia. Thomas Jefferson wrote those very words and sketched out the obelisk they would be carved upon. For those who have studied him, that he not only composed his own epitaph but designed his own grave marker was—as we would say in contemporary pa Review of: Thomas Jefferson’s Education, by Alan Taylor by Stan Prager (6-9-20) Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom & Father of the University of Virginia. Thomas Jefferson wrote those very words and sketched out the obelisk they would be carved upon. For those who have studied him, that he not only composed his own epitaph but designed his own grave marker was—as we would say in contemporary parlance—just “so Jefferson.” His long life was marked by a catalog of achievements; these were intended to represent his proudest accomplishments. Much remarked upon is the conspicuous absence of his unhappy tenure as third President of the United States. Less noted is the omission of his time as Governor of Virginia during the Revolution, marred by his humiliating flight from Monticello just minutes ahead of British cavalry. Of the three that did make the final cut, his role as author of the Declaration has been much examined. The Virginia statute—seen as the critical antecedent to First Amendment guarantees of religious liberty—gets less press, but only because it is subsumed in a wider discussion of the Bill of Rights. But who really talks about Jefferson’s role as founder of the University of Virginia? That is the ostensible focus of Thomas Jefferson’s Education, by Alan Taylor, perhaps the foremost living historian of the early Republic. But in this extremely well-written and insightful analysis, Taylor casts a much wider net that ensnares a tangle of competing themes that not only traces the sometimes-fumbling transition of Virginia from colony to state, but speaks to underlying vulnerabilities in economic and political philosophy that were to extend well beyond its borders to the southern portion of the new nation. Some of these elements were to have consequences that echoed down to the Civil War; indeed, still echo to the present day. Students of the American Civil War are often struck by the paradox of Virginia. How was it possible that this colony—so central to the Revolution and the founding of the Republic, the most populous and prominent, a place that boasted notable thinkers like Jefferson, Madison and Marshall, that indeed was home to four of the first five presidents of the new United States—could find itself on the eve of secession such a regressive backwater, soon doomed to serve as the capitol of the Confederacy? It turns out that the sweet waters of the Commonwealth were increasingly poisoned by the institution of human chattel slavery, once decried by its greatest intellects, then declared indispensable, finally deemed righteous. This tragedy has been well-documented in Susan Dunn’s superlative Dominion of Memories: Jefferson, Madison & the Decline of Virginia, as well as Alan Taylor’s own Pulitzer Prize winning work, The Internal Enemy: Slavery and the War in Virginia 1772-1832. What came to be euphemistically termed the “peculiar institution” polluted everything in its orbit, often invisibly except to the trained eye of the historian. This included, of course, higher education. If the raison d'être of the Old Dominion was to protect and promote the interests of the wealthy planter elite that sat atop the pyramid of a slave society, then really how important was it for the scions of Virginia gentlemen to be educated beyond the rudimentary levels required to manage a plantation and move in polite society? And after all, wasn’t the “honor” of the up-and-coming young “masters” of far greater consequence than the aptitude to discourse in matters of rhetoric, logic or ethics? In Thomas Jefferson’s Education, Taylor takes us back to the nearly forgotten era of a colonial Virginia when the capitol was located in “Tidewater” Williamsburg and rowdy students—wealthy, spoiled sons of the planter aristocracy with an inflated sense of honor—clashed with professors at the prestigious College of William & Mary who dared to attempt to impose discipline upon their bad behavior. A few short years later, Williamsburg was in shambles, a near ghost town, badly mauled by the British during the Revolution, the capitol relocated north to “Piedmont” Richmond, William & Mary in steep decline. Thomas Jefferson’s determination over more than two decades to replace it with a secular institution devoted to the liberal arts that welcomed all white men, regardless of economic status, is the subject of this book. How he realized his dream with the foundation of the University of Virginia in the very sunset of his life, as well as the spectacular failure of that institution to turn out as he envisioned it is the wickedly ironic element in the title of Thomas Jefferson’s Education. The author is at his best when he reveals the unintended consequences of history. In his landmark study, American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804, Taylor underscores how American Independence—rightly heralded elsewhere as the dawn of representative democracy for the modern West—was at the same time to prove catastrophic for Native Americans and African Americans, whose fate would likely have been far more favorable had the colonies remained wedded to a British Crown that drew a line for westward expansion at the Appalachians, and later came to abolish slavery throughout the empire. Likewise, there is the example of how the efforts of Jefferson and Madison—lauded for shaking off the vestiges of feudalism for the new nation by putting an end to institutions of primogeniture and entail that had formerly kept estates intact—expanded the rights of white Virginians while dooming countless numbers of the enslaved to be sold to distant geographies and forever separated from their families. In Thomas Jefferson’s Education, the disestablishment of religion is the focal point for another unintended consequence. For Jefferson, an established church was anathema, and stripping the Anglican Church of its preferred status was central to his “Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom” that was later enshrined in the First Amendment. But it turns out that religion and education were intertwined in colonial Virginia’s most prominent institution of higher learning, Williamsburg’s College of William & Mary, funded by the House of Burgesses, where professors were typically ordained Anglican clergymen. Moreover, tracts of land known as “glebes” that were formerly distributed by the colonial government for Anglican (later Episcopal) church rectors to farm or rent, came under assault by evangelical churches allied with secular forces after the Revolution in a movement that eventually was to result in confiscation. This put many local parishes—once both critical sponsors of education and poor relief—into a death spiral that begat still more unintended consequences that in some ways still resonate to the present-day politics and culture of the American south. As Taylor notes: The move against church establishment decisively shifted public finance for Virginia. Prior to the revolution, the parish tax had been the greatest single tax levied on Virginians; its elimination cut the local tax burden by two thirds. Poor relief suffered as the new County overseers spent less per capita than had the old vestries. After 1790, per capita taxes, paid by free men in Virginia, were only a third of those in Massachusetts. Compared to northern states, Virginia favored individual autonomy over community obligation. Jefferson had hoped that Virginians would reinvest their tax savings from disestablishment by funding the public system of education for white children. Instead county elites decided to keep the money in their pockets and pose as champions of individual liberty. [p57-58] For Jefferson, a creature of the Enlightenment, the sins of medievalism inherent to institutionalized religion were glaringly apparent, yet he was blinded to the positive contributions it could provide for the community. Jefferson also frequently perceived his own good intentions in the eyes of others who simply did not share them because they were either selfish or indifferent. Jefferson seemed to genuinely believe that an emphasis on individual liberty would in itself foster the public good, when in reality—then and now—many take such liberty as the license to simply advance their own interests. For all his brilliance, Jefferson was too often naïve when it came to the character of his countrymen. Once near-universally revered, the legacy of Thomas Jefferson often triggers ambivalence for a modern audience and poses a singular challenge for historical analysis. A central Founder, Jefferson’s bold claim in the Declaration “that all men are created equal” defined both the struggle with Britain and the notion of “liberty” that not only came to characterize the Republic that eventually emerged, but gave echo with a deafening resonance to the French Revolution—and far beyond to legions of the oppressed yearning for the universal equality that Jefferson had asserted was their due. At the same time, over the course of his lifetime Jefferson owned hundreds of human beings as chattel property. One of the enslaved almost certainly served as concubine to bear him several offspring who were also enslaved, and she almost certainly was the half-sister of Jefferson’s late wife. The once popular view that imagined that Jefferson did not intend to include African Americans in his definition of “all men” has been clearly refuted by historians. And Jefferson, like many of his elite peers of the Founding generation—Madison, Monroe, and Henry—decried the immorality of slavery as institution while consenting to its persistence, to their own profit. Most came to find grounds to justify it, but not Jefferson: the younger Jefferson cautiously advocated for abolition, while the older Jefferson made excuses for why it could not be achieved in his lifetime—made manifest in his much quoted “wolf by the ear” remark—but he never stopped believing it an existential wrong. As Joseph Ellis underscored in his superb study, American Sphinx, Jefferson frequently held more than one competing and contradictory view in his head simultaneously and was somehow immune to the cognitive dissonance such paradox might provoke in others. It is what makes Jefferson such a fascinating study, not only because he was such a consequential figure for his time, but because the Republic then and now remains a creature of habitually irreconcilable contradictions remarkably emblematic of this man, one of its creators, who has carved out a symbolism that varies considerably from one audience to another. Jefferson, more than any of the other Founders, was responsible for the enduring national schizophrenia that pits federalism against localism, a central economic engine against entrepreneurialism, and the well-being of a community against personal liberties that would let you do as you please. Other elements have been, if not resolved, forced to the background, such as the industrial vs. the agricultural, and the military vs. the militia. Of course, slavery has been abolished, civil rights tentatively obtained, but the shadow of inequality stubbornly lingers, forced once more to the forefront by the murder of George Floyd; I myself participated in a “Black Lives Matter” protest on the day before this review was completed. Perhaps much overlooked in the discussion but no less essential is the role of education in a democratic republic. Here too, Jefferson had much to offer and much to pass down to us, even if most of us have forgotten that it was his soft-spoken voice that pronounced it indispensable for the proper governance of both the state of Virginia and the new nation. That his ambition extended only to white, male universal education that excluded blacks and women naturally strikes us as shortsighted, even repugnant, but should not erase the fact that even this was a radical notion in its time. Rather than disparage Jefferson, who died two centuries ago, we should perhaps condemn the inequality in education that persists in America today, where a tradition of community schools funded by property taxes meant that my experience growing up in a white, middle class suburb in Fairfield, CT translated into an educational experience vastly superior to that of the people of color who attended the ancient crumbling edifices in the decaying urban environment of Bridgeport less than three miles from my home. How can we talk about “Black Lives Matter” without talking about that? The granite obelisk that marked Jefferson’s final resting place was chipped away at by souvenir hunters until it was relocated in order to preserve it. A joint resolution of Congress funded the replacement, erected in 1883, that visitors now encounter at Monticello. The original obelisk now incongruously sits in a quadrangle at the University of Missouri, perhaps as far removed from Jefferson’s grave as today’s diverse, co-ed institution of UVA at Charlottesville is at a distance from the both the university he founded and the one he envisioned. We have to wonder if Jefferson would be more surprised to learn that African Americans are enrolled at UVA—or that in 2020 they only comprise less than seven percent of the undergraduate population? And what would he make of the white supremacists who rallied at Charlottesville in 2017 and those who stood against them? I suspect a resurrected Jefferson would be no less enigmatic than the one who walked the earth so long ago. Alan Taylor has written a number of outstanding works—I’ve read five of them—and he has twice won the Pulitzer Prize for History. He is also, incidentally, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Professor of History at the University of Virginia, so Thomas Jefferson’s Education is not only an exceptional contribution to the historiography but no doubt a project dear to his heart. While I continue to admire Jefferson even as I acknowledge his many flaws, I cannot help wondering how Taylor—who has so carefully scrutinized him—personally feels about Thomas Jefferson. I recall that in the afterword to his magnificent historical novel, Burr, Gore Vidal admits: “All in all, I think rather more highly of Jefferson than Burr does …” If someone puts Alan Taylor on the spot, I suppose that could be as good an answer as any … REVIEW IS LIVE: https://regarp.com/2020/06/09/review-... PODCAST IS LIVE: https://regarp.podbean.com/mf/play/yc... Many more reviews on an eclectic array of fiction and nonfiction books are available at www.regarp.com and www.regarpbookblogpod.com

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy D Lucas

    In the same way that Washington always loomed large, through the war, through the convention, through the first years of our infant nation, Jefferson also looms large as a somewhat resistant titan of Virginia, often at odds with his own family and his own country over the course that education should proceed, never fully able to actualize every ideal he had in mind, but coming close, right through to the end of his life, after all else he had done politically. What seems evident from this render In the same way that Washington always loomed large, through the war, through the convention, through the first years of our infant nation, Jefferson also looms large as a somewhat resistant titan of Virginia, often at odds with his own family and his own country over the course that education should proceed, never fully able to actualize every ideal he had in mind, but coming close, right through to the end of his life, after all else he had done politically. What seems evident from this rendering of Jefferson is that he was a man never keen on retirement, not if there were matters he believed he could matter for, such as the unsteady creation of the University of Virginia and its subsequent anarchy of students behaving in the most ungentlemanly, uncivil and violent fashion toward each other, toward the faculty, and toward the community at large. What I found fascinating in this text, while a bit cumbersome at times with details that seemed irrelevant, was how closely it mirrored the familiar commentaries of the modern era, with once heralded men growing old and defensive of their waning reputations, with teachers struggling to manage classrooms of unruly boys, and with women like Jefferson’s granddaughters quietly providing the unacknowledged strength and heroics that ultimately restore the balance of all things financial, ethical, and educational for society at large. What this book successfully spawns in its curious readers, or at least in my case, is both an intriguing desire for more information on Thomas Jefferson himself and a wonderment about the growth of public education across the other colonies during the early republic.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mshelton50

    One of the most fascinating books I've read all year, Alan Taylor's Thomas Jefferson's Education is ostensibly about Jefferson's efforts to create the University of Virginia (est'd 1819). However, along the way, we look not only at Jefferson's own education (including his college years at William & Mary), but the disestablishment of the Anglican Church in Virginia (the proceeds from the sale of two glebes in Albemarle County would purchase the land on which UVA's famed Lawn now sits); the rise o One of the most fascinating books I've read all year, Alan Taylor's Thomas Jefferson's Education is ostensibly about Jefferson's efforts to create the University of Virginia (est'd 1819). However, along the way, we look not only at Jefferson's own education (including his college years at William & Mary), but the disestablishment of the Anglican Church in Virginia (the proceeds from the sale of two glebes in Albemarle County would purchase the land on which UVA's famed Lawn now sits); the rise of "honor" culture and the duel in post-Revolution Virginia; and the role slavery played in restricting the franchise in western Virginia (thus helping to foster the breakaway of West Virginia in 1863). This may sound like a "dry" academic tome, but it is truly a page turner. There are fascinating glimpses of Jefferson as a mealy mouthed, backroom operative; of his talented, charming but (quite literally) poor granddaughters; of a young Edgar Allan Poe's eleven months at UVA; and of the rise of Evangelical Protestantism in Virginia in the 1820s through 1840s. Who knew that the pious Presbyterian creator of the McGuffey Reader would be appointed to the chair of moral philosophy at UVA -- the first institution of higher learning anywhere in the western world to have no connection to any religious sect -- within 20 years of Jefferson's death? Prof. Taylor's prose is superb, and carries the reader along at a nice clip, and his sense of humor also shines through. I highly recommend this book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    I came to read this book after reading a short review on one of the Facebook groups I belong to for parents of University of Virginia students. I also hold a degree from UVA. I was expecting yet another writeup about the "Sage of Monticello", Thomas Jefferson which lauds his many accomplishments. Instead, this is an eye-opening account of education and society in Virginia from colonial times until the eventual sale of Monticello after Jefferson's death. I knew I was going to enjoy reading this bo I came to read this book after reading a short review on one of the Facebook groups I belong to for parents of University of Virginia students. I also hold a degree from UVA. I was expecting yet another writeup about the "Sage of Monticello", Thomas Jefferson which lauds his many accomplishments. Instead, this is an eye-opening account of education and society in Virginia from colonial times until the eventual sale of Monticello after Jefferson's death. I knew I was going to enjoy reading this book after page 67 where the purge of Federalists from Virginia briefly discussed. This is a part of history that is rarely taught after President Adams & the Alien & Sedition Acts. It's also interesting to look at through today's prism of trying to blacklist Republicans. Jefferson was a master politician which is often discounted, even if much of what he proposed was not practical. If you didn't know that he couldn't manage his finances, by the end of the book, you will. Another section dealt with the confiscation of the "glebes" or lands that were owned by the Anglican church. I spent over 20 years explaining what a "glebe" is since I lived on a road with "Glebe" as part of the name. Overall, this is a book that shows who the man behind the curtain actually was, what society actually was like, what the state of education was in Virginia and gives a short and horrifying look at the lives of enslaved people during this time period. I'm very glad I read this book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Brandon McGuire

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I thought it was ok. It had a lot of interesting ideas, but it struggled to hold my attention for long periods of time. I enjoy history and I really enjoy reading about what some of the founding fathers actually believed and the societies they grew up in. They were flawed men that led a revolution, made mistakes, and seemed to have some well-intentioned at times, if not hypocritical views. One of the quotes that stood out to me was the questioning of keeping slavery around as the colonists had g I thought it was ok. It had a lot of interesting ideas, but it struggled to hold my attention for long periods of time. I enjoy history and I really enjoy reading about what some of the founding fathers actually believed and the societies they grew up in. They were flawed men that led a revolution, made mistakes, and seemed to have some well-intentioned at times, if not hypocritical views. One of the quotes that stood out to me was the questioning of keeping slavery around as the colonists had gone through a revolution for far less. Another interesting one that infuriated me was the idea that Patrick Henry didn’t want to abolish slavery, because he couldn’t be bothered/it would be too much work and wasn’t worth it. It’s also fairly interesting to see how going to school was treated for such a long period of time concerning the focus on outside wealth beforehand and the lack of learning that went on in the schools themselves. Overall, I don’t know if I would recommend it. If you really enjoy history there’s a lot to enjoy here, but it dragged a lot and I’ve read others that held my attention far better.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    The title of this book is somewhat of a misnomer because it's not apparent Jefferson learned much from his struggles to get Virginia to adopt a system of universal public education and establish a national-level university. As was so often the case with Jefferson, the view from his mountaintop was more romantic than the reality on the ground below. Then again, Jefferson's desire to reinforce with education his anti-federalist and states-rights philosophy worked against his desire to modernize Vi The title of this book is somewhat of a misnomer because it's not apparent Jefferson learned much from his struggles to get Virginia to adopt a system of universal public education and establish a national-level university. As was so often the case with Jefferson, the view from his mountaintop was more romantic than the reality on the ground below. Then again, Jefferson's desire to reinforce with education his anti-federalist and states-rights philosophy worked against his desire to modernize Virginia, as Professor Taylor points out. Parts of this book get lost in the weeds of local Virginia politics, but the descriptions of the founding and early years of UVA are fascinating. In particular, Jefferson wanted more rigor than did the first university students and their families, while his admirable insistence on a strictly secular campus brought him into conflict with would-be supporters of his efforts. Taylor is not always as elegant as one would wish, but he presents a wealth of information in a readable manner.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Karmela

    I normally don't get into books written by academics; I tend to find their writing style too dry and lacking in wit. But Taylor is different. This book was more than a history of the University of Virginia; it is a MOVIE about the people and events during that era. He made all the historical figures come alive and made sure to cast them as the complicated people that they are. Jefferson himself came across as a very complex and very HUMAN being, with thoughts and ideas that were many times contr I normally don't get into books written by academics; I tend to find their writing style too dry and lacking in wit. But Taylor is different. This book was more than a history of the University of Virginia; it is a MOVIE about the people and events during that era. He made all the historical figures come alive and made sure to cast them as the complicated people that they are. Jefferson himself came across as a very complex and very HUMAN being, with thoughts and ideas that were many times contradictory to each other. And did you know he was anti-organized religion and believed in science as the pre-eminent philosophical and moral guide? I sure didn't.

  19. 4 out of 5

    John Scherer

    4.25 stars. Fascinating study of Jefferson's naive and innovative approaches to education. I especially was taken by the parallels in the colonial and Virginia public responses to education and funding with ours today. Finally, I found Jefferson's impetus behind establishing a university to reinforce his political and cultural philosophies a bit disturbing and thought about the aftereffects on UVA and higher education (and as a bonus, a compelling review of student misbehavior at colleges and bo 4.25 stars. Fascinating study of Jefferson's naive and innovative approaches to education. I especially was taken by the parallels in the colonial and Virginia public responses to education and funding with ours today. Finally, I found Jefferson's impetus behind establishing a university to reinforce his political and cultural philosophies a bit disturbing and thought about the aftereffects on UVA and higher education (and as a bonus, a compelling review of student misbehavior at colleges and boarding schools during the Jeffersonian era).

  20. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    The information is unparalleled and gives a wonderful picture of post-Revolutionary Virginia with Jefferson’s philosophy of education as its axis. Taylor deals very well with slavery never once romanticizing the barbaric practice and clearly showing the hypocrisy of many southern leaders to complained of its existence but did nothing to truly remedy. Also 18th century white college men were very similar to their 21st peers.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Arthur

    Excellent insight into the role of slavery in ... just about everything in Virginia and the first hundred years of the United States. But particularly in the establishment and growth of education in Virginia. Some very juicy tidbits for the likes of some (like me) who have experienced and love both William & Mary and The University of Virginia. Deeply researched (of course, Mr. Taylor) and beautifully written, with a surprising amount of personal accounts.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Arvilla

    Packed full of information, I learned a lot about early federal America, southern universities, and the nature of Virginians. As someone who grew up outside Monticello and often visited UVA's campus, I enjoyed recognizing people, places, and personalities. Since it is about such a niche subject, I'm not sure if I would recommend it to just anyone, but I did enjoy it and think that others with some interest in any of its subjects would as well Packed full of information, I learned a lot about early federal America, southern universities, and the nature of Virginians. As someone who grew up outside Monticello and often visited UVA's campus, I enjoyed recognizing people, places, and personalities. Since it is about such a niche subject, I'm not sure if I would recommend it to just anyone, but I did enjoy it and think that others with some interest in any of its subjects would as well

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jason Reese

    This was an interesting hybrid of a biography of Jefferson and picture of Virginia society seen through its education system (or lack thereof). Though I never cease to loathe the Sage of Monticello, he does often provoke me to thought. I will never look at the University of Virginia quite the same again.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Phyllis

    How Jefferson brought the University of Virginia to fruition, and then almost destroyed it. The author highlights the women who supported Jefferson, including his daughters and extended family members, which provides additional insight. Fitting, in a way, that I finished this on July 4th, a date in American history tied forever to Jefferson.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Miranda Burnett

    I really wanted to like this one. I've read Dr. Taylor's other works and enjoyed them, particularly Internal Enemy. No matter how hard I tried, I could not get into TJ's Education and didn't understand how his discussions of glebe lands, dueling, etc., fit under the theme of the title. I really wanted to like this one. I've read Dr. Taylor's other works and enjoyed them, particularly Internal Enemy. No matter how hard I tried, I could not get into TJ's Education and didn't understand how his discussions of glebe lands, dueling, etc., fit under the theme of the title.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Hugh

    It was packed full with information. Too much to keep me hooked though. I struggled to make significant progress because of its density. It reminded me of a book one might have to read for class. I'm not really looking for a book like that right now, but I might revisit it someday. It was packed full with information. Too much to keep me hooked though. I struggled to make significant progress because of its density. It reminded me of a book one might have to read for class. I'm not really looking for a book like that right now, but I might revisit it someday.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    I didn’t enjoy this nearly as much as the author's previous American Revolutions It seemed too tedious (long, detailed descriptions of the lives of various people in Jefferson’s orbit). It’s intended audience seems to be buffs about the history of the University of Virginia. I didn’t enjoy this nearly as much as the author's previous American Revolutions It seemed too tedious (long, detailed descriptions of the lives of various people in Jefferson’s orbit). It’s intended audience seems to be buffs about the history of the University of Virginia.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Justin Evans

    A very misleadingly titled book; this is a social history of education in colonial Virginia. Quite good at that, but clearly Norton spied a sales spin and went with it. Hard to imagine re-reading this one, I confess.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Alex Kash

    Heavy on context and light on narrative, this book was weighted down with unconnected details (archival findings) that failed to fulfill the title and jacket summary. It did, however, provide an interesting view into the culture of early Virginia.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kristy Brinkerhoff

    Journey back in time. Sad, refreshing and enlightening. F An informative reas for anyone interested in the history of education.

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