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Sat Nov 17, 2012, 09:19 AM


Jon Meacham's Thomas Jefferson

Presidential reputations always rise and fall, but few have come off the pedestal quite like Thomas Jefferson.

As the journalist and historian Jon Meacham notes in “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power,” the “DNA findings and subsequent scholarly reevaluation that established the high likelihood of his sexual relationship with his slave Sally Hemings — a liaison long denied by mainstream white historians — gave fresh energy to the image of Jefferson as hypocrite.”

Meacham, however, a Pulitzer winner for his biography of Andrew Jackson, argues that perfection cannot be the standard by which presidents and politicians are judged. He suggests our best leaders must “transcend (their) constraints and overcome those faults in order to leave the nation a better, more just place than they found it.” Jefferson, he writes, “did his best … and his best left the world a definition, if not a realization, of human liberty that has endured, and gave America the means to ascend to global power.”


Off topic: I went to a matinee showing of Lincoln yesterday. I highly recommend it. And don't be embarrassed if you feel like tearfully applauding when the film ends. Some of my fellow movie-goers did.

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