For a project I’m now working on, I’m reading through the church-state writing of the likes of George Washington, John Adams, and Theophilus Parsons, and it is striking how different it is from what one sees in the writing of Thomas Jefferson. Here is a new critical study of Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson: A Modern Prometheus (Cambridge University Press), by Wilson Jeremiah Moses, part of which involves a comparative evaluation of Jefferson against some of these other statesmen. Looks like a must-read.
“In Thomas Jefferson: A Modern Prometheus, Wilson Jeremiah Moses provides a critical assessment of Thomas Jefferson and the Jeffersonian influence. Scholars of American history have long debated the legacy of Thomas Jefferson. However, Moses deviates from other interpretations by positioning himself within an older, ‘Federalist’ historiographic tradition, offering vigorous and insightful commentary on Jefferson, the man and the myth. Moses specifically focuses on Jefferson’s complexities and contradictions. Measuring Jefferson’s political accomplishments, intellectual contributions, moral character, and other distinguishing traits against contemporaries like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin but also figures like Machiavelli and Frederick the Great, Moses contends that Jefferson fell short of the greatness of others. Yet amid his criticism of Jefferson, Moses paints him as a cunning strategist, an impressive intellectual, and a consummate pragmatist who continually reformulated his ideas in a universe that he accurately recognized to be unstable, capricious, and treacherous.”