A New Biography of Jefferson

The figure of Thomas Jefferson looms large in American law and religion. A man of immense public achievement and great personal failings, at once candid and disingenuous, familiar and remote, his approach to church and state was influential and controversial in his own time and in ours–especially at the Supreme Court, which has occasionally treated Jefferson’s separationism as the correct theory of the Establishment Clause. A new biography from Yale, Thomas Jefferson: A Biography of Spirit and Flesh, focuses on Jefferson’s spiritual inner life. The author is historian Thomas Kidd (Baylor). Here’s the publisher’s description:

Thomas Jefferson was arguably the most brilliant and inspiring political writer in American history. But the ethical realities of his personal life and political career did not live up to his soaring rhetoric. Indeed, three tensions defined Jefferson’s moral life: democracy versus slavery, republican virtue versus dissolute consumption, and veneration for Jesus versus skepticism about Christianity.

In this book Thomas S. Kidd tells the story of Jefferson’s ethical life through the lens of these tensions, including an unapologetic focus on the issue where Jefferson’s idealistic philosophy and lived reality clashed most obviously: his sexual relationship with his enslaved woman Sally Hemings. In doing so, he offers a unique perspective on one of American history’s most studied figures.