Happy Birthday, Abigail Adams!

Abigail Adams, the earliest known image of her painted near the time of her marriage in 1764

Abigail Adams, born on November 22, 1744 in Weymouth, Massachusetts, was wife and chief advisor to John Adams, American founding father and second president; early advocate for women’s rights and opponent of slavery; self-taught intellectual; mother to many children including another American president; and something I just learned today, a savvy and successful financial speculator. She is one of the most well-known figures in American history because of the voluminous and well-preserved correspondence between her and her husband John. While she remained at home raising the children and managing their home, John was frequently away for extended periods on matters of revolution and state. Their letters are famous: they were loving and forthright with one other on a rare level, and the ideas and advice these two brilliant people shared with one another illuminate and inspire readers still.

Learn more about our wise and indefatigable founding mother Abigail Adams at:

Abigail Adams ~ by Beckett Graham and Susan Vollenweider for The History Chicks podcast

Abigail Adams (1744 – 1818) ~ bio for the Adams National Historical Park, National Park Service website

Abigail Adams: American First Lady ~ by Betty Boyd Caroli for Encyclopædia Britannica

Abigail Adams: Revolutionary Speculator ~ Liz Covart interviews Woody Holton for Ben Franklin’s World: A Podcast About Early American History

Abigail Smith Adams ~ by Debra Michals for the National Women’s History Museum website

First Family: Abigail and John Adams ~ by Joseph J. Ellis for the Philadelphia Free Library

How Abigail Adams Proves Bill O’Reilly Wrong About Slavery ~ by David A. Graham for The Atlantic

John Adams ~ Miniseries by HBO, 2008

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Happy Birthday, John Adams!

John Adams by John Trumbull, 1793, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.

Like many who watched the excellent 2008 miniseries John Adams with Paul Giamatti in the title role and Laura Linney as Abigail Adams, my interest in the United States’ second president increased quite a bit. And when I read John Ellis’ Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams last year, I found myself thoroughly engrossed. I read of a man who was brilliant, insecure, honest, vain, visionary, retrograde, loving, selfish… all character traits which I believe are often found in the most interesting and accomplished people. The same traits that drive people to do wonderful and unusual things are often the same as, or found in conjunction with, those which make people thoroughly insufferable. For example, the insecure egoist’s need to be loved and admired provides the drive for accomplishment, and those who are intelligent enough to surpass most others in this regard are also intelligent enough to recognize it, resulting in vanity. Perhaps because I don’t have to put up with him personally, I can freely admire and even feel affection for Adams as the sensitive, flawed human being  revealed in his massive correspondence; an egoist who nevertheless was obsessed with justice and did his best to see it done in the world, who sacrificed his own posterity and a second term in office to preserve his new country from the existential threat of an ill-conceived war; whose dignity was far too easily wounded but at times proved himself a loyal friend even to those that betrayed him – Thomas Jefferson being a prime example.

Americans may have more easily forgiven all of this if he hadn’t championed the Alien and Sedition Acts and signed them into law, parts of which are seen today as contrary to essential American principles. In his fear that the bond between the states in his newly united country would break apart under the strain of war and the spiraling controversies of party politics, Adams overreached. But his legacy shouldn’t be overshadowed by this one, though admittedly significant, mistake. As Ellis writes for Encyclopædia Britannica,

Although Adams was regarded by his contemporaries as one of the most significant statesmen of the revolutionary era, his reputation faded in the 19th century, only to ascend again during the last half of the 20th century. The modern edition of his correspondence prompted a rediscovery of his bracing honesty and pungent way with words, his importance as a political thinker, his realistic perspective on American foreign policy, and his patriarchal role as founder of one of the most prominent families in American history.

Learn more about our oh-so-human, brilliant president John Adams at:

John Adams ~ Miniseries by HBO, 2008

John Adams As He Lived: Unpublished Letters to Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse, Professor of Physic at Harvard College ~ published in The Atlantic, May 1927

John Adams: The Case of the Missing John Adams Monument ~ Lillian Cunningham for the Presidential podcast series presented by The Washington Post

John Adams: President of the United States ~ Joseph J. Ellis for Encyclopædia Britannica

Plain Speaking: In David McCullough’s Telling, the Second President is Reminiscent of the 33rd (Harry Truman) ~ by Pauline Maier for The New York Times: Books, May 27, 2001

Sorry, HBO. John Adams Wasn’t That Much of a Hero ~ Jack Rakove for The Washington Post, April 20, 2008

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Lovely But Sterile?

Statue of Athena, goddess of Philosophy and War, in the Vatican Museum. Like so much of traditional academic philosophy: elegant, cold, impersonal, the purview of the wealthy, and white…

W.E.B. DuBois once wrote that academic philosophy is the ‘lovely but sterile land of philosophical speculation.’ He decides to turn his attention to history and the social sciences so he can offer more concrete answers and practical help to his beleaguered fellow black citizens.

I’ve been inclined to agree with DuBois now and again, out of irritation, out of impatience, out of out of distaste for the obscurantist language and arch tone philosophy is sometimes delivered in, and no doubt, out of my own inability to comprehend. While I often find academic philosophy enthralling, elegant, interesting, and beautiful, I sometimes think, well yes, this is interesting, this is clever, this is fun, but in the end, what does it do? What is it for, and who is it for? Why care about those fine points, technical details, and subtle nuances that academics and scholars go on about that are seemingly unrelated to practical matters of general human wellbeing? Are they just entertaining and impressing themselves and occasionally each other?

I’ve heard people make a similar critique of the arts as DuBois makes of philosophy. ‘Real art’ shouldn’t be primarily about pleasure, about beauty for beauty’s sake, though it can be beautiful too. Its primary purpose should be to transform, inspire, even disturb and shock the viewer so as to make them an agent of change.

Here’s the thing: as much as I love history, ethical theory, civil rights movements, the arts as described in the previous sentence, and so on, I also love human artifacts which have no apparent reason to exist other than their interest and beauty. This is sometimes portrayed as frivolous: why please ourselves with ‘useless’ things which don’t do any work, which don’t inspire action? But I counter: why does everything have to be useful to us, to do work for us? Putting aside the practical value of philosophy (which I and so many other lovers of philosophy contend is quite high) and the arts, is there no place for sheer beauty, sheer interest? Is there no value in just pleasing our senses, from our most basic and instinctual to our most highly refined? Are the deep desires for intellectual exercise and beauty any less central to the human psyche than the needs for love and liberty and life itself? I know sustaining life and expanding liberty is valuable not only because they help us to survive but because they give us access to those things which make life beautiful.

I also know, for myself, that the beauty and interest I find everywhere in the world, be they in products of nature or of human creativity, impact my heart directly and immediately. I enjoy them without wondering why they exist, if they have a right to exist, or if they are useful to me or others. With human artifacts, it’s only after that first impact that I wonder about the personality and motives of the artist, think about what they’re trying to convey, and find inspiration, whether it be to further refine of my sense of beauty or to change the world or myself in other ways.

Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, posted from Paris on May 12, 1780. From the Massachusetts Historical Society collections

I think of something John Adams once wrote to his wife Abigail: ‘The Science of Government it is my Duty to study, more than all other Sciences: the Art of Legislation and Administration and Negotiation, ought to take Place, indeed to exclude in a manner all other Arts. I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.’ For Adams, the purpose of work to change the world for the better is in order that beauty can exist in the world more plentifully, to be promoted and protected for its own sake, and in order that everyone would ultimately have an equal right to access and enjoy in that beauty. Just so for art, for philosophy, for the natural world and for human society alike.

W.E.B. Dubois, Photograph taken by J.E. Purdy in 1904, public domain via Library of Congress

W.E.B. Dubois, Photograph taken by J.E. Purdy in 1904, public domain via Library of Congress

I think DuBois agrees, actually. He clearly loves philosophy for its own sake and thinks it beautiful; after all, he describes it as ‘lovely’ instead of merely dismissing it as useless. But he feels his own talents are best directed at making the world more just for himself and for others who are still routinely denied access to academic philosophy, the high arts, and any other realm of thought and creativity they might want to engage in. Some don’t have the leisure time or disposable income; some are deprived of the right to education or access to the funds needed to pay for it; some live in war-torn places unable to support or protect educational and arts institutions. Like Adams, Dubois feels it his duty and his calling to be an agent of change in his time. And like Adams, DuBois lives a life of philosophy-in-action, his work driven by his convictions about justice and the good life. This demonstrates that for him as it is for countless others, philosophy is fertile indeed.

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Sixth Day in Paris Following Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson

Crossing rue de Richelieu on a drizzly day in Paris, France

Thursday, August 20th, 2015

It’s a rainy morning, wet enough to drive away the otherwise intrepid kids at the little alleyway skate park across the street, though not quite enough to drive away the hardworking construction crew renovating the building next to it. I take advantage of the inclement weather by catching up on my writing and research, and the clangs, buzzes, and shouts from the workers only adds to the feeling of productiveness, and don’t disturb me at all. By late morning, the rainfall lightens up, so I head out for the day. Along the way, I pop into several passages, covered pathways lined with shops and cafes: Passage des Panoramas, Passage Jouffrey, la galerie Vivienne, Passage des 2 Galleries, and more. It’s a great way to duck out of the rain while discovering some of the most charming little spots in Paris.

BNP Paribas offices, about where Hôtel Landron and cul-de-sac Taitbout used to be

On my way to my main destinations of the day, I quickly follow up on two sites from earlier in my trip. Last evening, I visited 95 Rue Richelieu, the actual site of James Monroe’s first house in Paris when he arrived to take over the ambassadorship from Governeur Morris. It’s now occupied by a Mercure Hotel (hotel in the modern sense), and I follow the desk clerk’s recommendation from yesterday, to see if the day manager can help me find more historical information about the building, but no dice. Upon inquiry, the lady in charge at the front desk stopped me with an abrupt ‘no’, as if to say, ‘I don’t have time for this nonsense, I have a hotel to run.’ Fair enough. I move on.

I swing over to Boulevard des Italiens, where Thomas Jefferson had lived at Hôtel Landron, aka Taitboit, for the first year of his sojourn in Paris. It stood on cul-de-sac Taitbout, which used to run north off this street right across from the back side of the Theatre des Italiens. I have since confirmed the site in additional sources, but I was right the first time: the building, and the cul-de-sac it was on, no longer exists. This place is now occupied by a large, much more modern building which houses the offices of BNP Paribas.

Then I head for 30 rue Richelieu, where Thomas Jefferson stayed first for a few days when he arrived in Paris, at one of the two hotels he stayed at named Hotel d’Orleans; this is the first of them. It’s a smaller and simpler building than many that Jefferson stayed at, which might explain why he stayed there such a short time, being used to more luxurious quarters. I find that it’s right down the street from the house where one of my literary heroes, Moliere, died, and there’s a monument to him right across the street. The statue is wearing a scarlet blindfold, just like another statue I saw on another day. I wonder what it means….

30 rue Richelieu where Thomas Jefferson stayed at one of two Hôtels d’Orléans, and 40 rue Richelieu, where the great playwright and actor Molière died

Galerie de Vivienne, behind approximate site of White’s Hotel, aka Hôtel de Philadelphia, at passage des Petits-Pères

Next, I swing by the site of the former White’s Hotel, where Thomas Paine stayed several times while he was in Paris and where Mary Wollstonecraft visited him, to confirm its actual site. As I mentioned at the opening of the story of my second day in Paris, part 2, it was listed as 7 passage des Petits Pères in three separate biographies I referenced (two of Mary Wollstonecraft, one of Thomas Paine). However, in the U.S. State Department paper I just discovered, it’s listed as 1 rue des Petits Pères. Turns out the place I had gone to on the first day was half right: putting two and two together, it seems that White’s Hotel, later Hôtel de Philadelphia, stood at the intersection of passage des Petits Pères and rue des Petits Pères, which join at an angle. Paine also lived in a place across from the hotel at 7 passage des Petits Pères, hence the confusion.

Building where James Monroe and Robert Livingston signed the Louisiana Purchase, rue des Petits Champs

Historical plaque on the building where James Monroe and Robert Livingston signed the Louisiana Purchase

So on with the story of the day: on the way to passage des Petits Peres, I stumble upon a Jefferson site quite by accident! It’s at rue des Petits Champs and rue Vivienne, the next block over from the White’s Hotel site, and it’s the place where James Monroe and Robert Livingston signed the Louisiana Purchase treaty on April 30th, 1803.

Jefferson had authorized them to purchase the crucially important port city of New Orleans and the area surrounding it so that U.S. trade could not be hampered by European quarrels. But when Napolean offered the entire Louisiana territory for $15 million, vastly larger than what they were prepared to purchase, Monroe and Livingston jumped at the chance, since they had also been instructed to use their best judgment. This was sort of going over Congress’s head, because though the President has the power to negotiate treaties, they don’t have the power to make land purchases, strictly speaking, and Jefferson had not received funding or the permission from Congress. For all his strict constructionism and anti-government-debt rhetoric, Jefferson at times operated more in accordance with a ‘great man theory’ of government like Theodore Roosevelt did. After all, if you have the vision and the power coupled with the proper concern for the wellbeing of your country, at times it just seems incumbent upon you to take such bold and decisive steps, even if they’re not strictly legal. And Jefferson was right: the Louisiana purchase was an opportunity like no other to increase the prestige, population, and power of the young United States, and had to be done almost regardless of the price.

Palais Royal, Paris, France

Front Gate of the Palais Royal / Conseil d’État, Paris, France

On my way to my next destination, I pause to snap some photos of the front of the Palais Royal, which I had neglected to do on my second day in Paris, in favor of staying under the shady walkways of its rear enclosure and tree-lined gardens. 

229 – 235 Rue Saint-Honore, former Home of Abbé André Morellet

The next site I swing by is the former home of Abbé André Morellet at 229 – 235 Rue Saint-Honore in the 8th Arrondissement, north of the Jardin des Tuileries at about its midpoint at Rue Castiglione. Morellet was an economist and contributing writer to Diderot’s Encyclopedia of the Sciences, Arts. and Crafts, and close mutual friend of Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. It’s a tall narrow house, over a macaron shop between a cafe and a luggage shop, on a touristy and expensive section of the street. Jefferson, as we have seen, was an avid collector of knowledge, and Morellet’s learned, witty, and sarcastic brain was an excellent one for picking.

Jefferson was also a frequent guest of Geoffrey Chalut de Vérin at 17 Place Vendôme, between the Opera metro station and the Jardin des Tuileries. He was a customs official and another close friend of Benjamin Franklin, though I can’t find that much information about him with a brief internet search, The collected Franklin papers contain some notes from him. Many of the opulent buildings surrounding the Place Vendôme are being restored, and some are being converted to a Ritz Hotel; 17 Place Vendôme is one of these. The column in the center of the place is also being reconstructed: the Paris Commune pulled it down in the revolution of 1871, the same revolution which saw the destruction of the Tuileries Palace.

A view of the Place Vendôme. The printed screen is shielding the monument under repair

17 Place Vendôme, behind the printed screen, at or near the site of the home of Geoffrey Chalut de Vérin

Returning to my lodgings to meet up with my husband Bryan, hopefully rested enough from riding Paris-Brest-Paris to spend a day touring Paris with me, I pass by the Palais Garnier Opera, whose spectacular beauty really knocks your socks off as you enter the square. It’s not the opera house that Jefferson attended, however, as it was built many decades after his time there.

Palais Garnier Opera House, Paris, France

When I meet up with Bryan, it turns out he’s still too exhausted to take much of a walk, so we go out for a delicious meal at a little gastropub just down the street from my place on rue Montmartre. After he goes in for a nap, I take the metro nearly as far west as it goes to Auteuil, which once was a suburb of Paris, and now in its 16th Arrondissement.

Hôtel de Verrières, 47 Rue d’Auteuil, former residence of John, Abigail, and John Quincy Adams, Paris, France

Histoire de Paris sign and view of the Hôtel de Verrières, 47 rue d’Auteil, former residence of the Adamses

Plaque on the wall in the courtyard of the Hôtel de Verrières, 47 rue d’Auteuil

Jefferson stayed here at John and Abigail Adams’ place for awhile in 1784, probably not long before he signed the lease at the Hôtel Landron at the cul-de-sac Taitbout that fall. The Adams’ former residence is at 43 – 47 rue d’Auteuil, about halfway between the Seine and the southeast corner of the Bois de Boulogne, at rue Michel-Ange, near the Monoprix grocery which is near the metro stop. The house at 47 rue d’Auteuil has a historical marker identifying it as the Hôtel de Verrières, where many famous people lived. It’s on a sweet little street, which still feels like central Paris but much mellower. The house is cute too, with rounded corners and sweet little garden area. There’s a plaque on the wall above the front garden with both John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams’ names on it, but try as I might, I can’t make out the small print or capture it on the basic camera I have with me. A young boy with a little black dog and thick blue glasses, which give him oversize Keane eyes, looks at me like I’m crazy as he goes to let himself in the front gate which I happen to be blocking. He doesn’t speak English, but I’m able to communicate with gestures that I’d just like to take a picture real quick. He lets me in and I do so. Nice kid.

Near 59 Rue d’Auteil, the former site of the salon of Madame Helvétius

In 1784 and onwards, Jefferson also often hung out at the famous salon of the fabulous Madame Helvétius just down the street at 59 rue d’Auteil. The rather puritanical Adamses were often shocked at French manners and dress, loud, lots of makeup, exposed bosoms, frank conversation, and these were to be found in abundance at Madame Helvétius’. (There are great scenes from the John Adams miniseries, starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney, of their unease in Parisian society and discomfiture at Madame Helvetius’ salon.) Aside from her own accomplishments and outsize personality, she was famous for Ben Franklin’s being so smitten with her that he asked her to marry him. The building I find is not old, quaint, or lovely, but an aggressively sleek, square building of concrete blocks and smoked glass, all angled corners. The suburb of Auteuil was very fashionable in Adams’ and Jefferson’s time, and the neighborhood I find myself in today still is, full of elegant buildings, cute expensive shops, well-dressed people, and families with one or two likewise well-dressed children. it looks like a postcard or realtor’s advertisement of the perfect neighborhood and reminds me a bit of Noe Valley in San Francisco, Paris-style.

Corner view of Benjamin Franklin’s house at Hôtel Valentinois, Passy

The last site I visit today is in Passy, also in the 16th Arrondissemont, also a former fashionable suburb of Paris which is now one of its outer wealthy neighborhoods. Thomas Paine lived somewhere in this neighborhood near Ben Franklin, who befriended him during Paine’s first stay in Paris in 1781 as he helped negotiate a loan from the French government to aid the American Revolution. Though I couldn’t find the exact site where Paine lived, Franklin lived at Hôtel Valentinois at 62-70 rue Raynouard at Avenue de Lamballe. There’s no doubt that Paine visited here often. The Hôtel Valentinois stands on a hill overlooking the city, and the view must have been particularly spectacular in Franklin and Paine’s time, with an uninterrupted view of the city since this is way out in the outskirts of Paris. Passy was an outlying village or suburb at the time, but highrises galore have sprung up between the Valentinois and central Paris since then. The view has still got to be pretty great from the upper floors, since it towers seven tall stories from the hill it’s on.

A view of Benjamin Franklin’s house at Hôtel Valentinois, Passy, Paris, France

Benjamin Franklin’s image on the corner of the historic Hôtel Valentinois

It was Franklin who wrote letters of introduction for the young Paine to his friends in the American Colonies, which enabled him to find a job and make connections with other young thinkers, movers, and shakers, eventually involving Paine in the burgeoning independence movement, which led to the publication of Common Sense… and the rest, as we have seen, is history!

As I walk back towards the Seine to meet my husband at rue Saint Dominique for dinner (just down the street from where we honeymooned seven years before, how romantic!), I’m treated to the most beautiful views, quite changed since Franklin’s, Paine’s, Wollstonecraft’s, and Jefferson’s time, but no more or less breathtaking, I’m sure. Just different.

A view from Avenue du President Kennedy, Passy, Paris, France

A View through Pont de Bir-Hakiem, Passy

A View From Pont de Bir-Hakiem, Paris, France

 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Sources and Inspiration:
 
Adams, William Howard. The Paris Years of Thomas Jefferson. New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1997.
 
André Morellet‘. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
 
Bell, David. ‘5 Myths About the French Revolution‘, New York Post, Jul 9th, 2015.
The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d’Alembert‘, Collaborative Translation Project website.
 
French Revolution‘. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
Gordon, Lyndall. Vindication:  A Life of Mary WollstonecraftNew York: Harper Collins, 2006. 
 
 
Hôtel de Verrières‘, Structurae website.
 
Jacobs, Diane. Her Own Woman: The Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

Jacoby, Susan. Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. New York: Owl Books, 2004.
http://us.macmillan.com/freethinkers/susanjacoby

Louisiana Purchase, 1803‘, U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian website.
Nelson, Craig. Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations. New York: Viking Penguin, 2006.
 
O’Brien, Kristin. ‘Madame Helvétius‘, The Salonniere blog.
 
Paris Residences‘, from the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia, Monticello.org
Todd, Janet. Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000 
Tomalin, Claire. The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft. London: Weidenfield & Nicholson, 1974. 

Williamson, Audrey. Thomas Paine: His Life, Work, and Times. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1973.

Thomas Jefferson Sites, Part 6: Charlottesville, and Last Day in D.C.

John and Amy Cools at Monticello, 2015 by Amy Cools

I’m at Monticello with my dad, John Cools! I’m one happy gal

Sixth day, April 24th, 2015.

Today, I’m heading south of D.C., and have only two destinations for the day, and that’s a good thing: it’ll take every hour I have to explore them, and make me wish I have more to spend. These places tell the story of what Thomas Jefferson’s all about more than any of the other sites I visited, with the possible exception of the Library of Congress (though he never visited the building, of course, since it was built decades after his death).

And this time, I’m pleased to say, I have a travel companion, that very special person I told you I was meeting yesterday: my darling Dad, John Cools! He’s one of my very favorite people in the whole world, and I can’t imagine a better person to go on a history tour with. He’s also handsome, like his big brother Bob, who lives in nearby Falls Church and took me on the little driving tour on the first D.C. day of this trip.

Groves Store, Somerville Post Office, farmland in Fauquier County, Virginia, image Emridou via Wikimedia Commons

Groves Store, Somerville Post Office, farmland in Fauquier County, Virginia, photo by Emridout via Wikimedia Commons

Groves Store and Somerville Post Office, surrounded by farmland in Fauquier County, Virginia, is itself the self-described “Downtown Somerville”. Photo by Emridout via Wikimedia Commons

We drive to Charlottesville via the smaller highways that take us through the beautiful Virginia farmlands, lush and green and still colorful with wildflowers. We lose a few extra minutes getting out of town, since we’re so busy chatting and laughing that we miss a couple of turns. After these brief false starts, we’re on our way.

Since I’m driving and absorbed in conversation with my Dad, I forget to ask him to be my photographer, and have no photos from the drive to share. However, I find a great one online that’s in the public domain; thank you, Emridout! Remove the hay bales, and you’re seeing more or less what we see during our drive.

Thomas Jefferson's final site plan for Monticello on display at the visitor center museum, 2015 by Amy Cools

Thomas Jefferson’s final site plan for Monticello on display at the visitor center museum

We arrive at Monticello, Jefferson’s stately home on the hill in Albemarle County, Virginia, just a few miles away from where he was born at Shadwell. (Monticello is Italian for ‘little mountain’.) His childhood home burned down when he was in his mid-twenties, and though I was tempted to find the site, I think it’s best to first see the main places we came to to see, and stop by Shadwell if we have time later. Turns out, we don’t.

First, we head to the ticket machine for the house tour.We’re scheduled for a tour a few hours later, so we start with the museum. It’s an excellent one.

Tools like these would have been used in the building of Monticello, on display at the visitor center museum, 2015 by Amy Cools

Tools like these would have been used in building Monticello, on display at the visitor center museum

We start with the exhibit which shows how Monticello was designed and built in stages. In fact, it was never really finished. Jefferson was an experimental architect, and I guess he’d be considered an amateur, in the sense that although he designed buildings, he wasn’t paid to do it for a living and he wasn’t formally trained. It was one of his lifelong interests, however, and at Monticello, he’d often build up part of the house, only to see a building or illustration which gave him a better idea. So, he’d tear part of it down from time to time, redesign, and rebuild it.

Thomas Jefferson's standing desk, in the Monticello museum, photo 2015 by Amy Cools

Thomas Jefferson’s standing desk, in the Monticello museum. Doesn’t look like it would have been quite tall enough for his six-foot-two-inch self!

My Dad is a construction superintendent and started out in his professional life framing houses and building room additions; he’s also built or assisted in building many houses from the ground up. He used to take us kids with him to work sometimes, usually one or two at a time, and we would play with the wood scraps and little round metal cutouts from electrical boxes (which make perfect coins for buried treasure). Dad often says how much he misses building with his own hands, but a superintendent commands a much better salary and he had a family to support, so a superintendent he became. If Jefferson were here, they’d have a lot to talk about.

This exhibit is right up my Dad’s alley, and he pores over the displays in great interest. I’m interested too, but I’m more drawn to Jefferson’s standing desk displayed in the center of the room, as antique furniture is a little more my forte. It’s both elegant and practical; I would love to own it. With its tilt top and pull-out additional work surface, it’s just as great for the laptop and reference books I’m working with as it was for Jefferson’s pen and paper. My day job is in a medical office, and I often regret the number of hours I spend sitting down. This would be a perfect solution.

Bust of Thomas Jefferson at the Monticello museum, photo 2015 by Amy Cools

Bust of Thomas Jefferson by Jean-Antoine Houdon, 1789

We head for the gallery across the hall whose displays focus on the daily lives of all who lived and worked at Monticello. There’s a handsome bust of Jefferson at the front of gallery, and I find I like the face. It’s very expressive, a little handsome, with hair that looks awkward to my modern eyes, swept outward from either side of his face.

Thomas Jefferson portrait by Mather Brown, at Washington DC portrait gallery, photo 2016 by Amy Cools

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Mather Brown (original), at Washington DC’s National Portrait Gallery

I recall a portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Mather Brown, the first known portrait of him painted in London in 1786, which doesn’t look that much to me like the man portrayed in this bust or most of the other portrayals I’ve seen. A copy of this portrait hangs here at Monticello somewhere; the original is on display at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC.

I’ve heard the Brown portrait described as more handsome than Jefferson in real life: he was tall, lanky, with red hair and freckles and a long nose. But I like the face portrayed in the bust much better: it looks a bit patrician but with rough edges, the face of an energetic man who spends a lot of time outdoors or doing something else interesting. The Brown portrait looks stuffy and a little haughty in comparison, and I never did like the powdered look.

Thomas Jefferson tools and gadgets on display at Monticello museum, 2015 by Amy Cools

Thomas Jefferson’s pocket tools and gadgets

A project-oriented, outdoorsy man like Jefferson needed a toolkit, and we see a nifty one in this gallery. There’s a pocketknife, drafting instruments with a little silver case, architect’s scale, and most interesting to me, a sort of tiny notebook made of ivory. It fans out like a lady’s fan, and what’s nifty about it is that you can write notes on it in pencil, and then erase the marks by rubbing them off with your finger, making it available to use again. I use the Pages app on my mini iPad in sorta the same way during my travels.

The gallery has many, many more great exhibits, way too many to picture here!

The graveyard at Monticello as seen from the path from the museum to the house, 2015 Amy Cools

A view of the graveyard at Monticello, as seen from the path from the museum up to the house

Completing our tour of the museum, we grab a bite to eat at the cafe (they actually have very tasty, reasonably priced food, sometimes even serving vegetables raised in the restored Monticello gardens) and then head up the hill toward the house. It’s a nice little stroll, I think preferable to the shuttle, since it gives you time in nature to refresh yourself between the mental effort of taking in all that history; interesting as it is, it’s fatiguing after awhile, and the break is welcome. The path winds through a pretty little patch of woods, and it’s spring, so the leaves are still small and bright green, and you can see quite a ways through the trees and get a pretty good view of the lay of the land.

A closer view of Thomas Jefferson's obelisk-tombstone at Monticello, 2015 by Amy Cools

A closeup of Thomas Jefferson’s obelisk-tombstone, listing the three self-selected accomplishments he was most proud of

The Jefferson family graveyard is about halfway up the hill to the house from the welcome center, and Jefferson, his wife Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson, his mother Jane Randolph Jefferson, his sister Martha Jefferson Carr, and her husband, his brother-in-law and best friend Dabney Carr. Carr and Jefferson studied law together and both were members of the Virginia House of Burgesses. They were very close since childhood, and would hang out on the hill that would later become the site of Monticello, often reading and talking under the shade of a favorite oak tree. They promised that whoever died first, the other would bury him under that oak. Carr, sadly, died at the early age of thirty, so it was up to Jefferson to fulfill that vow.

Dabney Carr's grave, first to be buried at Monticello, photo 2015 by Amy Cools.jpg

Dabney Carr’s grave; he was the first to be buried at Monticello

This graveyard grew up around that first burial, and over the years, his mother-in-law, nieces, nephews, cousins and other family, his wife Martha 38 years later, and finally Jefferson himself, were buried.

The obelisk that is Jefferson’s tombstone towers high above the rest, and besides his name and birth and death dates, it’s carved with a list of his three proudest accomplishments: author of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and founder of the University of Virginia. Not the presidency of the United States, or his diplomatic service to France, or any of his other achievements in politics, scholarship, law practice, legislation, agriculture, science, architecture, invention, or philosophy, none of these made it onto that stone.

Whatever his flaws, the fact that he directed only these three to be carved on his tombstone increases my respect for him quite a bit. Rights-based government; freedom of conscience; public access to a liberal education: it’s hard to come up with a list of three more valuable social goods. Jefferson did more than most to promote these in his lifetime; even where he didn’t carry out his goals or conceive of better ones, he helped lay the groundwork so that others could implement his ideals of a more enlightened, rational, humane society more fully.

Mulberry Row path and gardens at Monticello, photo 2015 by Amy Cools

Mulberry Row path and gardens at Monticello

Dad and I pause, gaze, and reflect a little while here, then we continue up the hill. We arrive next at the gardens and Mulberry Row, where many of Jefferson’s slaves and hired contractors lived and worked, including his slave, departed wife’s half-sister, and mistress of 38 years Sally Hemings. The gardens and the Row run side by side to the south of the house.

The gardens are fully restored, laid out in the same way as in Jefferson’s time in accordance with his notes and drawings, and as much as possible, grow what Jefferson’s farm grew, and are as carefully tended.

Chimney and foundation of the joiner's shop on Mulberry Row, 2015 by Amy Cools

Chimney and foundation of the joiner’s (woodworker’s) shop on Mulberry Row

Mulberry Row is a fascinating place: there’s been extensive archaeological work done, with many of the foundations of the original structures laid bare and described by signs, interspersed by a few reconstructions. Most of the buildings on the Row burned down or were pulled down when they fell into disrepair, but there are a few structures still standing that are original.

On the west end of the Row stands the chimney and bits of the walls of the joiner’s shop, where the fine woodworking was done: wood molding, furniture, carriages, doors, windows, and so on, from wood that had been imported or felled on the plantation and cut into lumber elsewhere, then brought here. If he needed skilled work done, the practical Jefferson would hire an expert, often from Europe, then apprentice one of his slaves to him so that they could provide the same services in the future. For example, Sally Heming’s half-brother John Hemings became Monticello’s master woodworker after acquiring the skill under the tutelage of David Watson, a hired Scotsman.

Uriah Phillips Levy's mother's gravesite on Mulberry Row, Monticello, 2015 by Amy Cools

Uriah Phillips Levy’s mother’s gravesite on Mulberry Row

One creative and lovely use of one of the crumbling structures on the Row is Uriah Phillips Levy’s mother’s gravesite wall. Levy believed that great people’s homes should be preserved in their memory, and as the first Jewish naval officer in the U.S. who also advocated for religious liberty and against flogging, was a great admirer of Jefferson’s. So, he bought Monticello in the 1830’s to restore and preserve it. When his mother died here, Levy buried her here in this site overlooking the gardens and vista of the woods and green farmlands below.

Textile workshop on Mulberry Row, Monticello, 2015 by Amy Cools.JPG

Textile workshop on Mulberry Row

There are two buildings on Mulberry Row that are original and still more or less intact: the workmen’s house which at some point became a small textile factory, and one of the stables.

Remaining section of stables on Monicello's Mulberry Row, 2015 Amy Cools.JPG

Remaining section of the stables on Mulberry Row

The workmen’s house / textile workshop was first built in the 1770’s, and the stables in 1808. The latter was originally a larger, L-shaped building; this is what’s left.

We’re so absorbed in exploring Mulberry Row that we almost don’t notice those that the few hours we had to wait to tour the house had quickly passed. We scurry on over to join our tour group.

Monticello is preserved and run by a private non-profit, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, and many of the artifacts contained in the house are on loan by private collectors. The tour guide explains that since the Foundation has not received permission from the owners of all the artifacts, no photography is allowed inside. So I contact the Foundation and receive permission to use a limited number of the Foundation’s images of the interior.John Cools and tour group at Monticello, 2015 by Amy Cools

This may sound like heresy to many, but while Monticello is a very interesting and even impressive house, I don’t consider it particularly beautiful or graceful. It looks just like what it is: a concoction of an experimental architect who loves all things classical and equally loves invention and values practicality, constructed in a piecemeal fashion so that these two aspects of Jefferson’s taste are never reconciled. There are beautiful details and fine craftsmanship throughout the house, even some lovely rooms. But many of the elements don’t fully harmonize with one another and overall, it just doesn’t hang together. That’s fine by me: because it’s such a quirky place, very much a product of an individualist, I find it all the more interesting to explore, and I think it’s a really… well, nifty place.

Monticello Entrance Hall © Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello 2, photo by Robert Lautman

Monticello Entrance Hall © Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello 2, photo by Robert Lautman, used by permission

We enter the front of the house through a large portico with a pointed lintel, topped with a large weather vane. While the weather vane looks rather funny with the neoclassical design, it pierces the roof and attaches to a dial on the portico ceiling so that the detail-oriented Jefferson could step out onto the front porch and see which way the wind was blowing just by glancing up.

There’s also a giant clock over the inside front door of the entrance hall, which tells not only the time of day but the day of the week, again, somewhat awkwardly. Since the weights suspended from overly long chains hang down through holes cut in the floor, he’d have to go down to the basement to check the day of the week on Saturdays and Sundays if his calendars hadn’t already alerted him. Again, over-the-top tech nerdy gear, still in the process of development, for the 18th century gadget-head.

Monticello Entrace Hall South Wall 2, © Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello

Monticello Entrace Hall South Wall 2, © Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello, used by permission

 As we enter the entrance hall, Jefferson’s fascination with the natural world and the history of local cultures is manifest in the beautifully presented and preserved fossils and Indian artifacts that fill the room. Painted animal skins hang from the interior balcony, shields, spears, pipes, clothing, and the heads and skulls of animals hang on the walls, fossil remains of animals cover tables. Jefferson was an innovator and pioneer in many fields, including archaeology; he’s credited with directing the first scientific archaeological dig in the Americas.

Among the busts and portraits that ring the room, his own is placed across the room from Alexander Hamilton’s, Jefferson’s ideological foe and political nemesis. While he long thought Hamilton’s political beliefs would spell disaster for the new republic if carried out, he ended up using some of Hamilton’s methods to accomplish his own goals as President, such as taking on more national debt to pay for the Louisiana Purchase. Hamilton was a Federalist, and believed that a strong central government, a standing army, industry, and a national debt were necessary for any nation’s success and the liberty and well-being of its inhabitants; Jefferson believed that a small national government, largely independent agrarian states, no standing army, and freedom national debt would accomplish these ends much better. Let that be a lesson to us, as I’m sure it was to Jefferson; it’s always important to remember that others many have insight we haven’t yet had occasion to see clearly for ourselves, and to be ready and able to change our minds when the circumstances reveal that we’re wrong.

Monticello Book Room © Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello

Monticello Book Room © Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello, used by permission

We pass thorough a pretty, small blue parlor to the next room that really represents something that Jefferson’s all about: the book room. You may be surprised that Jefferson had such a large library as this in his later years considering he’d sold all his books to Congress in 1815. But as he wrote to John Adams, he couldn’t live without books, so he promptly resumed accumulating more debt by building a new library.

The book collection here is composed of only a few from Jefferson’s actual collection; the rest are identical titles that others had owned. The room does hold one of Jefferson’s actual high-backed easy chairs and an original portrait of Jefferson in profile by Gilbert Stuart, which Jefferson’s friends and family said looked more like him than just about any other portrait.

Monticello Jefferson Cabinet © Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello

Monticello Jefferson Cabinet © Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello, used by permission

Then through a beautiful, plant-filled, well-lit greenhouse and hobby room to Jefferson’s ‘cabinet’, or personal office, connected to his bedroom by two passageways. He was a busy man, disciplined in his reading, writing, and keeping of accounts, and wished to be able to get right back to what he was working on as efficiently as possible. So he devised two ways to get from one to the other: one, the standard little hallway which is the one we walk through and two, his alcove bed was set into the dividing wall, so he could roll out of bed to the left into his bedroom, or to the right straight into his office. It’s also the bed he died in, so there would have been plenty of space for his loved ones to bid him goodbye from whatever direction they came. I feel, for a moment, a little like an intruder, since Jefferson was a very private man in many ways, especially concerning matters of the bed, so to speak. But as he said, the world belongs to the living, not the dead, and we the living are here to learn from what he left behind.

Jefferson’s office is an especially interesting and revealing room. It’s full of scientific instruments, an orrery (model of the solar system), a polygraph (a mechanical device which makes a copy of the letter you’re writing while you’re writing it), and gadget-y furniture, including a revolving bookstand which allowed Jefferson to quickly consult several volumes at once, an adjustable-top desk which could be raised, lowered, and angled to suit the needs of the moment, and revolving chair and table. My good friend Alex, who simply must to have or at least try out every new invention that comes along, would drool over this room.

Like the entrance hall, it’s also ringed by portrait busts and images of his friends and influences, including George Washington, James Monroe, and, like Hamilton, a Federalist, but unlike Hamilton, a friend, John Adams. Adams and Jefferson met at the Second Continental Congress in 1775 and became close friends. While they shared a commitment to the Revolution and to the cause of political and personal liberty in general, they differed sharply in some particulars in how this could best be accomplished. Adams held a more pessimistic view of human nature, and thought that a free people needed a stronger government, stricter laws with greater social accountability, and a more aristocratic, pomp-and-circumstance-orientated leadership to inspire and impress. Jefferson held a more optimistic view of human nature, and thought that the people could be trusted to govern themselves if mostly left alone, with government interference only when people infringed on one another’s natural rights. Both emphasized the importance role of education, believing that an uninformed and uneducated populace would always remain vulnerable to exploitation and oppression. Adams thought it should be fully financed at public expense, and Jefferson was a founder of the American system of public higher education (more on that shortly).

At Monticello with my Dad, John Cools, photo 2015 by Amy Cools.JPGWe pass through many other interesting and handsome rooms, including the parlor, lined floor to ceiling with portraits, again of Jefferson’s friends and influences. If I were to describe all the rooms in detail, this account would go on far too long, so I refer you to Monticello’s website’s excellent virtual online tour, or better yet, go see it in person! I assure you, you will not be disappointed.

Leaving the house, we chat just a little with some other tourists. Since we all want photos of ourselves and our companions in front of the house, we oblige one another in turn, and I pose with my handsome Dad and favorite travel buddy. We pause for a little break outside, and take in the view looking down from the hill at the scenery all around. Peering through a little break in the trees, we can see, far off in the distance, our next destination after Monticello.West (rear) entrance of Monticello, photo 2015 by Amy Cools.JPG

 But we still have some exploring to do here. Monticello is also composed of an L-shaped wing on either side of the house, with the long ends extending past the rear portico. These wings are set below the house, built into the base of the hillock the main house is on with the entry doors facing out, and connect with the basement on either side; the roofs of each these wings form a terrace. At the tail end of each L, there’s a two-story brick building, or pavilion.
View north from Monticello's west lawn, 2015 by Amy Cools

View north from Monticello’s west lawn. If you look hard, you can just make out the University of Virginia through the trees

The south pavilion was the first finished house structure at Monticello, composed of two rooms, a combination bedroom and sitting room over a kitchen. Because Shadwell had burned two years earlier, Jefferson moved into this building in 1772, before schedule, with his new wife Martha and his infant daughter, also named Martha but called Patsy. They lived in this little house for nearly two years, until the main house was built up enough to be habitable in 1794.

We head on down below the terrace. The basement and both lower wings of Monticello house more slaves’ quarters, the smokehouse, the dairy, the kitchen, the wine cellar and brewery, the ware room, stables, the wash house, a privy, and numerous other rooms, all full of interesting exhibits showing how a large plantation community raised and produced food, ran a great house, manufactured goods for sale and for consumption, and so on. Again, I very, very highly recommend a visit!

After thoroughly exploring this fascinating place, we realize that a couple more hours had flown by and we needed to skedaddle if we were to reach our next destination in time to tour it in daylight.

Students attending festivities in The Lawn at the University of Virginia, 2015 Amy Cools.JPG

Students attending festivities winding down on the Lawn at the University of Virginia

Long porch of student housing at the Pavilion, University of Virginia, 2015 by Amy Cools

Long porch of students’ quarters at the University of Virginia. The Academical Village was designed to place students and teachers in close proximity and therefore, frequent discourse

We wind our way down the hill toward the University of Virginia, which Jefferson founded in 1819. As aforementioned, you can see the domed roof of the Rotunda between the trees from Monticello looking northwest. I’d bet he kept the trees trimmed from time to time in that direction so that he could look upon what he considered one of the most important accomplishments of his life.

As were so many of Jefferson’s brainchildren, the University was an innovative institution. It was nonsectarian; it was among the first to adopt the elective system; it focused on educating students qualified entirely on the basis of merit, not wealth or social standing; it emphasized the study of the sciences as well as the humanities; and it was built as an ‘academical village’, which emphasized a close association between instructors and students but with private lodgings for the latter, facilitating peaceful study and healthful rest. When we arrive, it’s not exactly peaceful: it appears we’ve caught the tail end of a daytime festival, with tents and booths scattered around, groups of students standing or lolling on picnic blankets, and a live band playing.

A pinnacle of Merton College Chapel tower, erected 1451, in the gardens at University of Virginia, 2015 Amy Cools

A worn pinnacle from Merton College Chapel tower, erected 1451, in one of the University of Virginia’s gardens

The center of the University is arranged around a grand rectangular Lawn, where the festivities are winding down, with the Rotunda Building at the head. It’s a very handsome building, modeled after the Pantheon and exactly half its height and width, where Jefferson much more successfully married the local red brick look with classical design than at Monticello. Jefferson not only designed the Rotunda (with help), he designed the Academical Village, many of the other buildings, the overall layout, even, as I discover on a plaque on one of them, the whimsical wavy garden walls.

The University is a lovely place to stroll, built on hilly green grounds with lots of trees, enchanting little gardens tucked behind student buildings, many containing interesting sculptures or old architectural relics. One has at its center an original ancient, heavily weathered stone spire from Merton College at Oxford dating from 1451. It’s about to turn Friday evening, and the students are out in droves to start off their weekend dressed to impress, laughing, chatting, and jostling their buddies.The Rotunda at the University of Virginia, undergoing extensive renovation, 2015 Amy Cools.JPGUniversity of Virginia stands on site of James Monroe's first farm, historical marker, 2015 Amy Cools.JPGMy Dad and I wander and chat, discussing what I had learned before the trip of the history of the University and its architecture. It also works out well that our visit coincides with the Rotunda building’s restoration, since, as aforementioned, my Dad has spent his life working in construction. Even though we can’t see the interior, we can observe the process of restoration as well as see many of the Rotunda’s underlying structures exposed, which he finds very interesting.

We learn various other interesting facts as we explore; there are historical markers aplenty throughout the college grounds. Part of the grounds of the University is located on the site of Jefferson friend and colleague James Monroe’s old farm, one sign explains. Another informs us that Edgar Allen Poe attended for one term in 1826, dropping out because his adopted father would not pay all of his debts. Imagine becoming so famous that briefly attending and dropping out of a prestigious university would earn you a historical marker there!

Dusk arrives, and it’s time to seek out dinner before the two-hour-plus drive back. It’s been an excellent day, and I couldn’t ask for better company. If you couldn’t tell already, I’m a bit of a daddy’s girl.

Thomas Jefferson's lap desk, on which he wrote the Declaration of Independence, 2015 by Amy Cools

Thomas Jefferson’s lap desk, which he designed himself and on which he wrote the Declaration of Independence

Seventh day, April 25th.

The last day of my trip is dedicated to visiting museums with my Dad, and I put my project on hold for the time being. However, I return to the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress with my Dad to show him around because I know he’ll absolutely love it. (He does.)

Presidential Souvenirs at the Smithsonian, including a Jefferson snuffbox at upper left, 2015 by Amy Cools

Presidential Souvenirs at the Smithsonian, including an early 1800’s snuffbox painted with Jefferson’s portrait at upper left

In the course of the day, we visit the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian, where I make sure to visit the American Presidency gallery. I find some Jefferson artifacts among the collection, including the original portable desk on which he wrote the Declaration of Independence (which I already know is here, having visited the Smithsonian some years before), and a great little snuffbox from the early 1800’s painted with Jefferson’s likeness, which I don’t remember from my earlier visit.

There’s one more stop I do have to make before I finish my Jefferson tour. Of course, that’s the White House.

Amy Cools with father John Cools in front of the White House, photo 2015 by Amy Cools.jpgWhile he didn’t list his Presidency among his proudest accomplishments, Jefferson’s time in the White House significantly influenced the way the United States government would function in the future. Though he downsized the size of government following Washington and Adams’ Federalist administrations and reduced the national debt, he increased it again with the Louisiana Purchase and adopted Federalist (or in today’s terms, big-government) policies when he deemed it necessary for national security or the well-being of the nation as a while. He insisted on entertaining foreign dignitaries in a egalitarian and casual manner, with everyone free to seat themselves where they liked rather than being seated according to importance, and insisted on being addressed like any ordinary citizen, without honorific. The latter innovations, while initially shocking and offensive to European sensibilities, helped set the tone for American cultural egalitarianism as well as the spread of democracy in the centuries ahead, even if only in their tiny way.

While Jefferson stooped to some shady political back-handedness during his bid for the presidency (estranging his friends John and Abigail Adams in the process), he struck the right tone in his First Inaugural Address in 1801 when he said ‘…Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle… We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.’ We could all use a little more of Jefferson’s rational, conciliatory idealism amidst the partisan bickering, conspiracy-theorizing, extremist, unkind rhetoric that over-saturates our public discourse today.

So ends the account of my Jefferson travels. But in following in his footsteps, learning more about his life and thought, and putting it all together in a narrative, many questions arose and trains of thought were initiated. There will be many more reflections on Jefferson to come in future essays, you can be sure of that.

*Listen to the podcast version here or on iTunes. 

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Sources and Inspiration:

Brandt, Lydia Mattice. ‘The Architecture of the University of Virginia’
http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/University_of_Virginia_The_Architecture_of_the

Founders Online: Correspondence and Other Writings of Six Major Shapers of the United States,
Website. http://founders.archives.gov/

‘Gilbert Stuart’, article, National Gallery of Art website.
https://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/2005/stuart/washington.shtm

Hirst, K. Kris. History of Archaeology: The Series. About.com.
http://archaeology.about.com/od/historyofarchaeology/a/history_series.htm

Jacoby, Susan. Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. New York: Owl Books, 2004.
http://us.macmillan.com/freethinkers/susanjacoby

Jefferson, Thomas. Writings. Compiled by The Library of America, New York: Penguin Books.
http://www.loa.org/volume.jsp?RequestID=67

Jenkinson, Clay. The Thomas Jefferson Hour. Podcast.
http://www.jeffersonhour.com/listen.html

Meacham, Jon. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. New York: Random House, 2012.
http://www.jonmeacham.com/books/thomas-jefferson-the-art-of-power/

‘Short History of the University of Virginia’, University of Virginia website.
http://www.virginia.edu/uvatours/shorthistory/

‘Timeline of Jefferson’s Life’. Monticello.org. Website of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.
http://www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/timeline-jeffersons-life

Zakaria, Fareed. In Defense of a Liberal Education. New York: W.W. Norton, 2015
http://books.wwnorton.com/books/In-Defense-of-a-Liberal-Education/

 

Thomas Jefferson Sites, Part 3: Philadelphia

Third day, April 21st.

I wake up very early to beat rush hour traffic and head northeast to Philadelphia.

My husband Bryan and I visited Philadelphia several years ago and had explored the Old City, so I have a fairly clear memory of the general layout and some of the sites I’m looking for. But we hadn’t seen Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and later the Constitution was signed, because 1) it was being renovated at the time, and the front of it was covered by scaffolding and a gigantic dropcloth printed with an image of the facade and 2) it was a weekend day during tourist season and they were mobbed by tourists, out of tickets to tour the inside by the time we got there. I had learned my lesson, and this time around, I make a beeline for the visitor’s center to get my ticket. Even on a Tuesday in April, there was an over three hour delay between the time I get my ticket and the time I will be admitted. That’s no problem since I have plenty of exploring to do, but if you plan to go sometime, my advice is to get your ticket as far ahead of time as possible.

I start my wanderings with the President’s House site, where the first two Presidents of the United States, George Washington and John Adams, had lived while the White House was being built. (Adams moved in to the unfinished White House in 1800, during the last months of his presidency.) Jefferson visited this house many times during both of their administrations. The foundations exist and were excavated and studied, and now have a open-air exhibit there, which was brand-new when we were there years ago.
It’s a lovely exhibit, not only describing the house and the presidents and their families that lived there, but telling the stories of Washingtons’ slaves, left out of history until recently. More on this in a later piece.

Next, I visit the Christ Church burial ground across from the Free Quaker Meeting House, where Jefferson’s friend and personal idol Benjamin Franklin is buried. I head first to Franklin’s tomb, where he lies with his wife and members of his family. Franklin had the virtues Jefferson admired most: he was a curious, adventurous, learned, and sociable man; a gifted politician, diplomat, storyteller, and above all, a scientist. In other words, Franklin was the embodiment of the ideal Enlightenment man. More about Franklin to come.

When I ask one of the men attending the gate where another of Jefferson’s colleagues, Dr. Benjamin Rush, is buried, he’s very glad to show me the way, exclaiming that Rush is his favorite among those notables buried here. Rush was also a great friend of Jefferson’s and frequent correspondent, and without his efforts, Jefferson and John Adams may never have resumed their friendship, which had been strained by the infighting among Washington’s administration between Adams and Federalists and Jefferson’s Republicans, and broken by their contentious presidential races.

The man who showed me the way is right: I would find Rush an excellent subject of another history series like this in his own right, as he lived a long, fascinating life. In addition to his role as a founding father of the United States, he cared deeply about important social issues and founded or served in several public service organizations. He was also curiously backward-thinking and innovative at the same time as a physician: for example, he continued to practice and promote blood-letting as a medical cure even as the medical field was doubting its efficacy and phasing it out, and had rather medieval-sounding theories about how disease is spread; yet, he was a pioneer in the study of mental disorders, describing them diseases of the mind instead of ‘spiritual’ maladies, and is often referred to as the founder of American psychiatry.

I discover that Francis Hopkinson is buried here as well. He was another good friend of Jefferson’s, a fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence and fellow member of the American Philosophical Society; he helped lead its revival after the Revolution. ‘Philosophical’, in that time, was a broader term than it is today, referring to inquiry into everything that exists and how it all works; scientific inquiry was included. Franklin put it this way: the APS was a foundation dedicated to ‘the promotion of useful knowledge’. (I prefer Franklin’s description to today’s conception of philosophy, and approach it much the same way.) More on the APS shortly.

Then on to the corner of 5th and Market, where Mary Houses’ boarding house stood. There’s nothing now marking the site that I could find. After the death of his wife (Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson to the rest of the world, Patty to him) in September of 1782, he was inconsolable for awhile. His friend and protege James Madison helped persuade him to go to France, where he could assist in negotiations with Britain over the Treaty of Paris. He took his oldest daughter Patsy with him. The two had grown very close after Martha’s death, and he wished her to receive some of her education in Europe. The treaty ended up being finished before the weather would allow for the journey overseas, and after a stay of a couple months or so, he returned to Monticello, then on to other government positions. He was appointed minister to France in 1784, and returned to stay at Mrs. Houses’s, with Patsy, on their way to Paris again that summer.


As I turn around to head to my next destination, I notice a beautiful statue in front of the National Museum of American Jewish History, across the street from where the boarding house had been. It’s entitled ‘Religious Liberty’.

There was a historic exchange between George Washington and his administration, of which Jefferson was Secretary of State, and the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island, which was an important moment in the new nation’s history of establishing a completely secular government which tasked itself with defending the right to complete religious liberty. (We’re still figuring out how to best go about it to this day.) Jefferson had made the establishment of religious freedom among the most important missions in his life; he directed that his authorship of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom be one of only three of his accomplishments carved on his tombstone. For a nation which had just separated themselves from the Old World, torn apart with one bloody religious conflict after another over for centuries, religious liberty was a wonderfully freeing, invigorating, humanistic social experiment.

Then on to a site at the east end of the Bourse, a funny name for the old commodities exchange building, now a retail, dining, and business center. (It’s so nice inside, I’m tempted to stop here for refreshment, but it’s still early and I have much to see.) Francis’s Tavern used to stand here, on Fourth Street between Market and Chestnut. Jefferson lived here for awhile while he was Vice President in the late 1790’s, until the government moved to the new capitol in 1800. John Adams and many other government officials stayed there as well.
I go next in search of the site where Benjamin Randolph’s house used to stand: I’m know it’s not there anymore but I’m hoping for a plaque. After all, it was the first place Jefferson stayed in Philadelphia; he rented rooms from Randolph, cabinet maker, in 1775 when he arrived on June 11 as a newly elected member of the Second Continental Congress.

It’s somewhere between 3rd and 4th on Chestnut. But I don’t know exactly where, and I find nothing indicating where it had been. Instead, I’m drawn to a sign indicating the site of two buildings Ben Franklin owned and lived in with his family the last five years of his life is located just down an alley next to the National Liberty Museum. I take a peek. Those curved concrete structures you see among the steel outlines of the original shapes of the buildings are windows into the archaeological excavations of the sites. So interesting. I love archaeology; I wanted to be an archaeologist when I was a kid. (Like most kids of the Indiana Jones generation, I’m sure!)

 

Across the street, I find Carpenter’s Hall, where the First Continental Congress met. Jefferson wasn’t a delegate to that first one in 1774, but he wrote ‘A Summary View of the Rights of British America’ that year which Washington and Adams, who attended, admired and passed around to the other delegates. It was among the reasons Jefferson was eventually asked to write the Declaration of Independence, since he had already done such an excellent job on what Washington called ‘Mr. Jefferson’s Bill of Rights.’

The Hall is open to the public, so I go inside. I ask a man attending the door, and a woman working behind a counter, if either of them know of the site I’m looking for, but they don’t. The woman helpfully goes to her computer to see if she can find anything, but no luck.

I’m glad I asked though. By way of explanation as to why the site may be lost to history, the man tells me a brief history of how the National Park service took over Independence Hall and the Old City area of Philadelphia in the 1950’s, and the shockingly careless and reckless way they went about ‘restoring’ it (by today’s standards). The old buildings were crumbling and crowded by shabby, more modern buildings, and the city quickly had much of them condemned so they could be cleared away and the character of the old city could be revealed.

So, the man continues, the National Park Service ‘marked everything with an X’ that wasn’t immediately identifiable as having to do directly with the founding of the nation, and the wreckers went to work. Philadelphians who knew the city and its history better, however, started flooding the NPS and city officials with letters, informing them that they were knocking down important historical buildings, among them the first military building of the new nation, to the right and in front of Carpenter’s Hall (which they rebuilt from the rubble they had just made of it; you can see it in the first photo of the Hall above, to the right of the cobblestone alley) and Gilbert Stuart’s house, painter of some of the most iconic portraits of Jefferson, Washington, and other founders. OOOPS!!!


The man’s story reminds me of what I discovered in NYC in my Rose and Stanton series, that until very recently, we Americans had a distinct lack of appreciation for our historical architecture. In the restless pursuit of progress, we went about knocking our old buildings down with wild abandon, as long as someone could make a few bucks by doing so. Much of our history has been lost in this way, and in my opinion, many United States cities have been uglified as a result. Sigh. I wonder if this is part of the reason why Europeans historically have disliked and distrusted American tourists. I’m glad to say we’re much better about such things these days.

Then to a reconstructed 18th century garden behind the old Todd house. The garden is pretty, with lots of gorgeous tulips and trees with their new tender springtime leaves, but like the old-style gardens behind the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg, too rigidly geometric in design for my taste.John Todd’s young widow Dolley married Jefferson’s close friend, protege, and ‘Father of the Constitution’ James Madison just a year after Todd’s death in 1793. (If it seems a little heartless to move on so quickly, well, what else could a woman do in those days? It was either be married and have social standing and financial support, or single, jobless, and unless you inherited money, penniless.) Anyway, it’s a handsome house, but just like the others.

 

To my amusement, a plaque I come across states more or less the same observation I’ve been making in my historical tour of this area. In 1799, a visiting British diplomat reported ‘The regularity of Philadelphia is so great, the streets are so much like each other and the houses so nearly the same size (being built of one coloured brick) that I do not think there is anything else wor
thy of remark about it.’

I suddenly notice how quickly time’s passing, and I hurry back to the Independence Hall square to queue up for my visit, since there’s a security inspection first. After I’m cleared and waiting with the tour group, I find I’m actually standing right next to my next intended destination, Philosophical Hall (one of the two halls of the American Philosophy Society), behind and to the left of Independence Hall if you’re facing it from the front.


I’m so disappointed to find that the APS museum, which has an amazing-looking Jefferson-and-science exhibition going on right now, is closed, and will not be open again till Thursday. So, so sad! because I won’t have the chance to get back before I leave. My first big disappointment of the trip.
But anyway, I do get to go inside Independence Hall, beautifully restored. I discovered that the only original artifact here, besides the building itself and its architectural accoutrements, is the large chair on which Washington sat, presiding over the room on its dais in the center of the long wall. Here, Congress conceived of the Constitution, debated its contents, signed it, and voted it into law. Cool.

After wandering around Independence Hall and getting a good look at it from all sides, I find, in front and to the right, the place where Jefferson’s hero Washington (hero in integrity and military prowess, but not politically or even intellectually) was sworn in as the first President of the United States, as was Jefferson’s dear friend and despised political enemy Adams. The first sessions of the Senate and House of Reps were also held here, until the new capitol building in Washington D.C. was finished in 1800.

I leave the Independence Hall grounds and continue my tour around the corner down 5th Street, where the American Philosophical Society’s beautiful Library Hall stands (across the street from Philosophical Hall). It’s a reproduction of the original, with a grand statue of its founder presiding over its facade in a large central niche over the front entrance.

As aforementioned, the APS was founded in 1743 by America’s most-loved brainiac, Ben Franklin. Franklin was America’s native scientist extraordinaire, and spent his life conducting scientific experiments, disseminating knowledge to the public as widely as possible, participating in politics, and traveling the world. In other words, he lived out the virtues and carried out the practices of Jefferson’s designated ‘Three Greatest Men’ Francis Bacon, Sir Isaac Newton, and John Locke. Jefferson admired Bacon for his primary role in inventing the scientific process of observation, theory formulation, and experiment; Newton, for his brilliance in mathematics and logical reasoning and his radical new approach to physics; and Locke, for re-evaluating human nature and their rights and formulating a new political theory more in keeping with human dignity.

The exhibits in the main entry hall are fascinating and beautifully laid out.

I leave Library Hall and return to where I had left Todd house earlier to hurry back for my Independence Hall tour. I find what I’m looking for: the site of the aforementioned Dr. Benjamin Rush’s house, down the street from the Todd house on Walnut, at the 3rd Street end of the block. Jefferson visited this house regularly.

I continue my tour to the site of Robert Bell’s print shop. The first edition of Thomas Paine’s ‘Common Sense’ was printed here in January of 1776. As you probably know, Paine’s pamphlet was the most famous and most eloquent exposition of the colonies’ cause for independence from Britain, and did more to popularize and gather support for it than any other publication. Jefferson was a great friend and admirer of Paine, and shared not only his political views, but many (yet not all) of Paine’s progressive religious views, probably best described as Deistic with shades of Unitarianism. In fact, Jefferson remained a staunch supporter of Paine even after his reputation suffered and most of his friends abandoned him following his publication of his anti-clerical, unorthodox ‘The Age of Reason’. Always the champion of freethought and religious liberty, Jefferson put his money where his mouth was and put his own political career at risk by welcoming Paine as an honored visitor to the White House.

I realize I’ve been a little haphazard in my site-seeking, and should skedaddle back to re-visit Declaration House, a little museum where Jacob Graff’s house used to stand, just outside of the Old City area at 7th and Market. Jefferson lived here in 1776, where he wrote the Declaration of Independence. I had visited this site a few years ago during my visit years ago with Bryan, but this journey I’m on won’t really be complete unless I return for at least a brief visit. Graff’s actual house is no longer standing, just the house that was next to it, but I remember that the original rooms were carefully re-created. I arrive to find that the Declaration House, the museum, the old house next to it, and the grounds are closed ’till summer at least, according to the guard standing watch, due to construction around the site.

I return to Old City, to the corner of Market and 2nd near Christ Church, where John Dunlap’s print shop used to stand, which printed the first broadside of the Declaration of Independence. I can’t find a plaque or anything else to indicate exactly where it stood. (I subsequently discover there is a small, rather obscure plaque marking the site, on the building you can see in the far left of my photo: it’s to the right of the

right-hand door that’s obscured by the white tile-covered structure. So hurray, I take a picture of the correct building without realizing it!)


Last but not least, I return to City Tavern, where, because I can very sentimental at times, I pay way too much for a ‘Thomas Jefferson ale’ as I had when I was here years ago with Bryan, and accompanied it with some indifferent (yet welcome, since I was tired and hungry) soup and bread.
Jefferson spent a lot of time in the original City Tavern, and ate a lot of his meals here, as did Adams and Franklin, among others; the one I’m sitting in is a reproduction, built very recently in 1975, but faithful enough to the original style that it’s hard to tell at a glance that it’s not an original artifact.
Then off on a happy early evening stroll across Philadelphia’s beautiful and vibrant downtown, to grab a coffee and sit down in the lovely Belle Arts public Free Library to type up my notes.It’s been a very long, fascinating day.

*Listen to the podcast version here or on iTunes.
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Sources and Inspiration:

American Philosophical Society, website.
http://www.amphilsoc.org/about

‘Benjamin Rush’, Penn Biographies, Penn University Archives and Reference Center website.
http://www.archives.upenn.edu/people...

‘George Washington and his Letter to the Jews of Newport’, Touro Synagogue website.
http://www.tourosynagogue.org/history-learning

Gilbert Stuart: The Complete Works. Website
http://www.gilbert-stuart.org/

Jacoby, Susan. Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. New York: Owl Books, 2004.
http://us.macmillan.com/freethinkers/susanjacoby

‘James Madison’, White House website.
https://www.whitehouse.gov/1600/presidents/jamesmadison

Jefferson: Writings. Compiled by The Library of America, New York: Penguin Books.
http://www.loa.org/volume.jsp?RequestID=67

‘Jefferson’s Walking Tour of Philadelphia’. apsmuseum.org: website of the American Philosophical Society
http://www.apsmuseum.org/jeffersons-walking-tour-of-philadelphia/

Jenkinson, Clay. The Thomas Jefferson Hour. Podcast.
http://www.jeffersonhour.com/listen.html

Meacham, Jon. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. New York: Random House, 2012.
http://www.jonmeacham.com/books/thomas-jefferson-the-art-of-power/

‘Religious Liberty’, article, History page of the National Museum of American Jewish History website.
http://www.nmajh.org/History/

Thompson, Mary V. “The Private Life of George Washington’s Slaves”, Frontline, PBS.org
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/jefferson/video/lives.html

‘Timeline of Jefferson’s Life’. Monticello.org. Website of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.
http://www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/timeline-jeffersons-life