Thomas Jefferson: The Private Man

from the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Exhibition Website

Apr 7 2017 - Jul 16 2017

One of American history’s protean figures, Thomas Jefferson’s role as a private citizen is as defining as his personae as founder, president, and political standard-bearer. A gifted writer and political philosopher, Jefferson was also an accomplished gardener, farmer, and architect. Thomas Jefferson: The Private Man provides a glimpse of his life outside the public sphere through the iconic documents he created

Among the 36 documents and artifacts from the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society on display in the exhibition are Jefferson’s garden book, his last letter to John Adams, manuscript leafs from his Notes on the State of Virginia, early drawings of Monticello, and a copy of the Declaration of Independence in Jefferson’s hand.

Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.

Whether or not you go, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power is a magnificent biography by a Pulitzer Prize–winning author which brings vividly to life an extraordinary man and his remarkable times. The book gives us Jefferson the politician and president, a great and complex human being forever engaged in the wars of his era. Philosophers think; politicians maneuver. Jefferson’s genius was that he was both and could do both, often simultaneously. Such is the art of power. Passionate about many things—women, his family, books, science, architecture, gardens, friends, Monticello, and Paris—Jefferson loved America most, and he strove over and over again, despite fierce opposition, to realize his vision: the creation, survival, and success of popular government in America. 

Jon Meacham lets us see Jefferson’s world as Jefferson himself saw it, and to appreciate how Jefferson found the means to endure and win in the face of rife partisan division, economic uncertainty, and external threat. Drawing on archives in the United States, England, and France, as well as unpublished Jefferson presidential papers, Meacham presents Jefferson as the most successful political leader of the early republic, and perhaps in all of American history.

The Jefferson story resonates today not least because he led his nation through ferocious partisanship and cultural warfare amid economic change and external threats, and also because he embodies an eternal drama, the struggle of the leadership of a nation to achieve greatness in a difficult and confounding world.

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

  • American
  • History
  • Jean Antoine Houdon
  • Thomas Jefferson

Exhibition Venues & Dates