Letter from American History – June 2010

Reluctant Warrior

Thomas Jefferson retreated to Monticello after penning the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and spurned calls from George Washington and others to take a leading role in the patriot war effort. Jefferson knew his strength was in conceptualizing liberty, not organizing the insurrection. But in June 1779, he reluctantly agreed to throw himself into the fray by serving as governor of Virginia. Six months later, the British launched a surprise invasion of the state, which Michael Kranish chronicles in a new book Flight From Monticello: Thomas Jefferson at War. For our cover story, “Jefferson on the Run,” Kranish explores how the experience of keeping just hours ahead of capture by the British haunted Jefferson down the decades. “Those dreadful days were not only the nadir of his storied life and career; they also shaped the man and leader he became,” Kranish says. “Even though he initially insisted he wanted nothing more to do with politics after his competence and courage were called into question, he later sought and attained the presidency with the passion of an idealist hardened by the trial of war.”
 

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