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PRESS Pass: Jon Meacham

Author Jon Meacham's new biography delves into the life of Thomas Jefferson, a man he calls a genius and a "great architect of America," who "wanted to understand everything."

The book, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, examines the life and career of our nation's third president and his role in forming and shaping the United States. 

Jefferson "believed fundamentally in the survival and success of the American experiment," Meacham said. He cited the president's experience in the American Revolution that caused him to "watched over [America]" for decades like "a parent over a child."

Although Meacham doesn't specifically say it, there seems to be a lot that today's Washington can learn from our nation's third president. "Thomas Jefferson was fundamentally a pragmatist. He was a bargainer, a grand bargainer if you will" and he would have understood the benefits of "innovating our way out of hard times."

However, Jefferson was not a perfect man, as Meacham points out. He is renowned for his immortal words in the country's Declaration of Independence, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

But privately, Jefferson "owned slaves, protected slavery, perpetuated slavery, fathered children with a slave woman and slave women." The reason, according to Meacham, was that public and decisive failures at early attempts to reform and change slavery caused Thomas Jefferson to do something "un-Jeffersonian": Give up. 

This gap between Jefferson's public and private life was "central contradiction of his life and the central contradiction of the American experience." However, Meacham argues that flaws like this humanize great leaders of the past. As he put it, "These were men before they were monuments."