975: A Year at Monticello by Donald Jackson
975.5482: Jackson, Donald. A Year at Monticello — 1795. Golden, CO: Fulcrum, 1989. 104 pp. ISBN 1-55591-050-5.
- 900: History and Geography
- 970: History of North America
- 975: History of the Southeastern United States
- 975.5: History of Virginia
- 975.5482: History of Albemarle County, Virginia
Well after Thomas Jefferson had penned his name on of the founding documents of the United States, after his stint as governor of Virginia and writing its constitution, and after becoming minister to France and Secretary of State, he retired. As he said goodbye to his governmental duties, he looked with contentment to his home in Virginia—Monticello. Although never fully constructed to his liking, he maintained the farms, the factory, and the family for a full year before the nation called on him to serve again.
Donald Jackson’s A Year at Monticello examines the comings and goings of Jefferson at his Monticello manor house during the year 1795. While most historians tends to gloss over this time, the details of the great politician’s life serve to humanize him. Most of the book focuses on Jefferson’s farming plans, expenses, and way of life at Monticello. His near-obsession with different kinds of apples and pears is almost worth a chuckle at times. He tries to create good wine out of Virginia grapes (no small feat) and even creates a nail factory on his estate from scratch.
It’s not all ploughshares, though. The outside world of politics, such as it is, never really leaves him be. His correspondence with Washington, Adams, and Hamilton during this year keep him informed about national and global issues. For each entreaty to rejoin the government, he gives a paper-thin excuse why he needs to stay at his farm. Jefferson engages in an amusing tug-of-war with those who wish to see him elevated. Eventually, Jefferson loses and is elected the second president in 1796.
As for the book, it’s one of my favorites. Each time I’ve felt bogged down or worn out by my reading schedule, I pull this one down. It’s very short and only takes a few hours at most to read. The language is almost too simple to be written by an expert historian. This short window into Jefferson’s life is perhaps better than a massive biography that seeks to take the measure of the man. Jackson’s prose has a certain charm that I think is lacking in newer books. And for that, you should find it and spend some time with a founding father.