The first full account of the relationship between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, countering the legend of their enmity while drawing vital historical lessons from the differences that arose between them.
Martha Washington’s worst memory was the death of her husband. Her second worst was Thomas Jefferson’s awkward visit to pay his respects subsequently. Indeed, by the time George Washington had died in 1799, the two founders were estranged. But that estrangement has obscured the fact that for most of their thirty-year acquaintance they enjoyed a productive relationship. Precisely because they shared so much, their disagreements have something important to teach us.
In constitutional design, for instance: Whereas Washington believed in the rule of traditional elites like the Virginia gentry, Jefferson preferred what we would call a meritocratic approach, by which elites would be elected on the basis of education and skills. And while Washington emphasized a need for strong central government, Jefferson favored diffusion of power across the states. Still, as Francis Cogliano argues, common convictions equally defined their relationship: a passion for American independence and republican government, as well as a commitment to westward expansion and the power of commerce. They also both evolved a skeptical view of slavery, eventually growing to question the institution, even as they took only limited steps to abolish it.
What remains fascinating is that the differences between the two statesmen mirrored key political fissures of the early United States, as the unity of revolutionary zeal gave way to competing visions for the new nation. A Revolutionary Friendship brilliantly captures the dramatic, challenging, and poignant reality that there was no single founding ideal—only compromise between friends and sometime rivals.
Cogliano considers the relationship between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in this measured and clarifying account…This deeply researched and accessible narrative sheds new light on a consequential friendship.
It is hard to believe no one has written a detailed account of the difficult friendship between the two Virginian revolutionaries George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. We now have Cogliano’s meticulously researched, insightful, and fluidly written account of their history with each other. This book is just what we need as we approach the 250th anniversary of what these two men helped put in motion, the American Revolution.
Superb, compelling history. Deftly interweaving the personal and the political, Cogliano shows that Washington and Jefferson had a much closer relationship than is typically acknowledged, first as political allies, then as trusted friends and confidants, but the party strife of the young republic made them bitter opponents.
A persuasively argued, well-written biography that illuminates and enlivens its subjects and their relationship. Avoiding the pitfalls of both the celebratory national narrative and its revisionist counterpoint, Cogliano enables readers to make better sense of the complicated circumstances—and complicated people—who revolutionized America, for better and for worse.
A fantastic work of comparative history. Washington and Jefferson’s collaboration endured for three highly productive decades, but then, as now, even the warmest friendships sometimes got pulverized by politics. Cogliano’s poignant reminder that Washington and Jefferson never reconciled inspires me, as it may you, to try to rebuild bridges.
- 368 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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