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The Story of Virginia

The Private Jefferson: "Most Blessed of the Patriarchs" by Peter Onuf


On January 5 at noon, Peter Onuf delivered a Banner Lecture entitled “The Private Jefferson: 'Most Blessed of the Patriarchs.'”
"Most Blessed of the Patriarchs": Tracing Jefferson's philosophical development from youth to old age, historian Peter Onuf explores what he calls the "empire" of Jefferson's imagination—an expansive state of mind born of his origins in a slave society, his intellectual influences, and the vaulting ambition that propelled him into public life as a modern avatar of the Enlightenment who, at the same time, likened himself to a figure of old—"the most blessed of the patriarchs." Indeed, Jefferson saw himself as a "patriarch," not just to his country and mountain-like home at Monticello but also to his family, the white half that he loved so publicly, as well as to the black side that he claimed to love, a contradiction of extraordinary historical magnitude.

Peter Onuf, Thomas Jefferson Professor of History Emeritus and Senior Research Scholar at Monticello, is the author of “The State of the World: Thomas Jefferson’s Political Vision,” in the exhibition catalogue, The Private Jefferson: Perspectives from the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the coauthor with Annette Gordon-Reed of “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs”: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination. He is also a co-host (the “18th Century Guy”) of the popular public radio program and podcast BackStory with the American History Guys.