The Private Jefferson: "Most Blessed of the Patriarchs"

Time Period
1623 to 1763
1764 to 1824
1825 to 1860
Media Type
Politics & Government
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.

The content and opinions expressed in these presentations are solely those of the speaker and not necessarily of the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.

Want to listen to an audio-only version of this lecture? Listen now on Soundcloud.