Thomas Jefferson, Time, and History
Beginning with the famous opening to the Declaration of Independence(",When in the course of human events...",), almost all of Thomas Jefferson's writingsinclude creative, stylistically and philosophically complex references to time and history. Althoughbest known for his ",forward-looking", statements envisioning future progress, Jeffersonwas in fact deeply concerned with the problem of coming to terms with the impending loss orfragmentation of the past. As Hannah Spahn shows in Thomas Jefferson, Time, andHistory, his efforts to promote an exceptionalist interpretation of the United States asthe first nation to escape from the ",crimes and calamities", of European history werecomplicated both by his doubts about the outcome of the American experiment and by his skepticismabout the methods and morals of eighteenth-century philosophicalhistory.Spahn approaches the conundrum of Jefferson's Janus-faced,equally forward- and backward-oriented thought by discussing it less as a matter of personalcontradiction and paradox than as the expression of a late Newtonian Enlightenment, in a periodbetween ancient and modern modes of explaining change in time. She follows Jefferson in his creationof an influential narrative of American and global history over the course of half a century,opening avenues into a temporal and historical imagination that was different from ours, andoffering new assessments of the solutions Jefferson and his generation found (or failed to find) tocentral moral and political problems like slavery.
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