This post is long overdue. I am currently reading about Teddy Roosevelt, almost a century beyond Thomas Jefferson in my quest to read about each U.S. President. I had hoped to write about each President, but at this rate, I may be dead before I get to Obama! Anyway, without further ado….
Joseph Ellis’ American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson left me puzzled about one of the most revered leaders of the revolutionary era. Jefferson is an enigma, a complex amalgam of the best and the worst of American characteristics, a man to both revere and despise.
Known as he “the Sage of Monticello” and “the Apostle of Democracy”, Thomas Jefferson gets no shortage of encomium. Politicos of all stripes love to quote Jefferson, rallying the illustrious founder from his long dirt nap in support of or opposition to the cause du jour. His face is on Mt. Rushmore, and he has his own monument in Washington. Cities, counties, streets, highways, schools, particle accelerators, and even swimming pools are named in honor of the third president. But I think the most fitting tribute to Mr. Jefferson is his portrait on the face of the two dollar bill.
The Jefferson two dollar bill is legal tender, for all practical uses as good as George Washington’s greenback dollar. But we rarely see two dollar bills. Once I get one in my wallet, I’m torn. Should I hold on to it for its rarity, or try to get rid of it as fast as I can, because it is so…weird? And so it is with Mr. Jefferson, people either love him or hate him.