The celebratory atmosphere of the 2015 National Book Festival was nicely encapsulated by the theme, “I cannot live without books.” These words come from Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and third President of the United States. In addition to the fifteenth anniversary of the Festival, readers of all ages were enthusiastic about the 200th anniversary of a very significant book sale. Back in 1815, Jefferson sold his collection of books for $23,950 to the Library of Congress.
It would not have been a complete day without the presence of one of the foremost scholars on Thomas Jefferson. Of course, I am referring to Joseph J. Ellis, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Founding Brothers. Ellis, a longtime professor of American history, was also in Washington, DC, to promote his new book, The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789. His latest historical analysis addresses the interim period between the end of the Revolutionary War and the beginnings of American government under the presidency of George Washington.
In Quartet, Ellis details how the newly independent colonies make that pivotal transition towards uniting under a national government. “American history in the 1780s is centrifugal: energies are moving outward,” he states in my recent interview with him. “We’re becoming more like the European Union. We’re not becoming a nation.”
In the rest of the interview, Ellis discusses some interesting facts about Robert Morris, who is often reviled by other experts as “a robber baron.” He touches upon the ever changing research process for historians and how one may properly assess figures like Thomas Jefferson.
This article was first published at Blogcritics.org under the same title. I incorporated a different screen shot.
If you’re interested in my take on Thomas Jefferson as a longtime resident of Charlottesville, be sure to read my in-depth piece on HoosNetwork.