The author of this long-for-a-monograph, too-short-to-be-definitive 2005 biographical study of Thomas Jefferson would almost certainly run screaming—or stand puking—at the notion of having crafted a psychological study of his subject. Nonetheless, Christopher Hitchens's trumpet blast for TJ's (all-too-literally) seminal importance to the founding of America—not just figuratively, but physically, psychically, topographically, and indeed graphically—is founded on an essential inward truth about the man and the nation he authored. "It would be lazy or obvious," Hitchens writes, "to say that he contained contradictions... Jefferson did not embody contradiction. Jefferson was a contradiction."

With that simple declaration, Hitchens begins a stirring observation of Jefferson's multileveled greatness and the paradoxes of both character and action contained within it. Here was a slaveholder who passionately argued in private and in public (though he backed down when outnumbered) for abolition and repatriation. But perhaps more importantly, one who understood the grave moral implications of the slave trade—"the whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of... the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submission on the other. The man must be a prodigy who can retain his manners and morals undepraved by such circumstances," Jefferson wrote. And he ought to have known, given that he was also a devoted husband who fathered many children with a mistress he owned as property. He also wrote a stinging condemnation of the slave trade that was omitted (by committee) from the first draft of the Declaration of Independence.

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But this Enlightenment deist who often cited God as a simple truth of life on earth, also fought with everything he had to make certain that no mention of God be made in the documents that formed the foundation for this democracy. The omission wasn't just syntactical, either. It was a cornerstone. The idea that a republic could be dedicated to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—the very idea of happiness itself as a function of individual liberty—was a radical inversion of every other nation that had ever existed, and it arose chiefly, as Hitchens argues, from the thoughts and deeds of a man whose contradictions were what made him both ordinary and extraordinary. recommended