As soon as I began to ask questions, I realized how much work had gone into no longer asking them, into silences or re-routings, into omissions, not-noticings—into a carefully pruned rhetoric of absence. When I began to realize I wanted the answers to such questions, I realized how afraid I was of asking them at all.
Thomas jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, founder of the University of Virginia, past president of the American Philosophical Society and of the United States of America, died at Monti-cello on July 4,1826. For more than eighty-three years, he had lived a life of intense and varied activity.
For nearly a hundred years the great body of official and personal papers left by Thomas Jefferson has formed an almost bottomless mine of material for the historian dealing with political as well as with social questions. Although there have been four editions of his writings, they have emphasized mainly the public papers, and the wealth of the private letters has not yet been exhausted.
Secure in his widowerhood and faithful to the memory of Martha Wayles, not two years dead, Thomas Jefferson had set sail for France in the summer of 1784 as Minister Plenipotentiary to the court of Louis XVI. It may have been that this crossing of the sea was something of a flight from memories, for Jefferson's love for his young wife and his mourning for her are traditional.
What the author finds is that Jefferson had an abiding interest in all things medical. He owned more than one hundred medical texts and treatises (about 3 percent of his pre-1815 holdings); counted among his friends a number of noted doctors—Robley Dunglison, Benjamin Rush, and Thomas Watkins among them; gave out medical advice; regulated his life according to the admonitions of such medical theorists as Samuel Auguste Tissot; and even based the design for his beloved University of Virginia on a Parisian hospital. Of even greater importance to Burstein is the fact that Jefferson utilized “a comprehensive language of medicine” (3), a fact that past Jefferson scholars have failed to recognize. For Burstein, Jefferson’s recurrence to “a medicalized vocabulary” (44) (e.g., political spasms and convulsions, salutary measures) offers valuable insights into “a lost emotional universe” (49). More provocative still is his assertion that Jefferson “acquired many of his guiding principles from medical discourse” (45).
The Bicentennial of the American Revolution ought to be a time for restoring the dialogue between the spirit of the past and the spirit of the future in our national life. We commemorate our origins because our origins are intertwined with our destiny; memory is the reciprocal of hope, and conservation and change are essential to each other. "There is nothing real without both . . . ," as Alfred North Whitehead once said. "Mere conservation without change cannot conserve . . . , mere change without conservation is a passage from nothing to nothing."
The publication on Independence Day 1981 of the concluding volume of Dumas Malone's great Jefferson biography has inspired almost as much celebration of the author as reflection on the post-presidential years of his great subject. That is fitting. We prize gallantry where we find it. And there is gallantry in Malone's splendid conquest of what Mr. Jefferson himself called the tedium senectutem: the weariness of age.
The arguments about whether affirmative action has run its course, has accomplished its purposes, or now constitutes an enshrined system of discrimination against white people contain so little historical perspective that they are eviscerated at the core. They remind me of trees felled by a hurricane. Most of these arguments seem to locate our entire racial history in a period beginning at about the end of World War II, with the defining events being the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.