Thursday, November 11, 2010

Summary of Thomas Jefferson's Autobiography

Most of what I know about our founding fathers come from the Broadway musical "1776". Having read this excerpt from the actual autobiography of Thomas Jefferson, I am sorely disappointed with the severe lack of musical numbers. In no way does the real thing measure up to the dramatization, but I will try to make do anyhow. The section begins as Jefferson recalls the forming of the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence, which he describes in all of it's gruesome and dramatic detail. I suppose deep in my heart of hearts, I always kind of knew, instinctively, that writings on governments and politics were mind numbingly boring, but Jefferson's second for second account of appointing committees, motions, and delegates is a far cry from the fun historical musical I grew up with. It's not usually my temperament to complain about assigned text, but when Jefferson wrote this, I can't help but wonder what target audience he had in mind who'd sit through all of this monotonous detail.

Back to the text, Jefferson goes on to describe what the representatives of each colony had to say about the draft, he even goes as far as to describe the actual document being laid upon the table, my god, are you serious? The biggest dramatic turn of events? New York asked to be withdrawn from the committee, because they drew up their plans for this negotiation a year prior to the actual meeting, when reconciliation with Great Britain was still being thought of as a viable option. Alas, at the actual committee, the option was no longer on the table. At first, I thought New York maybe wimped out a little bit, a very far cry from the New York of today, not afraid of being tough and in your face. Then I remember that these were politicians, and that wimping out was kind of their business, so I kept reading.

Oh man, the question of whether the House would agree to the resolution of the committee was postponed until the next day? My heart is going a mile a minute here. I remember in the musical, there was a really cool scene here, where John Addams, played by William Daniels of "Boy Meet World" fame stood pensively looking at the unfinished board, where the votes were being tabulated from each colony's representatives. It was looking grim, it seemed like Adams' and Jefferson's countrymen were not quite on board for their radical idea of rebelling against the motherland, in a desperate vie for freedom. As he stood in the empty hall, his face mired in the evening shadows, as well as the severe, and equally darkening doubt that hung over his head, the New York representative quietly entered the office from behind him. In one of the film's few non-musical sequences, Adams makes one final desperate plea to the New Yorker to reconsider his position on the vote. He paces dramatically back and forth, and then gives a very moving speech about how hearing the words of the soon to be founding fathers have moved him so, that the battle for independence seems like it's becoming more inevitable every day. He says something awesome like "I want to make sure that when war comes, that I'm on the side of righteousness!" He takes his walking stick, and slaps the board where the still yet to be tabulated votes hang. He moves New York's placard from the "Nay" side to the "Aye" side. He then walks away, but before exiting, has another great line of dialogue, like "you'll have your revolution it seems, Mr. Adams. Don't let the colonies down!"

Jefferson is often called the poet laureate of American History, but how is it that a silly little musical from the 60's so poignantly captures the drama of these trying and turbulent times, when an actual person who was not only there, but instrumental in the events themselves cannot describe it without a mind numbing play by play of the non stop thrills and chills of bureaucracy?

Attempting to summarize this literally hurts my brain, the short version is that there was an assembly to discuss the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, some people disagreed, but then later they agreed (except for Mr. Dickinson of Pennsylvania, no reason is given). A small amount of talk about slavery ensues, but nothing to really comment about. Since it is well known that Jefferson owned many slaves, it seems he'd rather end this discussion as quickly as possible. After that, the Declaration itself is reproduced, word for word to the best of my recollection.

My bottom line, this is really great, for the purpose of preserving history and whatnot, but it does not make for interesting literature. This is interesting to me, because the concept of political unrest, and trans-Atlantic war between an Empire and her colonies SHOULD make for interesting literature, but in this case, it does not. Mr. Jefferson, I thank you deeply from the bottom of my heart for helping to found a nation that is so great that I can get away with saying that you're a dreadfully boring writer. God Bless America.

(Fun Fact! William Daniels who played John Addams in "1776" would later go on to player Mr. Feeny in "Boy Meets World." The school that Mr. Feeny taught at was John Addams High. To me, THIS is interesting!)

1 comment:

  1. 30/30 hopefully the discussion improved your opinion of the reading...