Historians will shed light on private life of Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

Two leading scholars on the life and legacy of Thomas Jefferson will visit the UO to discuss how the public accomplishments of America’s third president were shaped by his private life in this year’s O’Fallon Lecture in Law and American Culture.

Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter Onuf, authors of the book “‘Most Blessed of Patriarchs’: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination,” will discuss the biography in a lecture-conversation Friday, April 21, at 7:30 p.m. in Room 175, Knight Law Center. The event is free and open to the public.

Gordon-Reed is the Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History at Harvard Law School. Onuf is the Thomas Jefferson Professor Emeritus in Early American History at the University of Virginia and a senior research fellow at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello.

Gordon-Reed and Onuf maintain that in order to understand Jefferson’s career as a statesman, one must understand his private life. The authors suggest that Jefferson’s sense of himself and his vision of America’s republican future were shaped by his personal relationships — with enslaved people, family members, and friends and visitors to his plantation home in Monticello and his other homes in Europe and America.

The primary author of the Declaration of Independence and founder of the University of Virginia, Jefferson was a polymath who mastered such diverse disciplines as mathematics, surveying, horticulture, mechanics, architecture, linguistics, religion and philosophy. He spoke several languages and was a prolific letter-writer and correspondent.

An outspoken proponent of freedom and equality, Jefferson at times defended slaves seeking their freedom but was also the owner of several plantations, worked by hundreds of slaves. His intimate relationship with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, is documented in Gordon-Reed’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family.”

The O’Fallon Lecture was established by a gift from Henry and Betsy Mayer, named in memory of their nephew, the son of UO law professor James O’Fallon and his wife, artist Ellen Thomas.

The lecture topic alternates between law and art and American culture. Past topics have included philosophy, jurisprudence, American political life, architecture, and art theory and criticism.

The lecture will be followed by a book sale and signing. For more information or for disability accommodations (which must be made by April 14), call 541-346-3934 or email ohc@uoregon.edu