Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson
At the age of sixty-six, Thomas Jefferson left the presidency and retired to his beloved home in Monticello. He died, famously on the 4th of July, at the age of eighty-three, and this book, based in part on thousands of family letters, tells the story of this final period of his life. Nothing here contradicts the supposition that he fathered children by his slave, Sally Hemings. The focus is much more, however, on his relationships with his two daughters by his dead wife, and his grandson Jeff Randolph. Jefferson could be generous and loving, and yet, it seems, was mired in denial, particularly in regard to his financial affairs. His family, and his slaves—who were sold to pay the estate’s debts after his death—ultimately paid the price for his inability to deal with mundane obligations. Many readers will come away from this fascinating book saddened by the great man’s limitations. I found it jarring to learn, for example, that in his final years Jefferson took the view that slavery should be allowed to spread to the border states.