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Thomas Jefferson's Gender Frontier

[COMMENT:   An interesting bit of history on TJ. 

This is only a small part of the whole article, so the evidence for Steele's claims are not presented here.   And one can go to the url below, but membership seems to be only for institutions.  So you may have to visit a library to get the whole article.     E. Fox]

Brian Steele

Scholars have long emphasized Thomas Jefferson's cosmopolitanism in ways that obscure his nationalism. But simply recovering Jefferson's particularistic nationalism and juxtaposing it to his well-known universalist cosmopolitanism is too easy. These were not readily separable elements of his world view. Jefferson frequently expressed his nationalism in capacious terms precisely because he understood the universal to be exemplified in his nation. 1
      To be sure, Jefferson relished his reputation as an Enlightenment citizen of the world, and during his five years (1784–1789) as American minister to the court of Louis XVI, he acquired an association with France that his political enemies used ad nauseam to question his patriotism. Historians, too, have argued that Jefferson became a kind of internationalist, an "Apostle of European Culture," while in France. His stint in Europe, in other words, somehow "freed [Jefferson] from provincial notions about the superiority of American life."1 That interpretation is not so much wrong as in need of considerable qualification. While Jefferson was in France, his aesthetic evolved appreciably, and he embraced cultural refinements that his own nation lacked, becoming an enthusiastic connoisseur of European architecture, sculpture, painting, food, clothing, and music. He also enjoyed the pleasures of the salon and the companionship of a circle of Frenchwomen (and Frenchmen). Many of his letters from this period gush over the pleasing sociability and refined manners of French society. He was an enthusiastic participant in the transatlantic "republic of letters," which he described in 1809 as "a great fraternity spreading over the whole earth" whose "correspondence is never interrupted by any civilized nation."2 2
      But, as he was quick to remind anyone who would listen, there was more to Europe than high culture. In Jefferson's imagination American values and cultural practices uniquely embodied universal standards. And that outlook frequently clashed with cultural practices of other nations, practices that he took to be "unnatural" and that heightened his skepticism about the ability of other peoples to create enlightened societies. The overwhelming burden of Jefferson's correspondence from his years in France emphasized American difference from, and superiority to, the Old World and his fears of the potential corrupting effect of European mores on American people and institutions. 3
      These concerns manifested themselves in many areas, but in none more strikingly than in discussions of gender. Jefferson's correspondence from France suggests that his conception of gender and sexuality was not merely tangential to his republicanism or to his understanding of America's uniqueness. Jefferson's ideal society embraced female domesticity as part of the natural order of things—an order, he came to believe, realized only in America. The shock of his encounter with difference in France clarified this conviction and compelled Jefferson to make explicit the gendered underpinnings of his nationalism.3 . . .

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Date Posted -  --/--/2008   -   Date Last Edited - 09/15/2012