The Art of Power

My appreciation for Thomas Jefferson has forever been altered. I recently complete the book by John Meacham titled Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. Jefferson has long been my favorite “founding brother” (as Joseph Ellis would term it). This book served to solidify Jefferson’s lofty state in my mind.


I won’t go into a history lesson here, but suffice it to say that I believe that Jefferson was the most influential founding father, and without him America would be a much, much different country, even today, in terms of freedom (it might even be a monarchy!). It would also be a much different country, as in half the size, as Jefferson himself deftly acquired the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleonic France for mere pennies on the dollar.

In short, Jefferson was a leader’s leader. Truly, a study of his life is a study of the art of power. Jefferson was not, however, a Christian. Nor did he claim to be. Jefferson’s idea of Who the Creator was is much different than the Bible’s. Regardless, much good can be gleaned from Jefferson’s understanding of power and getting things done.

Here are four things to learn from Jefferson as a leader:

1) He was principled

Jefferson was a principled man. He stood (often alone) for what he believed in, and he would argue veheminously (and eloquently) for his cause. He would not take “no” for an answer.

 2) He was pragmatic

A principled pragmatist may seem an oxymoron. But that’s just who Jefferson was. He stood for principle, but in order to accomplish his political (and therefore real) goals, he was willing to “meet in the middle” on some points. He would give concessions to the opposing party in the battle to win the war.

 3) He was relational

Jefferson used relationships perhaps better than any politician in history. Specifically, he used his homes – Monticello and the White House – as a controllable atmosphere for conducting business. He would invite not only friends, but political enemies over for dinner. As the author notes “caricatures crack as courses are served”. As people began to spend time with Thomas Jefferson, they began to see his humanity, his love for country, and his warmth. The caricatures in the press faded away. After these dinners, many of his enemies ceased attacking him publicly, even making courteous remarks about his person. Jefferson had won, again.

 4) He was aware of his influence

Jefferson understood that he was a part of something monumental – the founding of a new form of government. He fully realized what this would mean for his place in history, and he lived his life accordingly. I don’t mean that he lived arrogantly, but rather, with an awareness. He knew that the things he was doing were being recorded, that his writings – even personal ones – would one day be studied. We may not be in a position quite like Jefferson in terms of influence, but all of us have some influence – and we should be aware that it may outlive us.

I highly recommend you read “The Art of Power” to gain your own picture of the man who, literally, built America.

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