托马斯·杰斐逊“是最令我们着迷的开国总统，”乔恩·米查姆这样写道。不仅仅是我们，他同代的人也为他着迷，其中当然包括女士。在米查姆精湛且详尽的新传记《托马斯·杰斐逊：权力的艺术》（Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power）一书中，那段描述杰斐逊造访报纸出版商、共和党同仁塞缪尔·哈里森·史密斯华盛顿官邸的文字是我最喜欢的故事之一。史密斯的太太玛格丽特（她个人的政治倾向偏向于联邦党人）在客厅中与这位来访的绅士独处了几分钟，但她起初并不知道杰斐逊的身份。
米查姆曾凭借其上一部总统传记《美国雄狮：白宫中的安德鲁·杰克逊》（American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House）荣膺普利策奖（Pulitzer Prize）。米查姆对杰斐逊的主要兴趣集中在他如何行使手中的权力，或许还包括今天的领袖（笔者想补充的是，这里所说的领袖不仅包括政界，还包括商界）能够从他的身上学到哪些教益。当然，我们现在生活在党派立场对峙的时代，但我们很难想象在杰斐逊时代的美国，政治分歧有多么严重，有多少政治问题悬而未决。我们不再争辩民选总统相对于世袭君主制的优点。我们无须担心爆发军事政变或者外国入侵的可能性。我们都认为，奴隶制是邪恶的；即使有几个红色州递交了分离请愿书，但我们依然有理由相信这个联邦将永存下去。或者，我们至少不再担心拥护联邦制，藐视“邪恶的民主体制”的马萨诸塞州有可能自行其是，而且还将带走新英格兰地区的其他几个州——而杰斐逊一直到1804年还非常担心这件事。
Thomas Jefferson, Jon Meacham writes, "is the founding president who charms us most." Not just us. He charmed his contemporaries, too, and not only but definitely also the ladies. One of my favorite stories in Meacham's masterful and intimate new biography, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, is about a visit Jefferson made to the Washington home of newspaper publisher and fellow Republican Samuel Harrison Smith. Smith's wife, Margaret, whose own leanings were toward the Federalists, spent a few minutes alone in the parlor with the gentleman caller, not yet knowing who he was.
At first, she was "somewhat checked" by his "dignified and reserved air," Mrs. Smith later wrote, but the feeling quickly passed. "There was something in his manner, his countenance and voice that at once unlocked my heart," she recalled, noting especially "the interest with which he listened" to her. When she discovered that the tall, handsome stranger was none other than "Mr. Jefferson," Mrs. Smith "felt my cheeks burn and my heart throb … And is this the violent democrat, the vulgar demagogue, the bold atheist and profligate man I have so often heard denounced by the Federalists? Can this man so meek and mild, so soft and low, with a countenance so benignant and intelligent, can he be that daring leader of a faction, that disturber of the peace, that enemy of all rank and order?"
Meacham, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his last big presidential biography, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, is mainly interested in how Jefferson wielded power, and perhaps what today's leaders -- in business as much as government, I'd add -- might learn from his example. We live in partisan times, to be sure, but we can hardly conceive of how deep the political divisions were in Jefferson's America, and how much was yet unsettled. We no longer debate the relative merits of an elected presidency versus a hereditary monarchy. We don't fret about the possibility of a military coup, or an invasion by a foreign power. We all agree that slavery is evil; and certain red-state secession petitions aside, we can be reasonably sure that the union will survive. (Or at least we're no longer worried, as Jefferson was right to be as late as 1804, that Federalist Massachusetts, despising the "evils of democracy," could go its own way and take the rest of New England with it.)