Happy Birthday, Thomas Jefferson!
Thomas Jefferson is something of a patron saint around here. In his retirement years at Monticello, he estimated that his household went through a pound of his imported coffee a day.
“His cellar was stocked with unroasted beans in barrels weighing as much as sixty pounds. Small quantities of beans were roasted and ground in the Monticello kitchen, and then prepared according to the recipe of Adrien Petit, Jefferson's French maître d'hotel:
"On one measure of the coffee ground into meal pour three measures of boiling water. Boil it on hot ashes mixed with coal till the meal disappears from the top, when it will be precipitated. Pour it three times through a flannel strainer. It will yield 2 1/3 measures of clear coffee."
In addition, Jefferson is the author of one of our favorite quotes: “Coffee, the favorite drink of the civilized world.”
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One of the most interesting facts about Thomas Jefferson?
He probably wouldn’t have been elected today.
And no, I’m not discussing allegations of racism or his slave ownership (admittedly problems!). I’m referring to the fact that Jefferson was -- quite frankly -- not a good public speaker. In fact, he was so uncomfortable speaking in public that he submitted his State of the Union addresses in writing to Congress. He was an eloquent writer and philosopher, codifying many of the principles of freedom we hold near and dear. But don’t ask him to elucidate on them in public! In contemporary politics, the verbal prowess and physical appearance of the candidate plays an indisputable role in his or her electability, and so Jefferson would be unlikely to attain office in our current climate. We would have been immeasurably poorer as a country had the same standard held true throughout most of our history -- but that is a post for another day.
An interesting article on Thomas Jefferson -- entitled Jefferson’s 4 Birthday Wishes -- was written by none other than Chuck Norris. In it he discusses Jefferson's intent with the separation of church and state:
Some might be completely surprised to discover that just two days after Jefferson wrote his famous letter citing the “wall of separation between Church and State,” he attended church in the place where he always had as president: the U.S. Capitol. The very seat of our nation’s government was used for sacred purposes.
As the Library of Congress website notes, “It is no exaggeration to say that on Sundays in Washington during the administrations of Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) and of James Madison (1809-1817) the state became the church.”
Much has been written on Jefferson’s true intent with the phrase separation of church and state, and it is refreshing to realize that his intent in no way mitigated the observation of his faith in the very center of government. (Something else that would be a delightful addition to our contemporary political scene!)
For Jefferson, you see, his faith and his beliefs were all part of who he was as a gentleman and a scholar and an ordinary citizen. While living in the Executive Mansion (not called the White House yet), Jefferson was known to open the front door to visitors himself, often in his stocking feet. He was a widower during his White House years, and asked his adult daughters and Dolly Madison (wife of his then secretary of state) to serve as hostesses.
But while he may not have wished to oversee the fussy state dinners, Jefferson had a few culinary ideas of his own. After having served as Ambassador in France, he adopted several French culinary habits and imported them to the Executive Mansion. And we are glad he did! Not only did he become a dedicated lover of fine wines, but he cultivated a taste for….wait for it….vanilla ice cream! He loved the treat so much that his recipe is in the Library of Congress. In addition, he served French fries at state dinners. Now who doesn’t love a good french fry followed by ice cream?
“I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage with my books, my family and a few old friends, dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post, which any human power can give.” -- Thomas Jefferson
In the election of 1800, Jefferson (a Democratic-Republican -- now there’s a party) emerged as the victor in a very bitter and divisive election. In fact, the electoral college was tied, and it was only after wrangling, electioneering and a long deadlock that Jefferson finally won the election. In his inaugural address that year he pled for unity in the country following the political battle.
That sounds vaguely familiar.
He won a landslide victory in 1804 due in large part to lower taxes, a reduction in the national debt and a period of peace and prosperity that included adding the Louisiana Purchase to our growing country.
On July 4, 1826 -- 50 years to the day after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence -- Jefferson passed away. Incredibly, his longtime correspondent, political rival and close comrade, John Adams, died the same day. As the country celebrated its independence (with the fireworks and parties Adams had presciently predicted at the signing of the Declaration), Adams last words were “Thomas Jefferson still lives.” They were the last two remaining revolutionary heroes, and they were celebrated well.
So happy birthday, Thomas Jefferson! Thank you for your eloquence, your quiet and gentle demeanor, our vanilla ice cream, and your love of coffee!
We raise a mug of Republican Coffee in your memory today.