Jefferson's Call for Nationhood. By Stephen Howard Browne. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2003. 155 pp.
Stephen Howard Browne sets out to accomplish a seemingly simple task: to provide a comprehensive analysis of Thomas Jefferson's First Inaugural Address. Browne achieves his primary objective and also manages to write a clear, succinct, and insightful commentary about Jefferson's political thought and partisan skill. Political scientists who have enjoyed the books on Jefferson by Jean Yarbrough, Lance Banning, and Joseph Ellis will not want to miss Browne's contribution.
After providing the full text of the First Inaugural in the opening pages, Browne arranges the remainder of the book into three chapters, each of which provides a different approach to studying the speech. Jefferson's First Inaugural can be viewed as a partisan act, a statement of political theory, and a theatrical performance of impressive oratory. Browne splits his analysis between providing historical context and a close, line-by-line analysis of the speech itself. In other words, there is something for every Jefferson scholar in this volume; students of rhetoric, political theory, and presidential studies will find value in its insights. Browne argues that although an inaugural address serves a ceremonial function, Jefferson viewed the speech as serving an important political function as well. It is too simple to view Jefferson as either a partisan hack or a principled statesman above the thorny world of politics. Instead, the value of Jefferson and his rhetoric lies in transcending this basic dichotomy.
Understanding Jefferson's vision of republicanism can help resolve the ambivalence. Jefferson believed that political parties were fleeting institutions and that a robust national identity based upon shared principles would soon emerge. Browne argues that, to marginalize the Federalists, Jefferson strategically presented his First Inaugural in a conciliatory tone. In the new president's mind, almost all Americans endorsed his republican vision of nationhood. The exception was a small faction of monarchical autocrats, who he believed did not fit within the true vision of republican government. With his strong defense of republicanism in the First Inaugural, Jefferson hoped to replace the allure of brute power with the political doctrine of popular sovereignty.
Although the First Inaugural is not long enough to be considered a complete work of political...