It’s unfortunate that Meacham’s advice tends to focus on the occasions when Jefferson strayed from his limited-government ideals.
Critics of Jefferson then and since have argued that his vision of an agrarian nation with a weak central government puts him on the wrong side of history. It was Hamilton, it is often said, who correctly anticipated a future that would require a system of capital and large-scale action to create the means of national greatness.
From warmaking to economic life to territorial acquisition to federal spending to subpoenas and the sharing of information with Congress and the courts, however, Jefferson maintained or expanded the authority of the presidential office. The Republican rhetoric of limited and minimal government was heartfelt, but Jefferson reached the pinnacle by acting practically.
What a shame that Meacham doesn’t recommend that the 44th president spend more time emulating the third president’s ideals, rather than his practical politics. Our country certainly would benefit from an increased reliance on Jeffersonian principles.