True Review
Current Issue Number 74 Vol.19 No.3  February 2010
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

DINNER AT MR. JEFFERSON’S:

 

DINNER AT MR. JEFFERSON’S, by Charles A. Cerami. John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2008, 275 pp., $25.95. ISBN 978-0-470-08306-2

What comes to mind when you hear the names Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, or Alexander Hamilton?

Do you envision men dressed in silk knee britches and ruffled shirts, standing posed (for some still unknown reason with their hands tucked inside their jackets), and uttering immortal words such as “I cannot live without books”? Yes, Jefferson really did say this. How cool!

What we don’t envision is a scene out of TV’s “Family Feud” or “Survivor.” But that scenario is probably more accurate.

DINNER AT MR. JEFFERSON’S is a fascinating and real look at the men who shaped our country. And you can’t help but wonder how they managed to shape this country amid personal squabbles and petty fighting. All that fighting caused them to suffer from tension headaches and indigestion. It’s a miracle we made it this far.

President George Washington had a delicate nervous system. Cerami notes he could walk placidly through a hail of gunfire and go back to a happy dinner. But receiving a complaining letter from his troublesome mother, and having to write her explaining why she should not consider moving to Mount Vernon, gave him shoulder pains bad enough to send him to bed. Washington’s wife Martha observed this so many times she actually had his bed prepared whenever an envelope arrived from his mother.

The presidency was unsuited to Washington’s temperament, but he took the job expecting support and cooperation from his revolutionary colleagues Hamilton, Madison, and Jefferson. He was pretty ticked off when they didn’t deliver. It was a tough job designing a country. Watching these three formerly brilliant men tangle in their personal feuds and hearing them talk of resigning, Washington was deeply disappointed and often infuriated at seeing them put personal rancor ahead of the nation’s future. (Boy, he ought to come back today!)

I requested DINNER AT MR. JEFFERSON’S sight unseen. I saw it mentioned on a local TV Website. The book sounded very interesting. Based on the title, I thought DINNER was actually more of a historical cookbook. And it is, to a point. It describes a very important dinner, down to the smallest details and even gives the recipes!

However, I discovered the book was much more than just that. While the dinner may have been a pivotal event in discussions that shaped our history, there was a lot going on back then. And it didn't always make for a happy meal.

Author Charles Cerami has provided a fascinating and, more importantly, real look back at these famous men, sans the facade. I don’t think anyone would argue that these men weren’t brilliant.  It’s just amusing to see that century to century, people are people and nothing ever really changes.

Jefferson and Hamilton just didn’t get on. They had incredibly different views of our country’s future.  Jefferson, along with Madison, his closest friend, wanted the old 13 states to keep many of their former powers while Washington’s “favorite,” Alexander Hamilton, wanted the federal government to be supreme.

Jefferson and Madison feared Hamilton was a threat to democracy and they opposed Hamilton at every opportunity. Washington, like a parent at wit’s end with kids who just won’t quit the bickering, was forced to play bad guy.

To his credit, Hamilton was a tireless worker, a “real improvement” kind of guy. His opponents feared his monarchial ideas because they had no better answers and he was tireless in his pursuit of solutions. Author Cerami compares him to Napoleon, who it was said “could work for 18 hours at a stretch.” Hamilton was a brilliant man, a genius from childhood. He is the father of the Revenue Cutter Service, known today as the U.S. Coast Guard, long admired for their high principles and response to adversity, most recently during Hurricane Katrina.

Robert Morris, a financial wizard who had done much to assist Washington’s troops throughout the war, was unable to accept Washington’s offer to handle the country’s finances. He told Washington that the best man for the job was Hamilton. The job of treasury secretary turned out to be Hamilton's dream job.

Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison had, as Cerami states, exceptional personalities and skills that would have made them ideal helpers. The fact that they stopped making the effort to help -- that they made what seemed like petty squabbles their first priority -- not only left Washington feeling deserted, but also filled him with a great fury. Cerami sums it up on page 68 when he states, “When each of these three great Americans who did this to Washington are remembered and rightfully praised for many of their contributions to the new nation, all three should have a small black mark beside their names for their petty behavior and desertion of a man they should have felt privileged to serve.”

Up to page 123, DINNER is actually more like luscious appetizers. We gain lots of knowledge about all these men and what was occurring in our young nation. The “dinner,” however, comes on page 125 and boils down to two things: Hamilton’s Assumption Plan and the location for the new capital. Ultimately, Jefferson and Madison would approve Hamilton’s Assumption Plan as a way to show Europe that America was a strong country that would stay together and was credit-worthy. With it, they would also be handing Hamilton a great political victory and power. But Hamilton also relinquished his desire and determination to have New York remain the capital city. For once, all men seemed to put their personal needs on a back burner.

DINNER is a fascinating book, an excellent read, and well worth your time.

Debra Jackson-Andrews

 

Black Hills - Dan Simmons Warriors - George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois Additional Reviews Diving Into The Wreck - Kristine Kathryn Rusch The Jewel Hinged Jaw - Samuel R. Delaney

Boilerplate - Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett Swords From The Desert - Howard Andrew Jones Shades of Gray - Jasper Fforde Muse and Reverie - Charles de Lint Dinner at Mr. Jefferson's - Charles A. Cerami

The Raindrop's Adventure - Kimberly Kerr An Irish Country Christmas - Patrick Taylor Twilight Zone - Carol Serling Home For Christmas - Andrew M. Greeley Amelia Earhart - Lori Van Pelt

A Simple Christams - Mike Huckabee Puttering About in a Small Land - Philip K. Dick   Are You There - Jack Skillingstead The Fantasy Writer's Assistant - Jeffrey Ford

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