Nicholas P. Trist is famous for brazenly acting against the wishes of President James K. Polk and committing the United States to the peace treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848, ending the Mexican-American War. He is less famous, though, for marrying Thomas Jefferson’s granddaughter and becoming the Sage of Monticello’s most trusted acquaintance. In 1834, Trist wrote James Madison to inform him that he was writing a vindication of Jefferson from the charge that Jefferson’s understanding of the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 supported the doctrine of nullification. Trist was a close confidant of Jefferson and helped managed his estate and papers after Jefferson’s death. Trist thus had a unique, personal perspective on Jefferson’s mature opinions. Political theorists have never analyzed or even read Trist’s document as a serious contribution to the theory of American political theory, and historians of Jefferson have overlooked it as an important window into a first-hand account of Jefferson’s mature understanding of federalism in light of fundamental political principles. Clifford Humphrey provides historical context for this text as well as an analysis of its argument.
About the Speaker:
Clifford Humphrey is a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Human Ecology at the Catholic University of America. His research interests include the American founding, republicanism, and federalism. He holds a PhD in politics from Hillsdale College, and he resides in Raleigh, North Carolina.