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Audio of Presidential: On Food and Freedom

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Presidential
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Duration: 43:32
Jon Meacham and Annette Gordon-Reed are among the experts who take us through the best and worst of our third president's complex and controversial legacy.
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Jon Meacham and Annette Gordon-Reed are among the experts who take us through the best and worst of our third president's complex and controversial legacy.
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in Lincoln, FDR all drew on in times of crisis. The presidency was stronger when he left it than he found it, and one would not have bet on that, given his political leanings were for a weaker central government until he held executive power. He was against executive power until he had it, Uh, basically. But the presidency was immeasurably strengthened by Jefferson's years. Uh, and the examples of that are the purchase of Louisiana, the imposition of an embargo to try to avoid war with Britain, and also the idea that an executive and the role of the state was to explore and to be more culturally engaged. So the Lewis and Clark expedition was something that was undertaken in the Jefferson presidency. So he saw the presidency not merely as a political office, but is a cultural one. We're going to take a little detour here to talk about Jefferson's interest in science, exploration and food. It may seem a little strange to sandwich this in between our discussion of his presidency and his legacy with slavery, but this is another part of who he is that shaped his personal and presidential decisions. His interest in science and exploration is a large part of what motivates him during his presidency to commission the Lewis and Clark expedition, where a small group of Army volunteers set off to explore and chart the American West. We can also see how Jefferson's decision making as president took a decidedly scientific approach. Many of his papers air full of tables and charts and lists. That was the way he thought, through decisions, by listing out numbers of soldiers or numbers of ships and now to food. Both John meet him, and Julie Miller already mentioned Jefferson's love for the finer things in life, and much of this stemmed from his time in France. Part of what's complex and interesting is how he wanted the presidency to be less aristocratic, and yet he personally had very high minded tastes. I spoke with Joe Yonan, the Washington Post food editor, about this part of his character. Some criticized him during certain points of his life for being maybe too interested in what the French had to offer. I'll use wine as a as an example. Before Jefferson went to France, he, like many of his contemporaries, primarily drank Madeira and Port and other really strong high alcohol wines. And when he went to France, he really became enamored of this more sophisticated, more complex, lighter wine. And and that was true throughout his life. And when he died, the wine cellar Monticello had, you know, thousands of bottles of wine, and they were almost exclusively from southern France. He brought back hundreds of vines and cuttings from dozens of grape varieties in Europe, and he had this fantasy that he would plant them all a tomato cello, and they would take off and bear fruit, and he could would be a vintner. Well, I didn't really work out that way, but he did become quite a connoisseur of wine, and he bought what I think today would be considered possibly scandalous amounts of wine. But he was president. Now this was out of his own money. But I read one estimate that over the course of visit his administration, he spent about $11,000 on wine and that in today's dollars, that would be $175,000 which is pretty remarkable when you think about it. I dare say that Barack Obama did not spend 100 $25,000 of his own money on wine while he
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