Join the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello for a virtual Fellow's Forum with Christopher Pearl, Associate Professor of History at Lycoming College.
What is an executive and what is an executive’s proper reach and remit? American revolutionaries tried to answer those vexing questions in the years leading up to American independence and came to tentative conclusions as expressed in their new state constitutions. But the Revolutionary War challenged their answers. The war seemed to require placing more power in the hands of executives than outlined in the state constitutions, instigating futher debate about the place and power of executives in their republican experiment. The Revolutionary War was a transformative moment for both the thoughts about executive power and the actual authority state executives wielded. This talk will explore Thomas Jefferson’s tenure as Virginia’s governor and the transformation of his power (and the public perception of it), particularly by examining the governor’s position as chief magistrate. As chief magistrate, governors had to deal with a host of war issues, particularly funding the war while contending with counterfeiters and tax evaders, managing prisoners of war, containing political dissent or outright treason, and attempting to convince (and sometimes coerce) citizens, denizens, and non-jurors to support and recognize state sovereignty. Add to this reality the need for actual law enforcement, the success or failure of which could buttress or undermine a fledgling state in the midst of war, and we can start to get a fuller picture of the shifting authority of governors and how they interacted with and shaped the lives of the general public.
About the Speaker
Christopher Pearl is an Associate Professor of History at Lycoming College and the author of Conceived in Crisis: The Revolutionary Creation of an American State (University of Virginia Press, 2020). Pearl is currently working on a book project investigating the development of American executive power during the Revolutionary War.