And This Is Why We Love Thomas Jefferson

February 28, 1796

Dude’s got a way with words.

“Never was a finer canvas presented to work on than our countrymen. All of them engaged in agriculture or the pursuits of honest industry, independant in their circumstances, enlightened as to their rights, and firm in their habits of order and obedience to the laws. This I hope will be the age of experiments in government, and that their basis will be founded on principles of honesty, not of mere force. We have seen no instance of this since the days of the Roman republic, nor do we read of any before that. Either force or corruption has been the principle of every modern government, unless the Dutch perhaps be excepted, and I am not well enough informed to except them absolutely. If ever the morals of a people could be made the basis of their own government, it is our case; and he who could propose to govern such a people by the corruption of their legislature, before he could have one night of quiet sleep, must convince himself that the human soul as well as body is mortal. I am glad to see that whatever grounds of apprehension may have appeared of a wish to govern us otherwise than on principles of reason and honesty, we are getting the better of them. I am sure, from the honesty of your heart, you join me in detestation of the corruption of the English government, and that no man on earth is more incapable than yourself of seeing that copied among us, willingly. I have been among those who have feared the design to introduce it here, and it has been a strong reason with me for wishing there was an ocean of fire between that island and us. But away politics.”

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Charles Wilson Peale, 1791
Library of Congress

There’s loads of hypocrisy here (what with the enslavement of more than 600,000 humans) and even some passive aggressive behavior (Surely, Mr. Adams, you’re no English monarchist!) but for writing that inspires pride in our country and ideals to guide us, Jefferson is our man.

Not to mention a slightly more polished rendition of the above letter:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…”


2 thoughts on “And This Is Why We Love Thomas Jefferson

  1. This post provoked me into thinking about how it is difficult for me to reconcile flaws with characters who also display much to admire.

    TJ is the example here – and I see commentators today either totally ignoring his flaws and hypocrisy, while others completely dismissing him as a racist and a member of the 1% of his time. Perhaps Bill Clinton is a more up to date individual to whom many people position themselves in the same way.

    I remember reading about a Jewish person (later becoming an Israeli leader) who during the trial of Adolf Eichmann went up to the man and looked him in the eye, then wept. It was because as much as he hoped he would, he did not see the monster in Eichmann. And therefore Eichmann was a flawed human much like we all are inside – capable of horrendous actions, yet with the potential for life changing compassion and inspiration.

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