Reader Lecture 16 Jefferson and Iroquois League Constitution

Reader Lecture 16 Jefferson and Iroquois League...

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Thomas Jefferson Introduction by David Eakins Thomas Jefferson was one of the greatest presidents in the history of the United States. So it is tempting to repeat the simple (if not simple-minded) hero-worshipping verities that we all picked up in our early schooling. But Jefferson deserves better than that. He was a slave-owner and an aristocrat, to be sure, but he was also a true “renaissance man”: a scholar, inventor., scientist, architect, educator, farmer. But most of all, Jefferson was a practicing politician. As a Virginia gentleman, he felt bound to serve in his colony’s House of Burgesses where he took an early and daring stand against the British. He was twice elected as a delegate to the revolutionary Continental Congress, and, in between, served as Virginia’s governor. At war’s end he was the American minister to France and later supported that nation’s revolution. Back home, under the new Constitution, he served as Secretary of State and Vice President before his election to the Presidency in 1800. Jefferson is an elusive, hard-to-pin- down figure in some respects. Unlike the political theorists we have read thus far, he never wrote anything like a treatise on government or politics. His ideas on those subjects must be drawn from his letters and public papers. Moreover, he changed his mind on a wife variety of issues, depending on changes in the national political-economy; on his practical application of abstract principles; and on his more mature consideration of earlier notions. But much endures, even so. When Jefferson wrote his own epitaph he wanted to be remembered as “Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia.” It is a revealing statement. He preferred to be remembered more for “his contributions to the cause of liberty” 1 than for his high offices or positions of power over others. The enduring Jefferson, then, reflects the Enlightenment at its best in his powerful definitions of religious and civil liberties. They remain as fresh and controversial and moving as when he wrote them. 1 Edward Dumbauld, ed., The Political Writing of Thomas Jefferson (Indianapolis: Bobbs- Merrill, 1955), p. x. Letter to John Adams (on “Natural Aristocracy), 1813 To John Adams Monticello, October 28, 1813 DEAR SIR, — According to the reservation between us, of taking up one of the subjects of our correspondence at a time, I turn to your letters of Aug. 16. and Sep. 2. The passage you quote from Theognis, I think has an Ethical, rather than a political object. The whole piece is a moral exhortation , parainesis, and this passage particularly seems to be a reproof to man, who, while with his domestic animals he is curious to improve the race by employing always the finest male, pays no attention to the improvement of his own race, but intermarries with the vicious, the ugly, or the old, for considerations of wealth or ambition. It
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This note was uploaded on 09/08/2010 for the course HUM 2B at San Jose State University .

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Reader Lecture 16 Jefferson and Iroquois League...

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