The Myth of Thomas Jefferson’s Inscrutability

Jeffersonian scholarship is a Hydra’s head, mostly because we make it so. Political discrepancies between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton centered on contradictory interpretations of the U.S. Constitution. Hamilton favored a slack interpretation of the Constitution—viz., what the Constitution did not strictly prohibit it sanctioned. One large issue for Hamilton was the Bank of the[…]

Burr versus Jefferson versus Marshall

The president accused his former vice president of treason and tussled with a Supreme Court justice. Mark Twain once quipped, “Truth is stranger than Fiction . . . because Fiction is obliged to stick to the possibilities; Truth isn’t.” Twain could well have been writing about the trial of Aaron Burr. The bare-bones facts surrounding[…]

What a Line Deleted from the Declaration of Independence Teaches Us about Thomas Jefferson

The excised passage was not then without effect and ought not now to be without effect. In his first draft of Declaration of Independence, Jefferson listed a “long train of abuses & usurpations,” at the hand of King George III. Those, he added, are “begun at a distinguished period, & pursuing invariably the same object.” Those[…]

Who Wrote the Declaration of Independence?

The Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Thomas Jefferson was not then credited with its authorship. By Matthew Wills The Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. We now credit Thomas Jefferson with the Declaration’s authorship, but that was not the case on that[…]

Losing Sight of Jefferson and Falling into Plato

Thomas Jefferson was aware of the pitfalls of democracy and never believed in the “pure democracy” scorned by Plato. Many professors at higher-level academic institutions profess to be practitioners of a Socratic method of teaching, which is a method of students arriving at understanding by a teacher “pestering” them with probing questions that lead to self-searching. Many, if not[…]

“I Cannot Live Without Books”: Thomas Jefferson’s Library

Throughout his life, Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) collected books across a vast spectrum of topics and languages. Introduction Throughout his life, books were vital to Thomas Jefferson’s education and well being. His books provided Jefferson with a broader knowledge of the contemporary and ancient worlds than many of his contemporaries had obtained through personal experience. Jefferson’s[…]

Jefferson’s Legacy: A Brief History of the Library of Congress

If ever a library had a single founder, Thomas Jefferson is the founder of the Library of Congress. Introduction The Library of Congress, America’s oldest national cultural institution, will be two hundred years old in the year 2000. With generous support from the U.S. Congress, it has become the largest repository of recorded knowledge in[…]

The Unseen Significance of Jefferson’s Natural-Aristoi Letter to Adams

Thomas Jefferson crafted a letter to John Adams in a delayed reply to several other letters on views of aristocracy. On October 28, 1813, Thomas Jefferson crafts a letter to John Adams in a delayed reply to several other letters, written by Adams on his views of aristocracy, which cry out for a reply. Adams[…]

The ‘Revolution of 1800’ and the Election of Thomas Jefferson

The Federalists won, but when the dust settled, Anti-Federalists could claim to have made their point. To understand fully the “Revolution of 1800” we have to go back to the American Revolution and the ideology which drove it. That outlook has been called the “American synthesis” – a unique blend of early liberalism, “the rights[…]

To Free or Not to Free: Thomas Jefferson’s Lukewarm Stance on Slavery

Jefferson’s reasoning centered on generational sovereignty and timeliness. It is often acknowledged that Jefferson did much in his years prior to his retirement from political activity to try to eradicate the institution of slavery. Writes Gilbert Chinard in Thomas Jefferson: The Apostle of Americanism: No New Englander had done more to promote the cause of[…]

The Complexity of Thomas Jefferson – Or Not-So-Much

Jeffersonian scholarship is not a fool’s errand, but it is extremely arduous. Merrill Peterson, the preeminent Jeffersonian scholar, writes in his watershed work, The Jefferson Image in the American Mind, “Jefferson was a baffling series of contradictions.” Albert Ellis in American Sphinxstates magisterially that Jefferson’s “multiple personalities” are much like “the artful disguises of a confidence man.” Peter[…]

Thomas Jefferson’s Fear of Monarchism (and Hume)

Thomas Jefferson was deeply distrustful of the potential abuses of monarchy. By Dr. M. Andrew Holowchak To Benjamin Hawkins (4 Aug. 1787), Jefferson derides monarchy by relating Aesop’s tale of frogs who wished for a king. Zeus sent them a large block of wood that floated in their pond. At first placated, they grew angry and[…]

Jefferson’s Delayed Credit as Author of the Declaration of Independence

The Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Thomas Jefferson was not then credited with its authorship. By Matthew Wills / 07.02.2016 The Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. We now credit Thomas Jefferson with the Declaration’s authorship, but that was not the case[…]