Ninth in the series of political philosophers, this session examines the ideas of Jefferson as found in the Declaration of Independence. There is a discussion of natural rights and the mechanistic theory of government.
The Fiftieth Anniversary--1824The vicious campaign of 1800 had divided the second and thirdpresidents. In 1812, at the persistent urging of their mutual friendBenjamin Rush, the two reconciled. Their correspondence was a greatconsolation to both in their twilight years. As the ﬁftieth anniversaryof the Declaration of Independence approached, both old menreﬂected on this joint endeavor of their youth. Both struggled tohang on to life until the great day. Jefferson asked at 8 pm July 3rd “Isit the 4th yet?”“Almost.”He passed away at 10 minutes before 1 pm the next day , at age 83, afew hours before John Adams, whose last words were “Jeffersonsurvives.”
He had made directions for his funeral: no invitations, nocelebration or parade. He wished to be buried atMonticello. He wrote his own epitaph which includes noreference to his presidency: HERE WAS BURIED THOMAS JEFFERSON AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE OF THE STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AND FATHER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
II. Early Years 1. family and society 2. William and Mary College, 1760-62 a. Geo. Wythe and “reading for the law” b. bar, 1767 3. House of Burgesses, 1769 4. A Summary of the View of the Rights of British America, 1774
1743-third of ten children, born on the western frontier ofVirginiahis father was a planter, surveyor, and speculator1752-having been home schooled, at age nine,Thomas beganstudies at the local school of a Scottish Presbyterian minister.Latin, Greek, French, equestrianism, nature1758-1760-boarded nearby with Rev. James Maury. Studiedhistory, science, and the classics1762-age sixteen, went east to attend the College of Williamand Mary at the colonial capital, Williamsburg
II.2.a. & b. Williamsburg 1781 map governor’s palacecollege George Wythe house House of Burgesses
College of William & Mary The Wren Building-front
College of William & Mary The Wren Building-rear
II.4. A Summary of the View of the Rights of British America, 1774 while still a young lawyer in Williamsburg Jefferson published this pamphlet which made the legal argument for Independence June, 1776-age 32, sent as a Virginia delegate to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia John Adams picked this young man to be part of the committee to draft the Declaration largely on the reputation which his “Summary…” had earned for him throughout the colonies
With five simple words in the Declaration of Independence---”allmen are created equal”---Thomas Jefferson undid Aristotle’s ancientformula, which had governed human affairs until 1776: “From thehour of their birth, some men are marked out for subjection, othersfor rule.” In his original draft of the Declaration, in soaring, damning,fiery prose, Jefferson denounced the slave trade as an “execrablecommerce...this assemblage of horrors,” a “cruel war against humannature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberties.” Ashistorian John Chester Miller put it, “The inclusion of Jefferson’sstrictures on slavery and the slave trade would have committed theUnited States to the abolition of slavery.” Henry Wiencek, “Master of Monticello,” in Smithsonian, October 2012, p. 40
III. Declaration of Independence; June, 1776 1. composition and publication 2. content a. prologue b. philosophy - memorize (“We...happiness”) c. indictment d. conclusion 3. significance 4. criticism
III.1. composition and publicationJune 11th-Congress appoints the 5-mancommittee to draft a declarationin the next 17 days Jefferson produces adraft with input from Franklin and Adamsfamously, Franklin changed “We holdthese truths to be sacred and un-deniable” to read “...self-evident”July 2-4th-Congress ﬁrst voted todeclare, then spent 3 days debating thetext. The most important concession tothe slave interests was the toning down ofJefferson’s attack on the “peculiarinstitution” This idealized depiction of (left to right) Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson working on the Declaration (Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, 1900) was widely reprinted
III. Declaration of Independence; June, 1776 1. composition and publication 2. content a. prologue b. philosophy - memorize (“We...happiness”) c. indictment d. conclusion 3. significance
----That to secure these rightsGovernments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed
Justice occurs when the governedconsent to the powers which they assign to government.
----That whenever any Form ofGovernment becomes destructive of theseends it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it.
The history of the present king of Great Britain...
We, therefore, the Representatives of theunited States of America, in GeneralCongress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world ...
And for the support of this Declaration,with a ﬁrm reliance on the protection ofdivine Providence, we mutually pledge toeach other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
A non-partisan appreciation for the Declaration emerged in the years followingthe War of 1812, thanks to a growing American nationalism and a renewedinterest in the history of the Revolution. In 1817, Congress commissioned JohnTrumbulls famous painting of the signers, which was exhibited to large crowdsbefore being installed in the Capitol. The earliest commemorative printings ofthe Declaration also appeared at this time, offering many Americans their ﬁrstview of the signed document. Collective biographies of the signers were ﬁrstpublished in the 1820s, giving birth to what Garry Wills called the "cult of thesigners". In the years that followed, many stories about the writing and signingof the document would be published for the ﬁrst time. Wikipedia
The ﬁve-man committee Livingston Sherman Franklin Jefferson Adams
French leaders were directly inﬂuenced by the text of the Declaration of Independenceitself. The Manifesto of the Province of Flanders (1790) was the ﬁrst foreign derivationof the Declaration; others include the Venezuelan Declaration of Independence (1811),the Liberian Declaration of Independence (1847), the declarations of secession by theConfederate States of America (1860–61), and the Vietnam Declaration ofIndependence (1945). These declarations echoed the United States Declaration ofIndependence in announcing the independence of a new state, without necessarilyendorsing the political philosophy of the original.Some other countries that used the Declaration as inspiration or directly copied sectionsfrom it is the Haitian declaration of 1 January 1804 from the Haitian Revolution, theUnited Provinces of New Granada in 1811, the Argentine Declaration of Independencein 1816, the Chilean Declaration of Independence in 1818, Costa Rica in 1821, ElSalvador in 1821, Guatemala in 1821, Honduras in (1821), Mexico in 1821, Nicaraguain 1821, Peru in 1821, Bolivian War of Independence in 1825, Uruguay in 1825,Ecuador in 1830, Colombia in 1831, Paraguay in 1842, Dominican Republic in 1844,Texas Declaration of Independence in March 1836, California Republic in November1836, Hungarian Declaration of Independence in 1849, Declaration of the Independenceof New Zealand in 1835, Czechoslovak declaration of independence from 1918 draftedin Washington D.C. with Gutzon Borglum among the drafters, Southern Rhodesia in 11November 1965. Wikipedia
IV. Later Life 1. contributions to Virginia 2. separation of church and state a. Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, 1786 b. First Amendment, 1791 3. personal learning and education policy 4. national service
Notes on the State of Virginia (1785) -- Jefferson completed the ﬁrst editionin 1781, and updated and enlarged the book in 1782 and 1783. Notes on theState of Virginia originated in Jeffersons responding to questions aboutVirginia, posed to him in 1780 by the Secretary of the French delegation inPhiladelphia, the temporary capital of the united colonies.Often dubbed the most important American book published before 1800,Notes on the State of Virginia is both a compilation of data by Jeffersonabout the states natural resources and economy, and his vigorous and ofteneloquent argument about the nature of the good society, which he believedwas incarnated by Virginia. He expressed his beliefs in the separation ofchurch and state, constitutional government, checks and balances, andindividual liberty. He wrote extensively about slavery, the problems ofmiscegenation, and his belief that whites and blacks could not live together ina free society. Wikipedia
Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction ofChristianity, have been burned, tortured, ﬁned and imprisoned. What hasbeen the effect of this coercion? T make one half the world fools and the oother half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth... Oursister states of Pennsylvania and New York, however, have long subsistedwithout any establishment at all. The experiment was new and doubtful whenthey made it. It has answered beyond conception. They ﬂourish inﬁnitely. Notes on the State of Virginia
IV. 2. separation of church and statePeople mistakenly believe this is a phrase from the FirstAmendment or some other document with the force of law. It is,instead, contained in a letter to the Baptists of Danbury,Connecticut in 1802. Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and State.
IV. 2. a. Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, 1786As the established state church, the Anglican Church received tax support and no onecould hold ofﬁce who was not an Anglican. The Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodistchurches did not receive tax support. As Jefferson wrote in his Notes on Virginia, pre-Revolutionary colonial law held that "if a person brought up a Christian denies the beingof a God, or the Trinity ...he is punishable on the ﬁrst offense by incapacity to hold anyofﬁce ...; on the second by a disability to sue, to take any gift or legacy ..., and by threeyear imprisonment." Prospective ofﬁcer-holders were required to swear that they didnot believe in the central Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation.In 1779 Jefferson proposed "The Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom," which wasadopted in 1786. Its goal was complete separation of church and state; it declared theopinions of men to be beyond the jurisdiction of the civil magistrate. He asserted thatthe mind is not subject to coercion, that civil rights have no dependence on religiousopinions, and that the opinions of men are not the concern of civil government. Thisbecame one of the American charters of freedom. This elevated declaration of thefreedom of the mind was hailed in Europe as "an example of legislative wisdom andliberality never before known." Wikipedia
The Bill of Rights, 1791(the ﬁrst ten amendments to the Constitution)
Amendment I -- Congress shall make no law respecting anestablishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; orabridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of thepeople peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for aredress of grievances.
IV.4. national service1775-1776--Second Continental Congress1783-1785--Confederation Congress1785-1789--Minister to France1790-1793--Secretary of State to George Washington1797-1801--VicePresident to John Adams1801-1809--President
IV.3. personal learning and education policyat a state dinner JFK once quipped to his guests thatthis was the most brilliant gathering of intellect at theWhite House since Thomas Jefferson dined aloneafter his formal education Jefferson became an auto-didact a half dozen languages-learned Gaelic to translate Ossian architecture agronomy mechanical inventions natural history &c., &c., &c…..
It’s hard to argue with this demigod of American Civil Religion.But are “these truths” really “self-evident”?Is the doctrine of natural law still a useful concept?Do the “unalienable rights” come from Nature? Nature’s God(their Creator)?And the compact/contract theory? with its implied right torebellion?Or was Wilson right?
It’s hard to argue with this demigod of American Civil Religion.But are “these truths” really “self-evident”?Is the doctrine of natural law still a useful concept?Do the “unalienable rights” come from Nature? Nature’s God(their Creator)?And the compact/contract theory? with its implied right torebellion?Or was Wilson right? in Hillsdale College, “Constitution 201”, September 17, 2012
It’s hard to argue with this demigod of American Civil Religion.But are “these truths” really “self-evident”?Is the doctrine of natural law still a useful concept?Do the “unalienable rights” come from Nature? Nature’s God(their Creator)?And the compact/contract theory? with its implied right torebellion?Or was Wilson right? in Hillsdale College, “Constitution 201”, September 10, 2012
this book by Hillsdale Collegepresident Arnn addresses whytoday’s Progressives dismiss thephilosophy of the Declarationwhy for them the Founders’philosophy and the Constitution areobsolete 18th century obstacles toprogresshow the well-intentioned democraticidealism of the early 20th centuryProgressives led them to prefer theadministrative bureaucratic state tothe checks and balances of the 18thcentury Constitution Thomas Nelson, 2012
Why should [they] regard the Constitution as odious in principle, analbatross when it is effective, and for the most part happily irrelevant? …. The answer has to do with a change in our understanding of rights andwhat it takes to protect them. These regulatory agencies are designed toaccommodate an evolutionary standard of rights favored in the academicworld for generations now. In this understanding, the Constitution issevered from the Declaration, and both are compromised. TheDeclaration proclaims rights that are inadequate, and the standards bywhich it proclaims them are obsolete. This being so, the Constitution issimply destroyed. Its arrangements are outmoded and rightly ignored. Itspurposes are rejected, and we are left with nothing except the tide ofhistory (characterized by supporters of the administrative state as“progress”) to guide us. In modern America this tide has all the force ofbureaucracy behind it. Arnn, pp.18-19
Last WordBy 1792 Jefferson had gone from “all men are created equal” toan uneasy accommodation with slavery at Monticello. He wroteabout the proﬁtability of slavery as an investment whichreturned a 4% per annum return because of the “naturalincrease” of his more than 200 slaves. He was trapped betweenhis self-indulgent spendthrift lifestyle and his philosophicalmoral insight.In 1800, the mudslinging of the Federalist press againstJefferson’s challenge to Adams’ reelection makes 2012’scampaign look like a Platonic dialogue in comparison. Jefferson (cont.)
Last Word (concluded)In 1800, the mudslinging of the Federalist press againstJefferson’s challenge to Adams’ reelection makes 2012’scampaign look like a Platonic dialogue in comparison. Jeffersonhad written about the evils of miscegenation. He was accused inthe press and in pamphlets of keeping his slave Sally Hemings asa concubine and siring children upon her.But, “let him who is without sin cast the ﬁrst stone” (Jn, 8, 7 KJV).Rather, let us examine Jefferson’s eloquent thought which hasinspired so much political good. Let us not commit Aristotle’sfallacy of argumentum ad hominem (the argument against theman). It is the philosophy, not the personal failings of its authorwhich we examine critically.
Our democratic revolution led in two ways to an even moretumultuous one in France a decade later. The French militaryaid which enabled us to win our independence bankrupted theBourbon monarchy. And the revolutionary idealism broughtback by ofﬁcers like Lafayette offered an alternative to divineright absolutism.But that’s another story...