Returning to Things Jeffersonian…

It was a close call. The recent release of the CIA memos was pulling me in the direction of ‘commentary’, but while eating, I leaned down & picked up a book lying on the floor nearby, to read & stir up my mind a bit. Get some creative juices flowing! Picking up where I’d left off in “American Sphinx: the Character of Thomas Jefferson” proved to be…well, stimulating is a good word, but not the one I’m looking for. As I read about the Windsor chair in which Jefferson sat, and the specially-made desk on which he wrote the Declaration of Independence, in a brick building on the corner of 7th. & Market Streets, in Philadelphia, I actually sat up straighter, almost thrilled, & started to cry joyful tears. I don’t know if that building is still standing, but if it is, I’m heading there on my upcoming vacation.

And, just like that…it’s back to Thomas Jefferson!

I had been writing about Jefferson’s background of learning, where and when he was exposed to the ideas and roots of ideas that were, ultimately, so powerfully instrumental in the shaping of America and its systems of law and government. And I want to continue in that vein. But, while reading about him last night, several other topics presented themselves, I took notes, and while these ideas are still fresh, I want to expound on them a bit. So, let me get those notes…

First, let me just say – I am almost bedazzled by the mind and personality of this man. I found myself grinning inwardly, (if that’s possible) and I’m talkin’ BIG grin here, as I watched Thomas Jefferson’s mental prowess unfold, through the words of author Joseph J. Ellis. And I suppose I should admit some of that ‘warm fuzzy’ I was feeling was because I could understand what Jefferson was doing, and how he operated. I almost feel as if I’ve met a kindred spirit…my heart goes out to his thin-skinned touchiness towards, and jealousy of his literary endeavours. Jefferson didn’t take kindly to its criticisms. He nourished & cherished his works, he birthed them in solitude and they were his, not to be picked on, tampered with, or re-adjusted by others. As Ellis puts it “he regarded all critical suggestions as unwelcome and misguided corruptions.” Jefferson had to endure a certain amount of it, but he did not have to like it.

(At this point, I’ve realized those notes are, so to speak, history! Can’t find ’em! So, until and if I do, let’s get back to business…)

I don’t want to neglect emphasizing the early-years’ learning influence on Jefferson’s thinking. Seeds planted back then, in a fertile, active mind, produced much more than just concepts and formulas. And Jefferson’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for knowledge factors into the equation as well…in today’s society, he may well have been labeled a ‘nerd’, considering the amount of time he actually preferred to spend with his books, instead his friends! A close college chum has reported that during his two years at William & Mary College, Jefferson would “fly to his studies”, leaving friends in the dust, and family tradition indicates those studies often took up fifteen hours of his day! (Wikipedia, Thomas Jefferson, Section 1.2 – Education)

Fast-forwarding, from the vantage point of a major player in the creation of the new nation of America, Jefferson was the embodiment of the kinds of knowledge needed for such a monumental endeavour. All of the amazing men whom today we call a Founding Father, (or who, though we may not recognize their names, took part in our beginnings), were vital and indispensable to such a profound event. Each had his part. But the mentality with which Thomas Jefferson was equipped, and whose life’s learning and experiences had produced that mentality, brought to the table that which would cement forever in place all those individual parts. The pillars of American government, and its liberty, were thus secured.

Over eighty years after the creation and signing of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson’s masterful sculpting of principles, arguments and ideas gave to “abstract truth” a form so powerful and enduring as to more than merit this high commendation:

“The principles of Jefferson are the definitions and axioms of free society…All honor to Jefferson – who…had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce…an abstract truth,(emphasis mine) applicable to all men and all times…in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.” Abraham Lincoln

So I don’t think it is in any way an exaggeration to stipulate repeatedly just how large a part Thomas Jefferson’s studies played in the formation of the American way. Indeed, the way which yet today stands as that beacon of glorious liberty to which the whole world looks. Many, in hope, some with longing, and others, sadly, in hatred…but still America stands. In God’s will and by His grace and mercy, for sure..but it was His will to so prepare the mind and heart of Thomas Jefferson that, resident within him was the extraordinary compilation of knowledge that made all things possible for America past, America present and may it still be His will, America future…


Let’s examine some of Jefferson’s educational history.

At the age of nine, young Thomas was being taught Greek, French and Latin, at a local school.
(Now, I don’t know about you, but to me, nine seems a bit young? for Greek, French, and Latin?
( I must say,though, that is impressive.) And, as it turns out, the “study of Latin and Greek,… greatly reinforced {the} understanding of grammar..”, which is important for many reasons, one of them being to “acquire as many words and manage as many concepts as possible so as to be able to express and understand clearly concepts of varying degrees of complexity”. (Wikipedia, Classical Education Movement, 1.1.1 Grammar) I ask you: are we talkin’ Revolution here, are we talkin’ government and politics here, are we talkin’ Declaration of Independence here? You bet we are.

Skills the man would need were being implanted in the boy. God took no chances.

For two years, from 1758 – 1760, Thomas boarded with the family of the teacher at a school in Fredericksburg Parish, Virginia, twelve miles from Jefferson’s home. There he was given a ‘classical’ education. I was going to gloss over this aspect of Jefferson’s education, it seemed inconsequential compared to bigger and better things! but fortunately I had second thoughts. A classical education supplies a student with grammar, logic and rhetoric skills. He learns how to reason, how to “to critically examine arguments and to analyze {his} own.” He learns how to express his reasonings through debate and composition, to present his arguments well, and to use every available means of persuasion to do so.

(I won’t repeat my ‘are we talkin’? bit here…but it does seem like a handwriting-on-the-wall kind of scenario…)

Other phases of classical education involved the study of history as a context, illustrating political and military developments. The presentation of situational conflicts and problems leading to their own answers through forward-moving actions was a primary result of such teaching. And I don’t think you can get much more ‘forward-moving action’ than a revolution for independence from tyranny. How interesting is it that the study of what has gone before can be what leads us into our future.

Included in a classical education was the concept of ‘paideia’, a Greek word meaning ‘education’ or ‘instruction’. Greek citizens of ancient times believed in self-government, therefore such instruction was, rather than for an art or a trade, instruction for liberty. ‘Paideia’ encompasses more than this one aspect, but my point is that the seed of liberty was being planted and watered in young Jefferson’s thinking.

While at William & Mary College, Jefferson enrolled in the philosophy school there, and was introduced to the writings of John Locke (1632 – 1704). Among other things, Locke was an ‘opposition political activist, and finally a revolutionary whose cause ultimately triumphed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.’ (link) Sound at all familiar? Though I have not read any of his writings (yet), this source tells us that Locke’s work “is characterized by opposition to authoritarianism. This opposition is both on the level of the individual person and on the level of institutions such as government and church.” Again…familiar? Locke advocated the use of reason to seek truth, thereby determining legitimate versus illegitimate functions for institutions, thus leading to optimal individual and societal well-being.

Even in just brief research on John Locke, I can see how deeply intrigued one could be by his writings, and how profoundly affected. As, it appears, was Thomas Jefferson.

There is, of course, more – much more – to say about this subject of Thomas Jefferson’s education, and I may continue in this vein in my next post. Jefferson is constantly cited as being a man of the Enlightenment, and perhaps that will be next…


10 responses to “Returning to Things Jeffersonian…

  1. Just to the halfway point in today’s little post *[ROF]* and have to make a comment:”he regarded all critical suggestions as unwelcome and misguided corruptions.” That explains almost the whole thing to me.. a challenged one-tentacled giant ego’s squid, on a mission, when the cow miscalculates his jump over the moon, and lands right in the range of the giant squid, who easily grabs it with one tentacled eats him up, by oozing digestive enzymes first and slowly absorbing the embodiment of such a source of sustenance… Any challengers?Okay on to the next half…pdnf

  2. “Among other things, Locke was an ‘opposition political activist, and finally a revolutionary whose cause ultimately triumphed…”Whoa, now that one is a monster cookie. In every “campaign evolution” is the “opposition.” After the last election I heard that the new Prez Barry O would still have to convince some 49% of Americans of his actions.Jefferson had to convince the Truth of Freedom. Is there a law against freedom? [Locke] “This opposition is both on the level of the individual person and on the level of institutions such as government and church.”OMG. Tyranny was not new in those days, rather the concept of Freedom was gathering momentum. How to administer Freedom? what is the building block of freedom… self-evident, unalienable rights?”Jefferson had a lisp[wkpd] and preferred writing to public speaking partly because of this. He burned all of his letters between himself and his wife at her death, creating the portrait of a man who at times could be very private. Indeed, he preferred working in the privacy of his office than the public eye.”Jefferson is definitely more than a poser. He spent his entire life preparing for the moment of “penning” the Declaration… no? I am certain he could have written the name of God from the information you have summarized…[wkpd] “He learned Gaelic in order to translate Ossian, and sent to James Macpherson for the originals.” Where is the spirit of Jefferson today?

  3. megalomainiacal,,, no not that,,, more like doubting Thomas, who must know things through not only study but “experience as well?”or more like the “challenged one tentacle sea faring creature” that is private and off to himself ready to consume all that is known and turn it into the basic building blocks of society we Americans aspire… Jefferson had a lisp, right?.. Me thinks he had a streak of manly Mojo, like celebrities too.. though.

  4. I enjoyed American Sphinx. It gave me a much more complex picture of Jefferson than some of the other books I have read. I just finished Th 5000 Year Leap and he is quoted extensively in it. When I was in DC, I made it by the Jefferson collection at the Library of Congress. This is the original set of books Jefferson sold the Library to pay off some debts. It is a very impressive collection and really made an impact on me looking at these books he had read. The collection is still organized in the same way it was when Jefferson had it.

  5. Yeah, I know you reviewed Sphinx on your site; I recall that you said something about how you saw things differently by the time you’d finished reading it. I only read specific parts, to get info for my posts, but now I’m doing a cover-to-cover read.God willing, I’ll make it to D.C. one day, seeing that library must’ve been mind-blowing!

  6. MooP_W,I did not know TJ had a lisp! But he definitely preferred solitude & standing in the shadows, when possible. A not-too-far-off post will be about this aspect of his personality. Many might think, b/c he was part of our Revolution, that he was much more an in-the-limelight kind of a guy, but, not true…!”He spent his entire life preparing for the moment of “penning” the Declaration…” A similar thought: His (TJ’s) composition of ‘Causes and Necessities’, like ‘Summary View’ proved a dress rehearsal for the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.”(Ellis, American Sphinx) Everywhere I look, I see the preparation….and as you say, where is his spirit, indeed? But I maintain, it still exists, in some of us. I needed a revelation to even see that spirit, and it is only by the purposes & love of God, and His love for people and, I believe, our country, that I got it.

  7. Aye Matey; I too: “I needed a revelation to even see that spirit, and it is only by the purposes and love of God, and His love for people and, I believe, our country, that I got it.”you say it is eternal… thanks for that one.. American Sphinx hmmm… I have always told the kids “Education… has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading…. ” G. M. Trevelyan (1876 – 1962), English Social History (1942) [looked it up so I don’t misquote]Going to get me a large print edition of American Sphinx… or find it online. Thanks Andy D.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s