Life of Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson’s name is among names of the Founding Fathers. They laid the foundation for America, a country of deep slavery and endless freedom. As the ancient Chinese noticed, the Emperor is like a vessel, and people are the water that takes the form of the vessel. The country needed a wise ruler. Jefferson was one of the best-educated Americans of his time. (Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2004). Once John Kennedy joked during a social event: “I think that this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House – with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone”.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) is one of the most prominent figures of the age of American Enlightenment and in the American Revolution. He was born in Virginia, in a small town on the frontier and lived there until the age of eighteen. Jefferson maintained a lifelong sympathy for democracy and inhabitants of the frontier. Jefferson was one of the most educated and well-read men of his time, and only Benjamin Franklin could be compared with him in this regard. He graduated from a college, and then studied law for five years, but soon abandoned it, because the laws of the colonies were in conflict with his views on the law. Herewith, Jefferson devoted himself to politics. In 1769, he was elected to the Virginia Legislature, where he joined the anti-British opposition.
Many wise people influenced the worldview of Thomas Jefferson. He was absorbed by the poems of Homer and Virgil, later by Socrates, Plutarch and Seneca. He admired the teachings of Democritus and Epicurus about human happiness as the goal of philosophy and their atomistic materialism that was destroyable for religious beliefs. After that the young man turned to the modern philosophy. The works of Bacon, Newton and Locke, which were his board books, became the guides for future direction of the ideologist of the American Revolution democracy.
Jefferson’s views were determined by the value of the Enlightenment, in which he emerged as a thinker and politician. Jefferson unconditionally believed in the power of the human mind.
“A man of broad interests and activity, he exerted an immense influence on the political and intellectual life of the new nation” (Encyclopedia of World Biography).
Thomas Jefferson took the idea of active European Enlightenment of Montesquieu, Mably, Hume, Turgot, Condorcet and others. The political views of Thomas Jefferson, who became the third president after formation of the United States, were close to the political views of Paine. As well as Paine, Jefferson took the natural law doctrine in its most radical and democratic interpretation. Also, there existed the proximity of his political and legal views to the ideas of Rousseau. However, prior to the beginning of the War of Independence Jefferson hoped for a peaceful resolution of the conflict with England and was influenced by theory of separation of powers, defended by Montesquieu. Nevertheless, that did not stop him from criticizing the U.S. Constitution in 1787. It accepted separation of powers as a system of “checks and balances” and gave the prsident the opportunity to be re-elected the unlimited number of times; and thus, according to Jefferson, turn him into monarch. He considered the absence of the Bill of Rights, especially freedom of speech, press and religion as a big disadvantage of the Constitution. Smith stated: “for contemporary historians, Thomas Jefferson has always been an enigma”.
The Jefferson’s doubt about real value of official morality and legitimacy of the existing social system grew under influence of the idea of natural rights. Protest against the ugly phenomena which he observed in the life around him sprang in the mind of young man. This process was strengthened during period of growing in his native Virginia, as well as throughout North America, deep resentment of the colonial order.
The evolution of the radical, often utopian programs, to modern liberal principles is observed in his well-known political preferences. Understanding of the essential unity of ethics and politics related to Jefferson and his view of the meaning of the historical process is very important for researchers. The essence of the historical process he refers to as the confrontation of inherent moral principle in man and human selfishness, held in a public form.
His Declaration of Independence is one of the most striking documents of the social and political thoughts of the XVIII century. The natural equality of men that was enshrined in the preamble to the Declaration was opposed to the legacy of the feudal class privileges, whereas inalienable rights were opposed to the feudal lawlessness. These ideas were practical and concrete political meaning in the struggle against British colonialists, who denied the equal rights of the colonists with the inhabitants of the metropolis and infringe on the rights of the colonists.
Merrill Peterson stated the following in his book Jefferson, Thomas:
He had enormous public prestige as the spokesman of republican principles and national ideals. By some personal magnetism he drew men to him, persuaded them to follow, and inspired their loyalty. His style of leadership was averse to dissension and controversy. He sought to engender amiability and, wherever possible, to grasp “the smooth handle”. Business was conducted through day-to-day consultation with the secretaries (Peterson, 2002).
Jefferson wrote that Government was created by people to protect the natural rights of man, and the power of government came from the consent of people to obey him in the Declaration of Independence. Consistently developing the idea of popular sovereignty, Jefferson concluded that because of the origin of the government power and the conditions of its existence, people have the right to change or destroy the existing form of government. According to Thomas Jefferson, people have a duty and right to overthrow the government that is seeking to despotism.
Protecting the right to freedom of religion, Jefferson attributed this right to the category of natural rights.
Disagreeing with Hume about the origin of all just powers and their carriers, Jefferson firmly held to the principlee of majority rule, believing that the remedy of the evil brought by democracy is more democracy.
In the end of his life, Jefferson was inclined to think about the need and desirability of such an organization of government, in which the traditional aristocracy of wealth and status would be outdone by natural aristocracy of talent and ability.
It should be noted that Jefferson firmly believed that equation of blacks and whites is a problem of time and education. While developing the University of Virginia, he provided an opportunity to study there for all races. “Unlike most of his fellow Virginians, Jefferson was prepared to acknowledge that slavery was an anomaly in the American republic established in 1776”.
Jefferson refused the doctrine of the divine right of kings and defended theory of social contract and the natural, inalienable rights, such as life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
An integral part of the freedom of thought is the freedom of speech and press. The freedom of thought could be realized only by educated people. Jefferson created the first Department of Law and the first University in the colonies. Montgomery believed that Jefferson had a weakness for educational schemes. The President has developed a system of public education (from primary to higher education).
As an opponent of tyranny (the religious form he assumed more hideous than political), he separated the church from the state in Virginia.
Chinard stated the following in his book Thomas Jefferson. The Apostle of Americanism:
Jefferson himself was too respectful of self-government ever to think of interfering with the internal affairs of the new republics. On the other hand, he was too firmly convinced of the moral, intellectual and political superiority of his own country not to believe that a time would come when the contagion of liberty would extend to the near and remote neighbors of the United States.
In conclusion, it should be said that Thomas Jefferson’s name is inextricably linked with all the political events of the second half of 18th – early 19th century in North America.
The ideas of French and British Enlightenment, which assigned the main role for progress, based on all sorts of expanding the role of human knowledge in perfection of society were close to his own. However, the views of Jefferson also reflected the historical experiences of American colonies, their own democratic traditions.
Jefferson entered the history of political thought and the history of modern times in general as the author of the Declaration of Independence. The value of the Declaration of Independence is not only in consolidation of the United States, but also in proclamation of the most advanced political and legal views and ideas. The ideas of Thomas Jefferson and his Declaration have had and continue to have an impact on the political life in the U.S. The Declaration is considered as the greatest document of American history, principles of which guided the fighters for freedom of many generations.