Jefferson: The Reader and Writer

Jefferson: The Reader and Writer

Join historians Andrew Browning, author of Schools for the Statesmen: The Divergent Educations of the Constitutional Framers; Nancy Isenberg, author of Madison and Jefferson; and Thomas Kidd, author of Thomas Jefferson: A Biography of Spirit and Flesh, for a discussion exploring Thomas Jefferson’s life and legacy through the lens of his own education and what he read—and how those influences shaped the American idea. Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, moderates.

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Friends it’s an honor to introduce to You now Three great Scholars uh who are deep Experts on the intellectual sources of The American founding and have written Path-breaking books on the education of The founders and of Thomas Jefferson uh In particular and I’m so looking forward To learning from them and to sharing Their light and wisdom with all of you Andrew Browning is the author of a new Book schools for Statesmen the Divergent Education of the Constitutional framers He’s also the author of the panic of 1819 the first Great Depression and is Currently working on a study of the 1786 Annapolis Convention Thomas Kidd serves As research research professor of church History at Midwestern Baptist Theological ceremony uh his new book is Thomas Jefferson a biography of spirit And flesh and he’s also the author of Who is an Evangelical the history of a Movement in crisis Benjamin Franklin the Religious life of a founding father and George Whitefield America’s spiritual Founding bother such important books and Nancy Eisenberg is T Harry Williams Professor of history at Louisiana State University She is a co-author with Andrew berstein Of Madison and Jefferson uh and also of The problem of democracy the president’s Atoms confront the cult of personality

Which she and Andrew discussed at the National Constitution Center in 2019 and It’s wonderful to welcome her back to The NCC she’s also the author of white Trash the 400 year untold story of class In America and the Fallen founder the Life of Aaron Burr uh welcome uh Andrew Nancy and Thomas so looking forward to The conversation and I want to begin as As you teach our audience about Jefferson’s intellectual influences with A letter that Jefferson wrote and would Send to the sons of friends who are Going to law school uh when he was older He sent this to a young friend called Bernard Moore he sent a version of this Reading list to Robert skipworth friends Can find it online at the founders Archive and I’ll call it up to the Screen as we’re talking but in this Letter he sets out a syllabus for what Bernard Moore should read starting in The morning and going to the afternoon And in particular Um his his recommendations about ethics And natural religion are really Interesting about what Jefferson’s own Uh influences were he recommends Locke’s Essay concerning human understanding uh Condor say uh he also recommends Hutcheson’s introduction to moral Philosophy and Lord came’s on natural Religion from the Scottish Enlightenment And then a bunch of classical sources

Cicero’s on duties the most popular Cicero book of the founding era and Cicero’s tusculine disputations as well As the works of Seneca Um Uh Um Andrew tell us about those books and What they can tell us about you Described in your new book as as Jefferson’s self-education Oh thank you and it’s a pleasure and a Privilege to be here this morning I I Think it would be useful to know what Jefferson’s own contemporaries thought About the influences of one’s early Reading and education so I’d like to Begin by quoting uh William Livingston Who uh was a framer of the Constitution And served for a year in Congress along With Jefferson although because he was Not an advocate of Independence he left And was replaced by the uh the Delegation led by the Princeton President John Witherspoon but Livingston said this he said whatever Principles are imbibed at a college will Run through a man’s future conduct and Affect the society in which he’s a Member in proportion to his sphere of Activity especially if it is considered That even after we arrive at years of Maturity instead of entering upon the Difficult and disagreeable work of Examining the principles we formerly

Entertained we rather exhort ourselves In search searching for arguments to Maintain and support them I think that That probably is not only a pretty good Description of Jefferson’s own habit but A view that a lot of people in Jefferson’s time would have would have Agreed to and accepted so when Jefferson Is is writing to uh oh people like Um Moore and also Thomas van Randolph And William Munford he wrote this Similar letter three times in his life To prospective law students I think he Is he’s thinking in terms of not only Preparing for a career but preparing for Life uh the letter skipworth is a little Different because skipworth was not Headed for a legal education and uh I Think it’s interesting that uh in his Case and only his case Jefferson Recommends translations into English of The the classical authors which Jefferson told Priestly later on uh was One of the great Pleasures uh and one That he thanked his early teacher Teachers for being able to read them in The Original Latin and Greek You pointed out you certainly revealed To us when you described these uh these Authors that Jefferson’s influences do Seem to fall into four pretty distinct Categories uh and the classical Influences Cicero above all uh were Essentially the education of any uh

American or British uh gentleman in the 18th century Jefferson probably spent The first six years or so of his Education learning to read and write Latin using Cicero and and a few other Authors as his model and and Cicero Stuck with him he never leave Cicero’s Name off uh his his lists when he was Accused by Richard Henry Lee of having Plagiarized the Declaration from Locke’s Second Treatise on government his Defense was that he actually was simply Uh using the the fundamental works that Were in the air at the time and then he Says those were Aristotle Cicero lock And Sydney or at least those four he Mentions which is funny because he never Mentions Aristotle in any other uh Circumstance and uh one thing we do know About is education at uh William Mary Was that William and Mary conservative As the school was uh directed The Professors to teach the philosophy of Writers such as Locke and Newton rather Than Aristotle who had been too long in The schools so the classical influence The Scottish influence and I think this Probably comes up mostly in the readings That uh George with directed him uh to When he was studying law with with Hume Hutcheson Robertson’s histories and Lord Came’s above all one of his his favorite Authors Henry Hume Lord came then there Are the British

The Commonwealth man is there called the The writers and and the politicians who Uh supported the uh overthrow of the Stewards uh and Locke and Sydney who he Tends to mention in Tandem and Bolingbrook uh where all in these these Letters of recommendation to students And all favored uh authors of his and Finally the French authors who show up Later in his career I don’t think until He’d really been to Paris uh did these Authors become really influential people Like condos say although moduscu was Probably an early influence there too so Those four categories those authors that Uh I think Jefferson thought young men Setting out in life needed to know if They were going to be effective public Citizens Thank you so much for that wonderful Introduction to Jefferson’s thoughts for That really helpful uh breaking down of The four influences the classical Scottish British Commonwealth and French And uh really looking forward to Exploring similarities and differences Among those uh influences Um In your uh wonderful book on Jefferson’s Spiritual life uh Thomas Kidd you tease Out the the competing tugs of the Classical and Enlightenment influences You you ascribe the famous heart and Head letter to the battle in Jefferson

Between epicureanism and Christianity Um your book is so rich give our Audience a sense of how the influences We put on the table the classical uh Scottish Enlightenment British and French influences played out in Jefferson’s moral and spiritual Philosophy Thanks for having me Um I you know I think it it the uh the Introduction that we’ve already had Speaks to the the vast uh array of Intellectual influences that that Jefferson has and and I I you know Jefferson has become increasingly Controversial in American culture these Days but it it doesn’t seem like anybody Would deny the fact that he read an Awful an awful lot of uh uh sources and And considered that uh a proper Gentleman uh should devote himself to The life of the mind this way and and And to continue to pursue a reading for Enlightenment and edification throughout Your uh adult life and so Um we’ve seen already that that he he’s Just massively devoted to this Continuing program of of reading that Also uh leads him to spend an enormous Money amount of money on books which is A vice I tend to approve of but Um he he does have uh the the Epicurean Uh influence and and he often uh will Discuss even in late into life about the

Epicurean uh influence on its philosophy And and to him epicureanism we tend to Think of epicureanism as as the pursuit Of just pleasure for for its own good But for Jefferson and in the classical Epicurean tradition that’s more about Pursuing Tranquility Um and and sort of peace that often is Attached to private living at a place Like Monticello Um and and so that that was a really Important value to him but he also has Uh deep Christian influences he he is uh Sort of heterodox in his theology in in Terms of uh especially as a Young Man uh He he talks about in a letter to Peter Carr his nephew uh around the same time As the letter that that you referenced That we should think about the Bible as As sort of a piece of classical Literature and and that if if if tacitus Or Levy had had talked about miracles Happening that that you you probably Wouldn’t take it at face value and and Similarly we should read the Bible uh That way but he’s also ensconced in this In this traditional Anglican uh culture That he grows up in And he’s very active in in Reading uh The New Testament in in Greek uh Throughout his adult life apparently and And he also reads uh the Septuagint the Ancient uh Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible

Um for for his own personal edification And Enlightenment through his adult life Uh he does not know Hebrew Um which he and John Adams talk about That sometimes about whether a properly Educated person should know Hebrew or Not but but Jefferson actually says he He thinks you can hear the voice of the Divine better in the Septuagint uh in in The Greek then then you can in the Hebrew which I’m not sure how Jefferson Would know since he he can’t read the Hebrew but but uh anyway you can see That those just add to this sort of you Know Symphony of all these different Sources I I think that that it’s it’s my Sense that part of Jefferson’s kind of Moral dissonance is that he never really Settles on exactly which one of these Traditions is going to be the sort of Ethical determinant as it as it were in His life and and I think that that at Least partly accounts for some of the Dissonance if not chaos and his ethical Uh personal living Fascinating what a beautiful way to put The Symphony of different sources and uh That that claim that’s his ethical chaos Is reflected in his in his personal Living is made powerfully in the book You you so powerfully suggest that his Devotion to the Bible is is stronger Than is sometimes thought he believes as You say in providentialism and afterlife

But Um does not despite his Unitarianism Does not settle on a Firm uh spiritual philosophy and with You argue catastrophic ethical Consequences Nancy Eisenberg what was The consequence of the Sources we’ve been discussing on Jefferson’s famous statement in the Declaration of Independence that all men Are created equal and are endowed by Their creator with uh unalienable rights Including those to life liberty and the Pursuit of happiness Well first I’d like to say we have to Remember that Jefferson owned a lot of Books uh seven thousand that he would Sell to the Library of Congress in 1815 1816. so this is a man who and then he Bought a new library so I very much see Him as a man a work in progress his Ideas really do change over the time Um as he reads as he explores new areas But yes I think I agree with Andrew Browning that he can be stubborn And often wants to defend his ideas he’s Not always generous to people who Disagree with him But when we get to the Declaration of Independence I think one of the things We also have to realize about Jefferson And that’s why people who’ve looked at His commonplace book we have to also Remember how did he acquire his

Knowledge and a commonplace book is About collecting uh excerpts verses and There’s an interesting way that I think We could we need to understand Jefferson Is that in many ways he has a poetic a Poet’s sensibility Um he listened to the sound of words he Cared about that that’s why he his Letters are these crafted masterpieces It’s not like today where people get on The internet and just type Uh he was very conscious of Words Their Sounds their order Um and and capturing that rhetorical and Poetic impact Um and when we get to the Declaration of Independence Um I strongly suggest that everyone read Jefferson’s original rough draft Because there you really see the Importance of his words and I’m going to Just read a few lines Such as These facts Have given the last stab of of agonizing Affection Manly Spirit bids us to renounce forever These unfeeling brethren It becomes necessary for when people to Dissolve the bands which have connected Them to another He talked about the patient sufferance Of the colonies And here’s the real incredibly powerful

Line we must Endeavor to forget our Former love Now what is he talking about here well He’s actually treating the Declaration Of Independence as a divorce decree and We know this because just a few years Earlier in 1772 when he was a practicing Attorney he made a list of the pros and Cons of divorce And here we see the influence of David Hume what does he take from David Hume a Very key argument he said it was cruel To continue by violence a union made at First by mutual love But now dissolved by hatred That’s essentially what he’s saying when He’s talking and justifying the right of Rebellion the right to sever that tie In addition to Hume he also refers to Montesquieu and what’s crucial this is Why you know Scholars have pondered for Many years why is it that he changed John Locke’s famous Triad of life Liberty and property to life liberty and The pursuit of happiness well in his List of pros and cons he basically said Happiness Is the reason marriage existed at all So what I’m trying to suggest is that Jefferson’s way of thinking And the way in which he uses language And every word that he puts on the page He’s very aware of its impact And the Declaration what he was doing

Was extremely important he was rejecting The older model Which assumed that Great Britain or the King was a father and the colonists were Children this was a common metaphor the Family metaphor he’s changing the family Metaphor to create it into a more equal Relationship one based on consent And I think if you pay attention to his Words and the richness of his words and We realize that Jefferson Takes and borrows from different Elements whether it’s something not just Directly from David Hume but David Hume Through the filter Of how he was applying it to thinking About divorce and it’s the one area of Jefferson’s expertise in the law people Went to him To talk to him about questions relating To marriage and divorce because he was Not you know the law was not his major Focus so I think that borrowing and that Way of thinking about his language is Also essential for understanding Jefferson Wonderful such a rich intervention about Jefferson’s poetic influences the Importance of his commonplace book and That that really Illuminating parsing of His writings about divorce to understand His idea about the pursuit of happiness I would love to take a round because I Know we’ll all learn so much from you

Um to ask you Andrew Browning to delve In about the relation between all of the Intellectual influences we’ve been Discussing on the Declaration uh the Phrase the pursuit of happiness comes Not from John Locke’s Second Treatise Which talks about life liberty and Property but from John Locke’s essay Concerning human understanding where Locke says that a constant determination To a Pursuit of Happiness is no Abridgement of Liberty and we put on the Table a bunch of different influences That Andrew Brennan you discuss in your Book so well from the Scottish Enlightenment folks to the to the English Whigs to the classical people Jefferson read all of them he recorded Them in his commonplace book and the Other Founders read them too the other People at the um At the Continental Congress so Andrew Browning how would you discuss the the The these competing intellectual Influences we’ve been describing on Jefferson and how they’re reflected in The Declaration Well they they are in a sense competing I mean lock and Hume would have Disagreed on far more things than they Agreed on uh but I think it’s Interesting that that Jefferson was Always looking for different kinds of Support for uh the principles that he

Had already absorbed uh and Thomas Kidd Talks about the the epicureanism uh that That is such a large element of of Jefferson’s value system I think that’s The pursuit of happiness what he’s Talking about the uh not just the the Idea that uh you know we can uh Pursue uh the French called Le boner uh I think a lot of his uh later uh writing About happiness is influenced by French Thinkers but the uh the notion that uh The pursuit of happiness is what Jefferson was always uh always after and That’s the the epicureanism I think that We heard about earlier Locke uh to many Modern uh readers means the the two Treatises on government but in in Jefferson’s time the the essay on human Understanding was a far more influential Far better known document I think that’s One of the sources of the the idea that All men are created equal is Locke’s Argument that we are all born as a Tabula rasa and the only thing that’s Going to distinguish uh the the great From the Lesser great is is going to be The influences uh that mold their lives The the writing on that tabula rasa uh So I think with Jefferson in his his Different uh different authors that he Read uh he’s not really systematic about Trying to to uh make sure that all of His his uses of these authors are Consistent but he he chooses those

Elements of them that really strike a Chord with him Nancy Eisenberg talks About his uh Belief in the the right of Revolution uh Being associated with uh his arguments About the nature of divorce as a lawyer Uh and I think he he found those Connections and and they’ve made sense To him he seized on them because they Reinforced what he already wanted to Think uh I noticed in his um His commonplace book his legal Commonplace book the one that he took uh Notes in when he was studying law he Writes a great deal uh Records a great Deal of the history of the Anglo-Saxons And uh it’s interesting that when he was Planning the curriculum for the University of Virginia his own ideal College uh he didn’t really want to to Include uh Hebrew as a required language But he really wanted to have Anglo-Saxon Taught by the uh the university and I Think the reason there is that he was Convinced that the career of the Anglo-Saxon tribes in leaving Germany And coming to England and therefore Giving up their identity as Germans was The uh the model of what the American Colonists had done in leaving England Giving up their identity as Englishmen And becoming a new people so you know That’s very different from the idea that He’s talking about a divorce but both of

Those lines of thinking lead him to the Same uh conviction and that is that the American people uh do have a right uh to Separate from England if he finds that In in Francis Hutchison and his Arguments for uh the rights for Rebellion that’s one more uh Reinforcement so he goes to many Different uh sources but it’s it’s not That he’s trying to find what those Sources have to say I think he’s he’s Gathering Together synthesizing uh the Different elements of them that all uh Focus on what he believes and what he Wants people to believe That idea of him as an Eclectic thinker Who synthesizes uh the the common Elements of these philosophers is so uh Powerful and true and um I wanna Ask you Um about Uh The pursuit of happiness and uh in Particular an author who appears a lot In in the in the commonplace in his Literary commonplace book is Cicero and I was so stuck that when that when uh When Jefferson’s uh father died Uh Jefferson copied uh passages from Cicero’s tusculine disputations to cons To console himself and uh when he was Written to by law students and uh later In life and asked to define a Pursuit of Happiness he would often uh give an

Example from Cicero as well so Um let me uh ask you Um Uh Thomas Kidd uh what was the influence Of Cicero and his vision of the pursuit Of happiness and and all of the Thinkers on that letter that he Recommended to Bernard more Aristotle Cicero Locke came all of them view the Pursuit of happiness as obtained by the Pursuit of virtue of being good rather Than feeling good tell us about how they Influenced uh Jefferson’s vision of the Pursuit of happiness Well I think that there’s uh there’s Multiple impulses there even within the Classical tradition I mean part of uh What what he’s drawing on there is the Republican ideal small or republican Ideal of the you know the independent Farmer Um and the you know the a life of of Tranquility where you’re you know you’re Left alone to to enjoy books and and Family and wine and Um and and and that I mean that’s a Powerful ideal within that kind of Roman Republican tradition that that he’s Drawing on and I think that that’s Again Part of what he’s trying to manifest at Uh Monticello and then when Monticello Gets too busy he he builds another Mansion even farther away at Poplar Forest uh and and and so there there is

That that ideal of the pursuit of Happiness as as private tranquility Um but as you suggested there’s also Within the Republican and Christian Traditions the the idea that there there Is no happiness uh through just the Pursuit of of self-interest and and Pleasure Um but that that virtue uh is is a path To happiness if not the path to Happiness and and I think that that Jefferson is is ambivalent about about This I mean he he certainly knows that Tradition of of Republican and Christian Virtue Um But it it he doesn’t ever seem to really Embrace the idea philosophically that You know that God has designed a way for Us to live that will lead to happiness Um and and I think he tends to see these Matters in a more individualistic sort Of sort of light that Um you know it would be too strong to Say sort of do your own thing but there I mean I I think he does idealize that Being left alone in your private world To sort of make that world what what you Want to Um and of course one of the one of the Great problems with with that that we Struggle with now is that that a whole Private world that he’s envisioning is Deeply dependent on the subservience of

Other people uh to to allow you to Pursue happiness that that that sort of Deeply depends on the idea that other People are not free to pursue their Happiness and that that and that’s just Dilemma that I think Jefferson never Really sorted out or you know and and so This is again where you can see is the Is the you know Christian Mandate of Sort of you know uh sacrificial love for Your neighbor is that the controlling Virtue or or is it you know the the Tranquility and pleasure of of Home and Family Life and and consuming good wine And those sorts of things I just don’t Think he ever completely sorts it out So interesting Um Nancy Eisenberg uh you you talked About the roots of Jefferson’s idea of The pursuit of happiness and divorce law To tell us how you think he understood The idea of the pursuit of happiness a Thomas kid just um identified these Competing Notions that the Christian and Uh stoic a republican idea of virtue as As caring for others and and Self-sacrifice versus the Epicurean Focus on Tranquility but it’s striking That all of the sources on Jefferson’s Reading list the Scottish Enlightenment Sources as well as the classical ones Contain the phrase the pursuit of Happiness I was blown away when I uh Read them and and found that the phrase

Actually appears so obviously these Different Traditions use the phrase Pursuit of happiness but understood it In different days different ways how Would you describe the competing visions Of the pursuit of happiness and how do You think Jefferson understood it Yeah I think we have to remember and and This is where the historian comes into Play that clearly there’s plenty of Evidence to show that he was interested In epicureanism but that’s premised on The idea and many who saw Jefferson many Who visited him at Monticello remarked That he’s very much carries himself as An aristocrat uh because to have those Pleasures to have wine uh and as we know We went deeply into debt Um to have a taste the whole idea of the Aesthetics of taste uh was rooted in his The way in which he constructed an Aristocratic identity and this was quite Common in Virginia most Virginians like To dress down I made a joke in my class The other day it’s like Google execs you Know they were wearing blue jeans and Jefferson would kind of later adopt that When he’s president you know he wouldn’t After his inauguration he returned to The White House on his horse he wouldn’t Go in a fancy Carriage uh John Marshall Also did not wear expensive clothing uh And Jefferson wore very expensive Clothing when he’s in France

It’s like Franklin when he changes his Wig when he leaves England and then goes To France Um there is a way in which Jefferson is Conflicted but he very much throughout His life when he’s constructing his Tranquil permanent Felicity at Monticello uh it’s not only totally Dependent on his aristocratic privileges But it’s also very much as Jan the late Jan Lewis wrote about it’s about his Family and the way in which even John Locke John Locke did not Embrace Equality for everyone The two treatises uh is premised on the Idea that the family the private sphere Uh is of a different order Um and he did not accept The idea that women were equal and I Think we have to see that in Jefferson As well in the same way he is more than Willing as the master of Monticello to Accept and be dependent on uh the work Of slaves and you know he drew a Distinction he drew a distinction Between the cultivator uh which was a Higher more noble and this he draws on The long tradition of husbandry from English sources uh versus the slave who Never reaches that status uh and in a Sense is sort of seen more as Not only the you know building his Freedom on the unfreedom of others which Was widely

Uh recognized and discussed in the 18th Century Um by Franklin and many others but the Idea that we have to accept that Jefferson still retained the idea uh That people are born to certain stations Um so this is what makes them so Complicated The Pursuit of Happiness Pursuit of happiness has its limits Because some people are simply not going To have the same luxuries and privileges As a southern white male planter it’s Just not going to happen and Jefferson In no way imagined that he wanted it to Happen Um so we have to kind of put him in the Context of the way he actually lived Um as well as distinguishing that from The sources that he read and and I I Definitely agree with Browning that he Selectively chooses what he wants to Read when he wants to read it Um but the domestic sphere and the way In which he imagined happiness is Intimately tied to the way he thought of Family Um his first marriage the way in which Uh the the Kingdom on the mountain Very much the the manner of State uh is Very much the center I mean he’s Constantly when he’s in the white house He’s constantly complaining to Madison I Want to return to Virginia I want to Return to Monticello so he created as

This ideal this idyllic place this Eden So happiness is is deeply rooted in the Way he thinks of family the way he Thinks of the world that he is Constructing Um as the the architectural historians Have gone into great detail about Monticello creating and if you go to Monticello you’ll realize that his Bedroom and Jefferson’s room is the Center of the universe at Monticello and Others are The Satellites Thank you so much for that you’re so Right that going physically to Monticello and standing in that room Feeling how he constructed the entire uh Palace as a sort of uh Eden for his own Uh utopian Visions is so true well uh we Have several questions about uh how Jefferson reconciled his writings in Public life with his private life his Friend Dugan puts it Um We have a question from uh about the Degree to which uh Stephen uh laparos Asks in what sense might we today Including those perhaps with the Christian biblical worldview understand Jefferson’s created equal uh so um Andrew Browning uh To what degree did Jefferson’s Philosophical readings and commitments Um Influence or not his complicated

Arguably hypocritical views about Slavery I think to understand Jefferson and to Try to to uh fight a coherent answer to That question you you have to see him as A theorist an idealist uh I think Nancy Eisenberg has has done a wonderful Job in her book about Jefferson and Madison and looking at the the Relationship between the two of them and Madison in many ways was the one who’s Trying to make Jefferson face reality And Jefferson was always heading off Into a theoretical ideal that Madison You had to kind of grit his teeth he Knew that was not going to work but uh But Jefferson was Always trying to work out his his ideal And you know at Monticello he never Finished Monticello uh he he he Moved his his wife in there and they Lived essentially in a tent while he was Was building and rebuilding Monticello Jefferson was never He never achieved his Perfection he Never achieved and you can’t achieve Perfection he understood it the pursuit Of happiness is the the thing that all People are entitled to the achievement Of happiness is probably impossible for Anybody and certainly was for for Jefferson so when you think of Jefferson You know spending money online but Winding up in debt to the point that uh

He his his estate could not carry out His uh his goal of of monumenting his Slaves because they were Uh assets that had to be balanced off Against the liabilities that his estate Had and in the the debts that he had run Up Jefferson could put on his blinders And if he was pursuing an ideal whether It was the the perfect place to to live Or the perfect Style of eating dinner or uh the ideal Political structure uh sometimes the Practicality has got brushed aside and And sometimes those practicalities were Very important practicalities like People’s lives and freedom so I I think If we see Jefferson as a a not very Practical uh but deeply committed Idealist we we understand him a little Bit better and I think that was what What Madison had to live with in that That partnership Did very well put someone who Jefferson Put on his blinders and we see him as a Not very practical idealist seems like a Powerful way of capturing him uh Thomas Kidd in your book uh Thomas Jefferson a Biography of spirit and flesh you Powerfully point out these Inconsistencies between his uh public uh Theoretical commitments in his private Life ranging from the great debt he went Into to his uh uh hitting on the the Wife of a friend to John Walker to his

Relationship with Sally Hemmings uh Relationship is not the right word to His uh abusive of Sally Hemmings who he Enslaved Um tell us about that that Clash would You explore so powerful in your book and How did Jefferson reconcile it in his Own mind Right I mean I don’t think he did Reconcile a lot of these things I mean We we’ve talked about Um the the debt problem Um and that that is in a way the the the Biggest uh you know Point uh that that Jefferson struggled with himself is that He uh was constantly touting the virtue Of frugality and economic independence And he was the exact opposite of that in His personal life and and I think he was Somewhat humiliated by it but uh as Nancy Eisenberg said I mean you I I Think when when you do have to Understand him as an aristocrat and and For me the the probably the controlling Uh ethical standard for him was the Mandates of living as a Virginia Gentleman and so so he he just simply Could not stand the idea that he would Not present himself in a genteel way to Guess for instance Um he he uh could not stand the idea That when a gentleman friend or relative Came to him for a loan that he wouldn’t So I’m alone and and that that was

Really he called it the coup de grace It’s then in the late 1810s he co-signed A massive uh loan for one of his uh Relatives and political allies and and Then the panic of 1819 yet and and this Guy died so uh Jefferson was totally Sunk at that point and you just think He’s been he’s been moaning about how Bad his finances are for years and years And then he goes off and does this Utterly foolish thing and you just think How how could this possibly be I mean we We spend more time rightly on on the Hypocrisy over slavery but I think on That issue That Jefferson uh had had at least the Way that he explained the contradiction To himself which was that I will be Ready to support gradual emancipation When the when there’s political will for It in in Virginia uh or in in the nation Um and and you know I mean the his his Signing of the the ban on future slave Imports in 1807 and 08 is is probably an Example of the that there was something To that Um but but uh you know he he professed In notes on the state of Virginia and And other places early on in his Political career that slavery was Immoral and that it was bad for slaves And it was bad for the owners and and All this but uh you know certainly as Andrew Branning said his his economic

Situation uh and and after 1806 it Becomes more legally difficult to do Anything about uh many men II but but It’s especially his economic situation Financial situation that’s never going To allow him personally to do anything Other than uh let some of his uh almost Certainly children with Sally Hemmings Uh to to run away and then he frees a Couple more of them and as well and some Of his slaves that he’s particularly Close to he let’s go but but 100 plus More of his slaves have to be auctioned Off because the creditors are at the Door It’s such a powerful explanation Ultimately for his hypocrisy as you say That his incredible indebtedness didn’t Allow him to Uh with his ideals and and therefore he Was uh hypocritical at the end of his Life Nancy Eisenberg Jefferson did Lament avarice which was a classical sin Both as the reason that uh other Enslavers refused to support the end of Slavery he criticized South Carolina and Um Georgia for Refusing to ban the international slave Trade because of their avarice and was Quick to detect avarice in in others uh But not in himself to what to what Degree does that explain much of his Hypocrisy and how self-aware was he of His own greed and avarice

I mean when he decides to Pace the god And tell the importance of What what Jesus can teach you from the Bible and eliminates the things that he Thinks are either Superstition or Distractions Um it’s very much almost like you know Aesop’s Fables I mean he is taking the Key elements the key virtues that Jesus’s teachings can offer and one of Them and and Jefferson himself does not Adhere to them like you know humility Um tolerance generosity these themes are For him uh qualities again that were Associated with his version of gentility But they’re also I think We have to realize that Um as we said I think it was uh Andrew Was Browning was saying or talking about Him being an idealist or that you’re Pursuing a certain uh moral sensibility Which was very important to him and how You carried himself carried himself uh But Jefferson is also very much a man of The 18th century so the highest ideal Was equilibrium was to not to go to Extremes so he’s constantly railing Against the Federalists and sees them as Effeminate and overly emotional Um and this returns us to another Important way Jefferson looked at the World and I think he’s very much Grounded in a kind of materialism uh the

Human body Um and this is where Jefferson is a Scientist and he’s borrowing from the Science 18th century science and he also Believes very much in environmentalism That people are creatures of the land Creatures of the soil Um and he he he believes that Not only if we think about lock and the Importance of human experience and and The collection of knowledge over a Lifetime how that makes the human Um Jefferson also believes Um in his idealistic way That the body plays a part in defining Who you are as a thinker Um John Locke advised that Elite Gentleman uh should not spend all their Days sitting in a chair or reading That they needed to get out and get some Exercise Um and Jefferson subscribed to these Rules of Health I mean getting up every Day and bathing his feet and making sure We went out for a horseback you know a Ride on his horse to get his exercise Because that’s the way gentlemen got Their exercise Um so there’s there’s an interesting Thing I mean even if we think about The Head and the Heart the body is there too That that is Jefferson read all the Latest medical theories those theories Influenced the way he looks and how the

Body functions and that’s going to Affect your moral Behavior Uh those two Things are not disconnected I mean and I Think that’s another way for us to Recover uh the real Jefferson the way in Which he even was influenced by a Swiss Thinker tiso about sexuality sexual Behavior Um so he thought about and that’s Something we often never talk about with The founders again I made a joke to my Students the other day about me if you Read some old studies you’ll see that The founders never had sex well of Course they did they were human beings They did things Um and the question of Sally Hemmings we Have to put this in the context that he Certainly was not the only Southern Planter who had a relationship with a Slave Because Sally Hemmings is a relative she Is the half-sister of his wife Um and this is the other Dark Side of Jefferson that he deeply by deeply Adopted this idea of understanding race And understanding human capabilities Through the idea of pedigree and Inheritance and and many times he Compares human pedigree to the right he Was Raising sheep in a very famous Letter and he also uh very much in that Way in his notes on the state of Virginia where he’s kind of arguing

Against the French thinker Buffon and Arguing that the United States is not One big degenerate swamp uh where Everyone animals are shrinking and the Human potential is being stifled but he Still accepted the idea that that human Behavior can follow the path of Regeneracy or degeneracy and pedigree And inheritance very much rooted in the English aristocrat as well was very much A part of his thinking and shaped how he Thought about race as well So interesting such a fascinating uh Reminder from from Locke about about Jefferson’s emphasis on Exercise and his tending to the body and And also putting the really the um Experience with Sally hammings and that Brought her context so many great Questions I uh Want to just note A question about whether Jefferson was Introduced to Eastern philosophy and It’s so striking that in his Correspondence with atoms Adams is Reading Joseph Priestly on the Bhagavad-gita and wants to trace back The essence of morality from Pythagoras To the Indians and Jefferson excitedly Tells him that Priestly completed the Book before he dies and says he’ll send It to him so there was a deep interest In comparative religion before I think We’ll have time for one more round and

Andrew Browning I would love for you to Put on the table the thesis of your Really important and exciting uh new Book about the education of the founders This is schools for Statesmen the Divergent education of the Constitution’s framers you identify Three categories of framers that Self-educated those who are who are Educated at the older universities Harvard Yale and William and Mary and Those if the newer ones including Penn And Princeton And talk about how uh the exposure to The Scottish Enlightenment thinkers at The newer University created a different Vision of government than the kind of Separation of powers emphasis that Resulted uh at Harvard Neil from the Study of the classics it’s a big but Important thesis uh share it with our Friends okay well that that is several Hundred Pages uh to to really explain And defend that but uh Jefferson you Know almost falls into all three of Those categories uh at once because he He did attend one of the most Traditional uh of the American colleges William and Mary for two years no one Graduated from William and Mary when Went to William and Mary for a couple of Years got to meet all the other Virginia Gentlemen and uh and read a little bit And in Jefferson’s case he was very

Fortunate that William small was there For the the two years that he was there Uh because small was an exception uh he Was the only Layman on the faculty who Was not an angle silicon Minister and he Was himself a product of these the Scottish uh uh Enlightenment uh Thomas Reed’s Mentor was John Gregory Was also his mentor at Aberdeen uh I Think In all of these influences really do Converge on Jefferson uh the traditional Uh American colleges the Harvard’s yells Liam’s married uh were very traditional In their curriculum they focused Almost exclusively on the classics uh if You went to Yale uh you would spend uh Four years Reading Greek and Latin authors and Puritan Theology and your your last year You’d get a little science in there as Well but you would not read any modern History you would not read any political Philosophers period the only political Instruction you would get would be the Lectures of Thomas Clapp the president Of Yale who was himself an extremely Conservative individual uh at the uh the Newer schools uh which were led by Scotsman uh William Smith who was the uh The uh eventually president of uh University of Pennsylvania which was Then College of Philadelphia uh or uh The most influential probably of all

These people John Witherspoon the the President of Princeton they were Themselves scotsmen who were educated at Uh enlightened colleges at Edinboro at Glasgow or at Aberdeen and the wonderful Thing about Witherspoon was that he was A a Evangelical Presbyterian but he Taught the political philosophy of People whose theology he thought was Anathema but he believed their political Philosophy was pretty reasonable so you Couldn’t ignore it simply because he he Disagreed with their Theology and he had Students who were not all Presbyterians Uh people like Madison or some Quakers Who would not have been admitted to Harvard Yale and then of course the the Self-educated and because of his Lifetime uh commitment to education Jefferson really falls into that Category uh whose sources were really Eclectic uh if they could read Latin They read the uh the the classics Benjamin Franklin couldn’t read Latin Until late in life it was the last Language you learned after four or five Others so he focused much more on the British Franklin was also too early for the the Scottish Enlightenment people like um Hume and Adam Smith hadn’t written yet When uh when Franklin was educating Himself so if they were exposed to the Scots as as Jefferson was and he

Recommended more Scottish political Thinkers Hume Hutcheson the the historian Robertson Adam Smith later in life after He uh had a chance to read the theory of Moral sediments and Wealth of Nations uh They were looking at uh a different Notion of how to govern From the the classics they didn’t depend On virtue they understood that people They were Presbyterians or Calvinists They they knew that virtue was not Likely to be uh prevalent in human Beings so they looked for practical ways To uh to balance different vices in Different people in order to prevent any One small faction any one group from Imposing itself on the others and I Think we see this in in Jefferson’s uh Embrace of religious uh more than Tolerance but religious freedom uh in Virginia the idea of not letting any one Group uh dominate over the others but Balancing uh competing interests and That that’s very much uh I think a Contribution of the Scottish Enlightenment Such an important thesis thank you so Much for sharing at this crucial shift Between those classical thinkers who Focus more on virtues on the Scottish Enlightenment uh thinkers who wanted Instead to balance vices to ensure that None can Prevail so well put and uh so

Well defended in your book Um Thomas Kidd for your last Intervention uh sum up if you will for Our audience the rich threads and thesis Of your new book Thomas Jefferson a Biography of spirit and flesh what can We learn about Jefferson’s personal and Spiritual life uh from all that he read And from his education Well some of them we’ve already alluded To just that there are all these Different competing ethical and Philosophical traditions sort of Ricocheting around in his brain and that That I think he really struggles to Forge this into a coherent ethical System and and even obviously lots of People with coherent ethical systems Don’t live up to them but but I do think That that that influences the sort of This kind of quality of Jefferson’s life That he seems on several important Issues not to live necessarily in accord With what he says he believes Um and uh probably the the major part That we haven’t uh unpacked yet is is Just his views on on religion and Christianity itself Um as as Professor Eisenberg said you Know he he’s famous for this kind of cut And paste edition of of the gospels uh The so-called Jefferson Bible it’s just It’s just the gospels Um and he does two different versions of

It across about 15 years but it’s it’s It’s fascinating to me that that Um he he I think goes for much of his Adult life Maybe not even considering himself a Christian at all uh but but he is is Stung by the charges in the 1800 Election uh that he’s he’s an atheist uh He’s not an atheist but but he’s he’s Called an atheist all the time by the Federalists Um and and then in 1802 you have the the First uh publication of the charges About his relationship with Sally Hemmings and I think he doesn’t ever He’s diligent about never addressing That publicly but I think he’s he’s he Humiliated that that this has gone Public and terrified about what his Daughters in particular are going to Think about him Um and and so then he starts reading Joseph Priestly who we’ve alluded to Before and he realizes that there is What he considers an intellectually Responsible way to be an ethical but Materialistic Christian Um and and so that leads him to produce The first version tragically we don’t Have have the text and the of the first Version of the of the Jefferson Bible But we assume that it’s it’s something Like what what the second text was which Is is is what he did in the late 18

Teens uh which is this uh almost purely Ethical version of of Christianity Um but he doesn’t ever seem to have a Way of kind of applying this to his life I wish that he would would have done What Franklin did uh Franklin famously Has his list of Virtues that he would Sort of you know check off every day Have I been humble you know so I I wish Jefferson would have done something like That because it’s very hard to tell what Difference he thinks that Jefferson’s or That Jesus’s ethics make in his own Day-to-day life Um but but he short comes to believe That they’re important and that uh Unlike earlier when he thought that Jesus was just kind of one of the great Moral teachers of antiquity and I think He does settle on the idea that Jesus Was the greatest ethical teacher of Antiquity because of his ethic of Sacrificial neighborly love So interesting and so true that he never Applied these uh virtues in his life in A consistent way he he does have that List of 12 virtues that he sent to his Uh daughters I think about thinking Twice and cooling down and so forth but You’re quite right that he didn’t apply To think about it systematically in your Books so powerfully shows those uh Contradictions in his personal and Philosophical life and it’s just a

Really important contribution Um that I urge all of our friends to Read uh Nancy Eisenberg last word in This great discussion to you I’ll let You sum up in whatever ways you think Best about what we can learn about Jefferson’s uh moral and political Philosophy from his education Well I think since we’re on religion I’m Going to quote a letter that Jefferson Wrote To William short who served as his Friend he was he was a friend in his Private secretary during during his Years in France and this is in 1820 he Goes among the sayings and discourses Imputed to Jesus by his biographers and Notice he says biographers Again humanizing him uh I find many Passages of fine imagination correct Morality and of the most lovely Benevolence and I think that is the key Thing the benevolence Um and others again of so much ignorance So much absurdity so much untruth Charlatanism and imposter as to Pronounce it impossible that such Contradictions should have proceeded From the same being Now I think we can accept that this is Something that today’s philosophers Accept about human today that we are Riddled with contradictions Um so that statement why he is talking

About the historical Jesus who he very Much did saw as this valuable moral Teacher uh but also the idea that Foreign Which I like about Jefferson is he Realizes that Everything that happens in the past is Going to get retold confused and when he Talked about twistifications of the law The same thing exactly applies to Religion And that’s why I think he wants to read Everything in the original To sort of go back and and he kind of Fits into the mode of a primitive Christian go back to the original basic Truths unadorned by The Eccentric Editions that accumulate over time Uh this is what why why Jefferson is Interesting because in many ways he also Wears the Hat of the historian and he Wants to kind of Find the truth and that means going to The primary sources Not reading the secondary Interpretations uh but he I think his His relationship with an engine gets More complicated because like every Person uh particularly when he’s in Retirement and he’s imagining his own Death Um and he sees other people dying There’s that struggle of trying to Figure out well what is there an

Afterlife is there something Beyond this And he kind of wavers back and forth but It’s natural because this is The Human Condition and this is something that Jefferson returned to again and again Um and and yes does not have a coherent Moral theory a theory that he Essentially subscribed to in his daily Activities and in that way this taking Jefferson off the pedestal we have to Understand that he embodies the same Kind of contradictions that we as people Have in our lives Uh when people look at us if they even Bother 100 years from now they will also note The hypocrisies the contradictions Um because that is unfortunately I’ve Been reading a lot of Mark Twain Recently you know and he talks about how The human being is the only one who Knows the difference between right and Wrong and tends to take the wrong choice And I think that’s kind of where we have To understand Jefferson as well Powerfully put a wonderful note to end On you’re so right that in addition to Providing a model for emulation as the Founders thought the classics could do For all of us the founders themselves Hold up a mirror to our own limitations And consistencies and hypocrisies and For that reason they’re worth studying And you’re also so right to call

Attention to the Urgent importance of Studying primary sources that were Twistifications that Jefferson used to Impugn his his rival John Marshall did Motivate his determination to study the Primary sources and that’s why friends Who are watching the national Constitution Center has put up many of The primary sources we’ve been Describing And discussing on our new Founders library and you can click on The new historic documents library and Read Cicero’s tusculine disputations Read Cicero’s on duties as well as the Other sources that we’ve been discussing In this wonderful conversation it has Been a privilege to talk about uh Jefferson with all of you dear friends And uh please let me give the most Heartfelt thanks to Andrew Browning Thomas Kidd and Nancy Eisenberg for a Wonderful discussion Andrew Thomas Nancy Thank you so much for joining thank you Friends for taking time in the middle of Your day to learn and grow together and Look

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