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The Locke Luminary Vol. II, No. 1 (Summer 1999) Part 3

Edited by Amanda J. Owens, Director of Legal Studies, and Dr. Charles K. Rowley, General Director

The Life and Works of Thomas Jefferson,
by Leonard Liggio, Executive Vice-President of Atlas Economic Research Foundation; School of Law and Institute of Humane Studies, George Mason University


Thomas Jefferson was born April 14, 1743 in Albemarle County, Virginia. His father, Colonel Peter Jefferson, who did not have a formal education, nevertheless was the justice of the peace in the county court and member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. Peter was a surveyor and helped to make the first real map of Virginia. At the age of thirty-two Peter married nineteen-year old Jane Randolph, who was from one of Virginia's most prominent and wealthy families. Jane bore ten children of whom eight survived to maturity, a good survival rate both for a mother and her children at that time.

Peter Jefferson spent some time on the frontier. His home was a resting point for Indians visiting the governor in Williamsburg. Thomas Jefferson reported to John Adams (1812):

I knew much of the great Ontassere, the warrior and orator of the Cherokees; he was always the guest of my father on his journeys to and from Williamsburg. I was in his camp when he made his great farewell oration to his people, the evening before his departure for England. ...his sounding voice, distinct articulation, animated action, and the solemn silence of his people at their several fires, filled me with awe and admiration.

From this quotation one can understand Jefferson's respect for the Indian Chiefs with whom he negotiated when he was governor, secretary of state, and president.


Peter Jefferson died at age forty-nine when Thomas was just fourteen. Jefferson entered the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, the colonial capital just before his seventeenth birthday in April, 1760. The seven faculty members were all Anglican clergymen except one. Jefferson mostly studied under Dr. William Small, a Scotsman. Small introduced Jefferson to George Wythe and Governor Francis Fauquier, a physicist and economist, whose father had worked with Sir Isaac Newton. At age nineteen he joined Small, Wythe and Fauquier at frequent dinners at the Governor's Palace, where, said Jefferson, he "heard more good sense, more rational and philosophical conversations, than in all my life besides."

After two years of university, Jefferson studied law. He spent five years reading law with George Wythe. Wythe provided Jefferson with books to read rather than active participation in the legal practice. In 1766, before formally entering the practice of law, Jefferson traveled to Annapolis, Philadelphia and New York in order to be inoculated against small-pox, then a risky experiment.

Family Life

Jefferson decided to build a splendid home for his family. This home was called Monticello and was built on the frontier. Jefferson designed and built Monticello using his library of architectural books, especially the five editions of Andrea Palladio's Four Books of Architecture. On January 1, 1772 Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton, five and a half years his junior. She had been widowed after less than two years of marriage to Bathurst Skelton; their son died shortly before her marriage to Jefferson. Jefferson's own daughter, Martha, was born in late September, 1772. A second daughter, Jane, born in April, 1774 died in September, 1775. Next came Mary (Polly) who survived. They soon lost another daughter and a son.

In late 1773, Filippo Mazzei arrived in Virginia. He had been an olive oil importer in London and since 1756 had participated in the circle of Benjamin Franklin and Pasquale Paoli of Corti, Corsica and other Whig friends of liberty. He established vineyards and bought a farm adjoining Monticello and called it Colle. Mazzei published some articles that had been edited by Jefferson. On the recommendation of Jefferson and George Mason, Mazzei was sent by Governor Patrick Henry as Virginia's agent in Europe for four years in early 1779. Later, in 1784 he returned to Paris with Jefferson. He would become the Paris agent of King Stanislaus Poniatowski during the last two partitions of Poland.

Early Political Career

In December, 1768 Jefferson was elected as a delegate from Albemarle County to the Virginia House of Burgesses. It was a time of heightened tensions over the tax policies of the English ministry. At that time, Jefferson received a shipment of books including: John Locke's Two Treatises on Government; Montesquieu's Works; Jean Jacques Burlamaqui's Principes du Droit Naturel; and Adam Ferguson's An Essay on the History of Civil Society.

Although a junior delegate, Jefferson was active in the deliberations of the Virginia House of Burgesses concerning the punishment of the port of Boston for the Boston Tea Party by the English Parliament. Jefferson authored the Albemarle County Declaration soon after the famous Fairfax County Resolves (July, 1774) of George Mason and George Washington. In November, 1774 Jefferson transferred his law practice to Edmund Randolph in order to concentrate on current political affairs. Later Randolph would succeed Jefferson as U.S. Secretary of State in January, 1794.

The Governor closed the Burgesses in Williamsburg in retaliation for their inflammatory discussions. The House of Burgesses re-established itself as a Convention in St. John's Church, Richmond away from the old capital. After the First Continental Congress, the governor recalled the House of Burgesses. Peyton Randolph, the assembly speaker and president of the Continental Congress, returned from Philadelphia to attend the meeting. Jefferson was elected by the Burgesses to replace Peyton Randolph in the Second Continental Congress. Jefferson helped to draft the Virginia Burgesses' response to the English proposals resulting from the First Continental Congress before he arrived in Philadelphia in June, 1775 for the Second Continental Congress.

The Virginia convention soon resolved to declare independence from Britain. The stolid Anglican gentry of Virginia took the lead in the movement towards independence so that it did not look like a conspiracy of the fire-eating Puritan burgers of Boston. The Virginia convention adopted a new constitution drafted by George Mason, George Washington's neighbor and close friend. George Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights established religious freedom.

Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia with a committee including Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston, later New York Chancellor, Anti-Federalist, and Jefferson ally in forming the Democratic-Republican party. Jefferson returned to Monticello in September where he took his seat in the Virginia assembly in Williamsburg. Soon he was asked by President John Hancock in Philadelphia to join Benjamin Franklin in Paris to negotiate the Treaty of Alliance with King Louis XVI. Jefferson declined because his wife's health was not strong.

Virginia Assembly

Jefferson spent the next two and a half years in revising the laws of Virginia. For the criminal code, he was most influenced by Cesare Beccaria's Dei Deliti e delle Pene. Jefferson joined Virginia assembly's Committee on Religion where he first encountered twenty-five year old James Madison. Madison had advocated religious freedom in the Virginia constitutional convention. While Dissenting Protestants formed the majority of Virginia citizens, the majority of legislators were Anglicans. These dissenters were relieved of the obligation to give tax support to the Anglican Church and all earlier acts that the committee on religion felt were oppressive. Jefferson's Virginia statute for religious freedom was adopted in 1786.

On June 1, 1779 Jefferson was elected governor of Virginia by two houses of the Assembly. He succeeded Patrick Henry who was term-limited after three one-year terms. The Jeffersons lived in the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg until May, 1780 when the Assembly moved to the hamlet of Richmond on Jefferson's advice. Always interested in the West, Jefferson sent George Rogers Clark with forces to adhere the French towns from Vincennes to the Mississippi River to Virginia.

As Jefferson entered his second term as governor news arrived of the British victory at Charleston and the surrender of the Virginia forces sent there. Jefferson was faced with the task of finding troops and supplies against the advancing British. Under the former commander of West Point, Benedict Arnold, British troops landed on the James River and captured Richmond. The British stood across the James River until confronted by nine hundred Continental soldiers under Lafayette. The English led a cavalry raid of two hundred and fifty soldiers to Charlottesville hoping to capture the members of the Virginia Assembly and Governor Jefferson. Most of the delegates escaped over the mountains to elect a new governor. Jefferson who did not stand for re-election escaped by horse from Monticello. Jefferson later recalled political criticism of his departure:

Some said in humble prose that, forgetting the noble example of the hero of La Mancha, and his windmills, I declined a combat, singly against a troop, in which victory would have been so glorious? Forgetting, themselves, at the same time, that I was not provided with the enchanted arms of the knight, nor even with his helmet of Mambrino.

The British troops, numbering eight thousand, found themselves completely outnumbered by the combined American and French forces, numbering over sixteen thousand, in Yorktown. On October 19, 1781 Gen. Lord Cornwallis ordered his British troops to lay down their arms.

Congress asked Jefferson to join Benjamin Franklin and John Adams to negotiate peace in Paris. Jefferson declined. Instead, he chose retirement and composed his Notes on the State of Virginia. Martha Jefferson bore the last of six children in May, 1782, Lucy Elizabeth. Mrs. Jefferson did not regain her health and died in September, 1782.

American Minister to France

In May, 1784 Congress appointed Jefferson to be American minister to Paris, France. He arrived in Le Havre in early August with his oldest daughter, Patsy, who was placed in the convent school of the Abbaye Royale de Panthemont. In January, 1785 Lafayette returned to France bearing the news of the death of Jefferson's youngest daughter.

After a year in Paris, Jefferson wrote to tell Carlo Bellini, who was teaching at the College of William and Mary that he welcomed the politeness of Paris:

"Were I to proceed to tell you how much I enjoy their architecture, sculpture, painting, music, I should want words. It is in these arts they shine. ... I find the general fate of humanity here most deplorable. The truth of Voltaire's observation offers itself perpetually, that every man here must be either the hammer or the anvil."

Through Franklin and Adams, Jefferson was introduced to the circle of the Duc de la Rochefoucauld and his wife and niece. This circle included their close friends, Turgot, the Condorcets and Lafayette. Jefferson's close friends included distinguished abbes: Morellet, Arnauld, Chalut, de Malby, and Barthelmy and the Papal Nuncio, Comte Dugnani.

Early in 1785 Congress accepted the seventy-nine year-old Benjamin Franklin's desire to end his embassy and associated socializing. Jefferson became the sole minister to France, presenting his credentials to Louis XVI in mid-May. Jefferson thereby missed the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1787.

French Ambassador

Jefferson negotiated commercial agreements with the advice of Du Pont de Nemours. Jefferson engaged in regular diplomatic activities with the European foreign offices. When he departed for a short trip to America, Congress charged him with opening negotiations with Morocco, Algiers and Tripoli regarding their seizure for ransom of ships whose countries who did not pay an annual tribute. These negotiations took Jefferson to London to join John Adams the American minister to the Court of St. James. Morocco signed a treaty with America and the first American consul to be created was established in Tangiers.

While in France Jefferson made a scientific study of French vintages. "Nor was he so selfish as to keep all his knowledge to himself. Adams and Washington used his good offices to keep their cellars well stocked in champagne and sauternes. For them and for Madison he subscribed to L'Encyclopedie Methodiques. (Chinard, 1929)

In February, 1787 Jefferson headed toward Aix-en-Provence for the mineral waters. He stayed with local priests with whom he enjoyed intellectual discussion. He made sketches of the Roman temple at Nimes, the Maison Carree, as a model for the Virginia capital in Richmond, and wrote to his longtime correspondent, Lafayette's cousin: "Here I am, Madam, gazing whole hours at the Maison Quarree, like a lover at his mistress." In Nimes he was with Abbe Arnauld. He continued on to Italy and returned to Paris in early June. His younger daughter Polly had arrived at the Adams' embassy in London, and was sent on to Paris and placed in the same convent school as her sister.

Jefferson wrote to Baron Geismer (former Hessian prisoner-of-war in Charlottesville): "I am now of an age which does not easily accommodate itself to new modes of living and new manners, and I am savage enough to prefer the woods, the wilds and independence of Monticello, to all the brilliant pleasures of this gay capital. I shall therefore, rejoin myself to my native country with new attachments and exaggerated esteem for its advantages." Chinard (1929) continues: "It was probably on these occasions that he took refuge in the most silent of all places, a Carthusian monastery, a very strange abode for one who has been accused of being a fierce anti-clerical: According to the Diary of Martha, his daughter:

He also had rooms in the Carthusian Monastery on Mount Calvary; the boarders, of whom I think there were forty, carried their own servants...They assembled to dinner only. They had the privilege of walking in the gardens, but as it was a hermitage, it was against the rules of the house for any voices to be heard outside of their own rooms, hence the most profound silence. ... Whenever he had a press of business, he was in the habit of taking his papers and going to the hermitage where he spent sometimes a week or more till he had finished his work. The hermits visited him occasionally in Paris, and the Superior made him a present....(Chinard)

Jefferson returned home from France in October, 1789, shortly after the momentous events which led to the revolutionary National Assembly's August 4, 1789 resolutions. He took with him portraits of his three heroes, Francis Bacon, John Locke and Isaac Newton, "the three greatest men that ever lived, without any exception." He brought also Italian portraits of Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, Cortez and Magellan; as well as busts of Franklin, Washington, Lafayette, Voltaire and Turgot.

Secretary of State

When Jefferson arrived in Norfolk on November 23, 1789 he discovered that President George Washington had named him Secretary of State and that the Senate had confirmed his appointment. Two months after Jefferson's return his seventeen year old daughter, Martha, who had considered becoming a nun in Paris was engaged to her third cousin, Thomas Mann Randolph Jr., and married him a month later. After the wedding Jefferson left for his duties in the first capital, New York.

Conflict arose between the Secretary of Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, and Jefferson and Attorney General Edmund Randolph. Jefferson and Randolph could not find a constitutional basis for Hamilton's proposal for Congress to incorporate a central bank. Jefferson declared: "to take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specially drawn around the powers of Congress, is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition. A broad interpretation of the Constitution would reduce it to a single phrase, that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the U. S. and as they would be the sole judges of good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they pleased."

In Philadelphia, Jefferson commiserated with George Mason, who had refused to sign the Constitution due to an absence of a Bill of Rights and who refused to accept his election to the U.S. Senate: "the only corrective of what is amiss in our present government will be the augmentation of the numbers in the lower house, so as to get a more agricultural representation, which may put that interest above that of the stockjobbers."

Jefferson noted that ninety per cent of the population was engaged in agricultural pursuits and that they were the producers and consumers. However, representatives in the first Congress were mainly beneficiaries of Hamilton's debt and government banking schemes because they were stockjobbers. These stockjobbers, lacking private commercial stock issue opportunities, invested in government debt activities. Jefferson began to think of electing to Congress opponents of government stockjobbers.

At this time, Jefferson returned a borrowed copy of Thomas Paine's The Rights of Man to the printer who planned a new edition. He enclosed a note with the book: "Something is at length to be publicly said against the political heresies which have sprung up among us. I have no doubt our citizens will rally a second time round the standard of Common Sense." His statements were published as a preface to Paine's pamphlet in May, 1791. Newspapers across the country reprinted Jefferson's comment and he was increasingly seen as the defender of the Constitution against Hamilton's expansion of government powers.

At this point, Jefferson and his ally in Congress, James Madison, decided to study the scenic mountains of New York and New England - Lakes George and Champlain, Vermont, Connecticut Valley, and Long Island. Hamilton's allies said their trip had "every appearance of a passionate courtship" between the Virginians and the Anti-Federalists in New York, led by Chancellor Robert R. Livingston and Aaron Burr. Burr was the leader of the Society of St. Tammany, named for a legendary Delaware chief noted for wisdom and love of liberty.

This trip cemented the historic Virginia-New York alliance that created the Democratic- Republican Party and held the presidency for forty years, including presidents Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. In the second presidential election, although Washington was re-elected unanimously, Vice-President John Adams received seventy-seven electoral votes. Governor George Clinton of New York received fifty votes from electors in New York, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia.

With the declaration of war by republican France against England, Jefferson and Hamilton came into sharper rivalry over foreign policy. Despite Washington's pleas, Jefferson resigned as Secretary of State on December 31, 1793. At fifty years old, Jefferson returned to Monticello to follow domestic pursuits. His younger daughter, Maria (Polly), was married in October, 1797 to a cousin.


In September, 1796 Washington published his famous Farewell Address indicating he would not seek a third term. John Adams won the election against Jefferson by seventy-one electoral votes to Jefferson's sixty-eight electoral votes. The Constitution provided no separate ballot for president and vice-president so Jefferson, with second highest electoral votes, became Vice-President. As Vice-President he was the presiding officer of the U. S. Senate.

At the same time, Jefferson was elected president of the cosmopolitan American Philosophical Society. Jefferson presented a paper on fossils to an audience including Joseph Priestley and Comte de Volney. He held that presidency until 1815 and throughout his term added French members located either in the United States or in France. He considered this presidency his most important position.

John Adams recalled Jefferson's minister to France, James Monroe. Monroe had studied law under Jefferson and was sent to Paris when Jefferson was secretary of state. Jefferson, Aaron Burr and Albert Gallatin boarded Monroe's ship to express their solidarity and held a Democratic Republican party conclave. Later Jefferson attended a dinner for Monroe by the Republicans of Pennsylvania led by Albert Gallatin, Jeffersonian leader in the House of Representatives. Gallatin, who had emigrated from Geneva, became Jefferson's and Madison's Secretary of the Treasury; later a founder of Wall Street banking. Gallatin's house at 6 Washington Square North, was the famous site of Ludwig von Mises office and seminar room at New York University.

The Federalists introduced a security state with statutes such as the Alien and Sedition Acts. The naturalization law was altered. Aliens were subject to deportation by presidential order. Irish and Scotch immigrants tended to join Tammany Hall in increasing numbers, and so a sedition act was passed aimed at the Republican newspapers which were mostly edited by witty Irishmen. Opposition to government laws by unlawful assembly or combination was made a crime. Publishing writings against the president, Congress or government officials also was subject to punishment. Jefferson wrote Madison: "they have brought into the lower house a sedition bill, which among other enormities, undertakes to make printing certain matters criminal, though one of the amendments to the Constitution has so expressly taken religion, printing presses, etc. out of their coercion. ...(They) are so palpably in the teeth of the Constitution as to show they mean to pay no respect to it." For Jefferson these acts were "an experiment on the American mind, to see how far it will bear an avowed violation of the constitution."

Vice-President Jefferson drafted a constitutional response proposing representation by a state legislature. John Brickenridge (a Virginia attorney general who crossed the Appalachian Mountains into Kentucky, not as Daniel Boone with a longrifle, but with fifteen volumes of Rousseau in his saddlebags) introduced the Kentucky Resolutions to the legislature:

"Resolved, That the several States composing the United States of America, are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government; but that, by a compact under the style and title of a Constitution for the United States, and of amendments thereto, they constituted a general government for special purposes, - delegated to that government certain definite powers, reserving, each State to itself, the residuary mass of right to their own self-government; and that whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force."

The Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 included Jefferson's draft that "where powers are assumed which have not been delegated, a nullification of the act is the rightful remedy: that every State has a natural right in cases not within the compact ... to nullify of their own authority all assumptions of powers by others within their own limits."

Jefferson also worked with Madison on the Kentucky Resolutions although he sought stronger language than Madison. Jefferson threatened "to sever ourselves from that union we so much value, rather than give up the rights of self government which we have reserved, and in which alone we see liberty, safety and happiness." Madison's Virginia Resolutions of 1798 were presented to the Legislature by John Taylor, later author of the anti-mercantilist masterpiece, Tyranny Unmasked.

In the Kentucky Resolutions of 1799, Breckinridge officially revived the concept of nullification. Later Breckinridge entered the U. S. Senate, and was Jefferson's attorney-general. Jefferson and Madison sought to defend civil liberties and freedom of immigration by the doctrines of states' rights and nullification.

President Adams signed Hamiltonian legislation imposing the only national property tax in U.S. history. Preparing for the 1800 presidential election Jefferson, in collaboration with Monroe, distributed political pamphlets. Jefferson sent eight dozen copies of Dr. Thomas Cooper's Political Arithmetic to Democratic-Republican state chairmen to provide to county chairman teaching. The pamphlet explained basic economics such as explaining that the cost of building a navy exceeded all the shipping profits. The New England shippers did not bear the burden of these new taxes but passed them on to all citizens: "The consumer, the farmer, the mechanic, the labourer, they and they alone pay."

First Presidential Term

During the election Jefferson was attacked as both an atheist and deist. He probably was a Unitarian Christian believing Jesus was God's principal prophet, and that the New Testament was the main source of divine morality. Jefferson believed Christianity to be superior to the morality of ancient philosophers because of the social value of Jesus' moral precepts (April 21, 1803):

His (Jesus') moral doctrines relating to kindred and friends, were more pure and perfect than those of the most correct of the philosophers, and ... they went far in inculcating universal philanthropy, not only to kindred and friends, to neighbors and countrymen, but to all mankind, gathering all into one family, under the bonds of love, charity, peace, common wants and common aids. A development of this head will evince the peculiar superiority of the system of Jesus over all others.

Jefferson won a close election against President Adams. Party regularity was so well organized that Aaron Burr, Jefferson's running-mate received the same seventy-three electoral votes as Jefferson. A tie election went to the House of Representatives. Each state delegation had one vote: Republicans had eight states, Federalists six states, and two were equally divided.

Albert Gallatin, leader in the House, called for a continuous session. The House held twenty-seven ballots until 8 o'clock the following morning. On the twenty-seventh ballot some Federalists, influenced by Hamilton, cast blank ballots, giving Jefferson ten states and the presidency. After losing the election for governor of New York in 1804, Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel and killed him.

Jefferson ended the ceremonious Presidential receptions of Washington and Adams. Instead he had dinners at 3:30 to which Congressmen and visitors were invited. He met people in his office or at meals in a waistcoat and carpet slippers. He hosted many distinguished visitors such as Alexander von Humboldt. From 1803-1806 Jefferson's personal secretary Lt. Meriwether Lewis was sent west with William Clark to explore the Missouri River across to the Pacific.

The Louisiana Purchase

First Consul Bonaparte offered to sell Louisiana to America to support his war effort. The offer was made through American minister, N. Y. Chancellor Robert R. Livingston and special emissary, James Monroe. Du Pont de Nemours returned to France from Delaware with secret instructions and then assisted the negotiations in Paris.

The treaty, signed on May 2, 1803 ceded Louisiana for sixty million gold francs and the U.S. assumption of twenty million francs in claims of Americans against the French Republic- a total price of fifteen million silver dollars. On December 20, 1803 the French intendent transferred sovereignty to the U. S. in a ceremony in the Place d'Armes in the Vieux Carre in front of the Presbytere of St. Louis Cathedral and the Spanish Cabildo. The Louisiana Purchase of 828,000 square miles doubled the territory of the United States by adding the area from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada, and from the Mississippi River to Texas and the Rocky Mountains.

Second Presidential Term

Jefferson was re-elected president in 1804 with Governor George Clinton of New York replacing Aaron Burr as vice-president. The Twelfth Amendment was ratified on September 25, 1804 providing for a separate election of President and Vice-President.

When Bonaparte ousted the Sovereign Military Order of Malta from Malta, the Barbary pirates, no longer hindered by the Order, increased their activities around Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli.

Jefferson sent American frigates to blockade the pirates, as referred to in the Marine Hymn, "... to the shores of Tripoli."

Violation of neutral rights gave rise to a trade war between England and France. England blockaded American shipping and impressed seamen from American merchant and war ships. Jefferson enforced the Embargo Act. War erupted in 1812. The crisis was passed by Jefferson to Secretary of State James Madison who was elected President by the Electoral College. George Clinton was re-elected as vice-president. James Monroe was Madison's Secretary of State.

In early 1811 Jeffersonian political theory triumphed when the charter to Hamilton's Bank of the United States expired. The tie vote in the Senate - seventeen to seventeen - was broken by the negative vote of Vice-President George Clinton. The central bank closed.


The sage of Monticello returned to Charlottesville at the age of sixty-six. His daughter Martha Randolph moved her family from their nearby home into Monticello. He wrote: "I have often thought that if heaven had given me a choice of my position and calling, it should have been on a rich spot of earth, well watered, and near a good market for the productions of the garden. No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden."

Jefferson and John Adams began one of the most valuable correspondences in American history, starting with Adams' gift to Jefferson of the two volumes of John Quincy Adams' Lectures on Rhetoric and Oratory, a collection of the lectures given when Adams was a professor at Harvard College. A major theme of their exchange was their view of natural aristocracy based on talent, merit and virtue. Jefferson said:

The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society. And indeed it would have been inconsistent in creation to have formed man for the social state, and not to have provided virtue and wisdom enough to manage the concerns of society.

Jefferson could not conceive how happiness could derive from the exercise of political power over others. He preferred government at the lowest level, such as the ward or neighborhood. He sought "to impart to these wards those portions of self-government for which they are best qualified, by confiding to them the care of their poor, their roads, police, elections, the nomination of jurors, administration of justice in small cases, elementary exercises of militia, in short, to have made them little republics." These "little republics" could be the locale of public spending on primary education for three grades at most. In addition he exchanged many letters about education with Du Pont de Nemours.

Jefferson's extensive correspondence with Du Pont de Nemours who was then assisting his sons in their gun-powder factory in Delaware shows Jefferson's resistance to the Physiocrats' opposition to industry. Jefferson wanted natural economic development and no government preference for either agriculture or manufacturing. Gilbert Chinard declared:

How far from Du Pont Jefferson remained in other particulars may be gathered from his "Introduction" and notes to the "Political Economy" of Destutt de Tracy, the translation and publication of which he supervised and directed. In it he paid homage to the founders of the science of political economy, and particularly to Gournay, (Turgot), Le Trosne and Du Pont de Nemours, "the enlightened, philantrophic and venerable citizen, now of the United States."

In 1814 the British army burned the Capitol destroying the Library of Congress. Jefferson had planned to give Congress the right of first refusal to purchase his library on his death. He offered to sell six thousand five hundred volumes to the Library of Congress that he had collected over fifty years. The Federalists objected: "The grand library of Mr. Jefferson will undoubtedly be purchased with all its finery and philosophical nonsense."

Jefferson was paid $23,950 for his collection, a windfall with which he tried to pay off his large debts. Even as the last wagon headed down the hill from Monticello, he was ordering new books, including commissioning the Harvard scholar, George Ticknor to purchase books for him in Europe. "I can not live without books," he wrote to John Adams.

In his post-Waterloo letters to Lafayette and Destutt de Tracy we can see Jefferson's ideas regarding Inter-American Relations. He said: "I hope no American patriot will ever lose sight of the essential policy of interdicting in the seas and territories of both Americas the ferocious and sanguinary contests of Europe." He wrote (1820) to an old friend Abbe Correa de Serra, who spent weeks each year at Monticello, who returned as Portuguese minister to U. S.:

Nothing is so important as that America shall separate herself from the system of Europe, and establish one of her own - Our circumstances, our pursuits, are distinct, the principles of our policies should be so also. All entanglements with that quarter of the globe should be avoided that peace and justice shall be the polar stars of American societies.

Alexander von Humboldt sent beautiful maps of Latin America. Jefferson responded:

What kind of government will they establish? How much liberty can they bear without intoxication? Are their Chiefs sufficiently enlightened to form a well-guarded government, and their people to watch their chiefs? Have they mind enough to place their domesticated Indians on a footing with the whites? All these questions you can answer better than any other. I image they will copy our outlines of confederation and elective government, abolish distinctions of ranks, bow the neck to their priests, and persevere intolerantism. Their greatest difficulty will be in the construction of their executive. ...unless instruction can be spread among them more rapidly than experience promises, despotism my come upon them before they are qualified to save the ground they will have gained. ... in what kind of government their revolution will end I am not so certain.

History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government....The vicinity of New Spain to the United States, and their consequent intercourse, may furnish schools for the higher, and example for the lower classes of their citizens. And Mexico, where we learn from you that men of science are not wanting, may revolutionize itself under better auspices than the Southern provinces. These last, I fear, must end in military despotisms.

Jefferson advised Monroe on the development of the Monroe Doctrine that was formed by Monroe's Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, before his own election as president. The Monroe Doctrine was aimed not only at Spain, but also the Russian-American Company's expansion from Alaska to California. John Quincy Adams had been secretary of U. S. minister to St. Petersburg at the age of fourteen; and later the U.S. minister to St. Petersburg (1809-1814).

A year after the Treaty of Ghent (December, 1814) ended the War of 1812, Jefferson achieved the first step to the creation in Charlottesville of the University of Virginia. In 1819 Jefferson was elected the first rector by the Board of Visitors including Madison and Monroe, and he was busy with the design and building of the campus. In November, 1824 as part of the opening of the university, a three hour dinner was held in the Rotunda to honor the visit of Lafayette, who sat on one side of Jefferson and Madison on the other. The Board's required readings included: writings of John Locke and Algernon Sidney, The Federalist Papers, the Virginia Resolutions of 1798, and Washington's Farewell Address.

Jefferson contributed to American thinking on economics. His economics was based on the Great Tradition of Gournay, Turgot, Condorcet, Du Pont, Destutt de Tracy, Jean-Baptiste Say rather than that of Smith, Malthus, and Ricardo. He assisted a translation of Destutt de Tracy's Treatise on Political Economy. He said (1817):"In France, John Baptiste Say had the merit of producing a very superior work on the subject of Political Economy. His arrangement is luminous, ideas clear, style perspicuous, and the whole subject brought within half the volume of Smith's work. Add to this considerable advances in correctness and extension of principles." Jefferson advised using Say's Treatise on Political Economy at the University of Virginia. It was the seminal economics text in almost all the large number of new private universities in America. Say was dominant after the 'late unfortunate unpleasantness between the States.' Therefore American leaders were saved from Ricardianism, and were educated in market economics before Carl Menger and the Austrian Revolution. America's laissez-faire nineteenth century was Jefferson's greatest legacy to Americans.

Jefferson died on July 4, 1826 after noon; John Adams died on the same day at sunset.


Chinard, Gilbert, Thomas Jefferson, The Apostle of Americanism. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, (1929); Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, (1957).

May, Henry F., The Enlightenment in America. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, (1976).

Commager, Henry Steele, The Empire of Reason, How Europe Imagined and America Realized the Enlightenment. Garden City, New York: Anchor/Doubleday (1977).

Cunningham, Noble, In Pursuit of Reason. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, (1987).

Jefferson, Thomas Writings. New York: The Library of America, (1984).

Kimball, Marie, Jefferson The Scene of Europe. New York: Coward-McCann, (1950).

Mayer, David N., The Constitutional Thought of Thomas Jefferson. Charlottesville, VA: The University Press of Virginia, (1994).

Nock, Albert Jay, Mr. Jefferson. New York: Hill & Wang, (1956); Tampa, Florida: Hallberg Publishing Corporation, (1983).

The Locke Institute 1999

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