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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Thomas Jefferson...

I recently visited Monticello, toured the home of Thomas Jefferson, and was highly moved by what I read and found there. Jefferson was a man of such wide knowledge and consideration as to be inspirational. His academic training had been classical, and he was always grateful to his father for having instilled in him a love of classical authors and for having taught him how to read Greek and Latin. But he was no Miniver Cheevy; he was a man firmly of his own time. He read extensively, and taught himself much of what he knew. His thirst of knowledge was insatiable.

But perhaps more interesting than his thirst for knowledge was his application of it. He observed carefully his surroundings (taking detailed measurements of the natural environment around him and cataloguing those findings), and he read the ideas of many learned persons. But then he considered the implication of those ideas, and acted upon them. We can see this clearly in his text "The Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom" (1786). Here he takes action and proclaims a natural right according to what he has read and learned, and believes to be right, despite the fact that the ideas contained in this document were quite different from the historical reality throughout the world. This application of his learning is evident everywhere at Monticello, from the gardens (where he took extensive notes concerning his crops, tested theories on how to improve them, and applied his outcomes), to the ice house, to the interior architecture, the placement and design of windows (double paned for winter insulation), and skylights. He read, he learned, and he applied his knowledge to improve his own life and the life of his fellow citizens.

A few choice quotes from Jefferson seem appropriate at this point:

"The field of knowledge is the common property of all mankind."

"...truth is great and will prevail if left to herself..."

"Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed."

"A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people."

"And for the support of this Declaration [the Declaration of Independence], with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

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