World Anew

Jefferson and the Ambiguities of Freedom 8

Such was Jefferson’s immediate reaction to the Constitution. But soon, characteristically, as he studied the ways the Constitution would actually work, he transcended this initial response and began to recognize the document’s virtues. Within a few weeks he saw enough good in the Constitution to declare himself “nearly a neu¬tral” on ratification. Soon thereafter he said he hoped that the ... Read More »

Jefferson and the Ambiguities of Freedom 7

But if that was the case, had not Hamilton’s economic policies, which Jefferson had so passionately denounced, been correct from the start? He struggled to square his evolving economic views with the original principles of the Revolution that continued to dominate his thought. So he accepted manufactures; they had become neces-sary—but let it be household manufactures, he said, to keep ... Read More »

Jefferson and the Ambiguities of Freedom 6

The problem did not diminish in time; it grew worse. Once, in the hope of at least containing slavery, Jefferson had favored limiting its geographical spread, and in fact he was largely responsible for pro¬hibiting it in the states of the Old Northwest. But later, fearing that the growing congressional power of northern industrial and finan¬cial forces would overwhelm the ... Read More »

Jefferson and the Ambiguities of Freedom 5

How different, in this, was he from his two younger contempo¬raries, who emerged on the scene after independence had been achieved and so inherited the Revolution, and took its principles for granted. Madison, Jefferson’s lifelong friend, collaborator, and polit¬ical ally, was quizzical and skeptical. His mind was less capacious and less elevated than Jefferson’s, but more close-grained, original, and instinctively ... Read More »

Jefferson and the Ambiguities of Freedom 4

And beyond the realm of government, Jefferson glimpsed, in these early, formative years, and never lost, a vision of human felicity—a romantic vision, of sensible, hard-working, independent folk secure in their possession of land, free of the corruptions of urban poverty and cynicism, free of dependence on a self-indulgent aristocracy of birth, responsible to the common good as well as ... Read More »

Jefferson and the Ambiguities of Freedom 3

His correspondence was prodigious: the editors of the Jefferson Papers have located over nineteen thousand letters written by him. They reflect extraordinary energy, a ceaseless flow of ideas on every conceivable subject, and a restless, tenacious mind, as fertile in for¬mulating abstract ideas as in solving the most ordinary, mundane problems. Printing presses, phosphoric matches, cylinder lamps, and the shapes ... Read More »

Jefferson and the Ambiguities of Freedom 2

The condemnations, from Hamilton to O’Brien, are intemperate, impassioned, remorseless—peculiarly venomous. Yet Jefferson remains a brilliant star in the firmament of American ideals and aspirations. Why the contradictions? Why the anomalies in his image and his reputation? To some extent they reflect inconsistencies in Jefferson’s policies, behavior, and character, which are striking. He said he sincerely loathed slavery, condemned it ... Read More »

Jefferson and the Ambiguities of Freedom

The reputations of those who shape the fate of nations become historical forces in themselves. They are twisted and turned to fit the needs of those who follow, until, it seems, there is no actual person left, only a complex mirror in which suc¬cessive interests see aspects of themselves. Of Jefferson this is doubly—trebly—true. His reputation has had what has ... Read More »

Politics and the Creative Imagination 8

So they reconsidered the immemorial doctrine of the separation of powers, and recast the elements involved from legalized social orders—crown, nobility, and commons—which had never been a direct part of their lives, to functioning branches of government— executive, legislative, judicial—which had been. So too they confronted the authorities—Montesquieu above all— who propounded as dogma the idea that free republican states, ... Read More »

Politics and the Creative Imagination 6

Franklin, of course, floated easily in French salon society, but, keenly aware of his provincial origin, he shrewdly overcame its stigma in France by flaunting it—cleverly establishing his cosmopoli¬tan credentials by exaggerating, caricaturing, hence implicitly deny¬ing, his provincialism. He knew that by projecting himself as a gifted backwoods innocent, he would become nature’s own scientist and philosopher, and thus the ... Read More »