- The American Conservative - http://www.theamericanconservative.com -

Thomas Jefferson’s Trinity

Sorry I’ve been away for most of the day. I did a breakfast interview with some sources for the Benedict Option book, then drove out to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s country estate. I had never been. It really was a remarkable thing to see, and I’m very glad I went. It’s much smaller than I imagined it would be. His library and office, though, were thrilling places to be. You really do get a sense of the greatness of the man’s intellect and character.

I had a very disconcerting moment, an unusual feeling, I think, for an American to have in a place like Mr. Jefferson’s house. We stood with the guide in the parlor, [1] admiring the oil portraits Jefferson hung along the wall — most of them of historical figures he admired. On the southern wall were three portraits in a row: Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and John Locke — described by Jefferson as “my trinity of the three greatest men the world has ever produced.” That, plus the marble bust of Voltaire flanking one side of the door in the entrance hall, really brought home to me how much a man of the Enlightenment Jefferson was. All the Founding Fathers were, but ignorant as I am about colonial history, I had not realized how deeply Jefferson identified with the Enlightenment.

As someone who has been doing a lot of reading lately in European intellectual history, and who has very mixed feelings about the Enlightenment, I was startled by the feeling that Jefferson was, well, wrong about some important matters. Obviously this is contestable, and I expect that most Americans would disagree. The only reason I bring it up was because I felt a bit profane, even unpatriotic, having those thoughts there. It reminded me, in a small way, of how I felt when I visited the Panthéon in Paris — but only in a small way. I was frankly repulsed by that exhibit, stolen from the Church and made into a museum of Enlightenment and Progress. I felt nothing like that at Monticello, please be clear, but I had a faintly similar sense of alienation. I wondered: Had I been alive during the Revolution, would I have been a Loyalist to the Crown, for the same reasons that being in Jefferson’s house and being confronted in his art by his Enlightened sensibilities made me feel so surprisingly alien.

Mr. Jefferson’s Trinity: Bacon, Newton, Locke. And Voltaire standing guard by the door. I wish there were a Gothic cathedral nearby so I could go rebalance my chakras…

UPDATE: Yes, obviously I know Jefferson was a slaveowner. I didn’t think I had to mention here that I believe he was very wrong about the morality of slaveowning, because everybody knows that. What startled me was how out of kilter it felt to be confronted by how deeply he was a man of the Enlightenment. I should have known that, but somehow, I didn’t, and it didn’t hit me until I saw the art he had in his house.

148 Comments (Open | Close)

148 Comments To "Thomas Jefferson’s Trinity"

#1 Comment By Mark Johnston On February 12, 2016 @ 9:03 am

Are you not aware of the Jefferson New Testament? The “bible” given to new members of Congress? Jefferson cut out all the miracles (including the resurrection) and kept only the teachings of Jesus. He was called “a flaming atheist” by his rival John Adams (who was not conventional Christian himself.)

#2 Comment By Liam On February 12, 2016 @ 9:11 am

PPS: The most glorious day of the year to visit Monticello is…at dawn (that is, before sunrise) on his birthday (aka Founders Day at UVa). As a member and then president of the Jefferson Society, one of our privileges back in the day (1970s and early 1980s) was that we would drive up to the estate, climb over the gates, walk up the hill at dawn to lay a wreath at the grave (a member would go over the cast iron fencing) and then go up to the house entrance to toast Mr Jefferson at sunrise with appropriate spirits. The house staff, who would be preparing the place for the annual foundation dinner the coming evening, would let us in and we had the run of the place. We were even allowed up into the dome room before it was restored for public access and viewing (it was closed to the public for decades given its condition and Jefferson’s deliberately treacherous staircases).

Mind you, it was spring in Charlottesville. Bulbs in bloom, dogwoods getting ready to blossom.

Indelible and ineffable memories.

#3 Comment By Elijah On February 12, 2016 @ 9:32 am

[NFR: My guess is that I would have sided with the British (though as a patriot, I hope not!) because the ideas of the Enlightenment would have struck me as a threat to the organic order. — RD]

What do you mean by “organic order”? Wasn’t the Revolution about sorting that out?

My forebears came here in 1635 and they did not come in order to establish a copy of England and its “organic order”.

#4 Comment By pitchfork On February 12, 2016 @ 9:33 am

It might help the discussion to recognize that there were many Enlightenments — not just the rationalistic, atheist French one.

The Scottish Enlightenment of Hume, Smith and Ferguson, for example, which was a huge influence on Burke, by the way, was very much concerned with rational, pragmatic approaches to the world, and with the tension between practice and theory. There was also an Irish Enlightenment, which included Deists like Toland, but also a number of churchmen concerned with issues of religion and state.

Getting back to Burke, one of the things he remarked on was the fact that the American Revolution, unlike the French one, gave due respect to existing social structures and to the legal and constitutional traditions of the past. No one was more a man of the Enlightenment than Burke himself, and yet, ironically, he’s the writer who gave clearest expression to the idea that there’s a direct line from the ideas of the philosophes to Pol Pot-style nihilism.

#5 Comment By GlynT On February 12, 2016 @ 9:54 am

I think the key here to understanding the context of such a great man in history such as Jefferson is to realise that he changed his bit of the world from within the establishment that was prevalent at the time.

Now unlike many people who comment on Rod’s blog (and Rod himself as the Blogger) I have no credentials to claim any academic or particular speciality interest in history, philosophy, theology or such like. As you are all aware I’m also not an American, but a pretty humble Englishman living in what another commentator on this blog once called a ‘pretty remote and backward’ region of France.

The fact that Jefferson was not a proponent of forced change through armed conflict (other than of course to keep the Brits at arms length and so unable to influence/affect the more important job of forming the USA as a strong and civilised nation) meant that he, like Bacon, Newton and Locke was able to influence, guide and transform people at that time in a very profound manner.

I think that in our current lives, many of us who wish to help society meet the challenges of the day in a manner that is non-violent and that will have a deep and long impact on society (however wide or small that change is intended to touch people), that society currently appears to expect us to conform not only in a manner which is deemed to be acceptable to the ruling/political classes, but also the general political correctness that the media so often defines/documents as being ‘the norm’.

I have a real problem with this as, perhaps like Jefferson, I am a product and man of my time, but that does not mean that I agree with where we are all currently going. the problem for me, like so many before and perhaps so many partakers of this blog, is that I’m really passionate about changing some very particular things which I see around me. The problem is which thing to do first?

I admire what I understand of the characters involved in the Birth of the USA, perhaps in the same manner that Jefferson admired his enlightened Trinity. I do not judge in minute detail every notable person’s circumstance, but look at what their key achievements were and their ability to make a difference.

The whole premise of the labelling of someone as ‘Republican’ or ‘Monarchist’, ‘Agnostic’ or ‘Religious’ or even ‘Democrat’ or ‘Communist’ turns me off because I have never found anyone who is really 100% of any of those.

I think that it was terrible that Great Britain had a stupid Monarchical System and King at the end of the XVIII century which considered itself so supreme as to rule over good ordinary people in a manner that they did. But I also think that the modern equivalent is Liberal Capitalism apparently unfettered by Sovereign State laws and an International Diplomacy that is a farce.

I welcome all of the lessons from the past, but do not wish to burden myself with my parents and other previous generations labelling or expectations. I like you Rod am the person that I am through the reading, experience and quiet reflection that I have been given or had the chance to find along the way.

I’d love to see how you’d react to a meeting with H.M. The Queen, or indeed how you’d address Newton with all of his scientific theory that led to a secular casting off of religion, despite the fact that Newton throughout his life was using science and mathematics to ‘find and come closer to God’.

We can only ponder on what it means to be ourselves within the context that we live and understand the gift of life to be. I’m sure that had I been a slave in Jefferson’s estate I’d have been a very well looked after one!

But I wasn’t. What I am is an Engineer working for a foreign owned business in north-western France. I think that most of the Presidents of Western World Republics have demonstrated that unless there is a real need to change, their party politics and advisors/lobbyists tend to take the priority over the genuine wellbeing of the electorate.

So how am I (and you) going to change it? I’d guess that you’d pull together a Trinity of your own and they wouldn’t necessarily all be what we would expect!

#6 Comment By M_Young On February 12, 2016 @ 10:17 am

“I don’t know what Mr. Jefferson would think now, sitting on his portico, looking over that sea of yellow and brown faces as they rise and are administered the oath of citizenship. It is a different America from that which he left us.”

We know perfectly well what he would think…he would be horrified, rightly so. America is different–glad to see someone finally admit it rather than repeat hoary cliches about how the Irish[Italians, Poles] ‘assimilated’. The America Jefferson left us went on to conquer the continent, create flight, and put an man on the moon. The melange America post -1965 has done pretty much zero. Can’t even maintain a near earth reusable orbiter.

[NFR: And we eat bibimbap for lunch! — RD]

#7 Comment By M_Young On February 12, 2016 @ 10:23 am

One and a half sides in the Revolutionary War were Enlightenment influenced. The British Crown was trying, like a good enlightenment administration, to rationalize its empire. None of this bizarre ‘House of Burgesses’ stuff, none of these independent wars against the savages, etc. And the colonies…they were going to pay for themselves.

On the ‘Patriot’ side you had folks who very much wanted to keep the usages they had developed over 150 years of self rule, far away from the metropole in an age of slow communications. Some, like Jefferson, wanted to put an Englightenment veneer on that self rule, but most American Patriots didn’t care, they just wanted to keep living as they had, without ‘interference’ by the Crown. (btw, John Adams was a fifth generation American, and none of the Founders were immigrants, not even really Hamilton, as he just moved from one part of the British empire to another).

#8 Comment By Sands On February 12, 2016 @ 10:56 am

NFR: There’s a large marble bust of John Adams in Jefferson’s study. He esteemed the man, apparently. — RD]

They were friends, then bitter enemies (the 1800 election was not a pretty one), then friends again. Their mutual friend, Benjamin Rush, persuaded them to reconcile, and they corresponded in their later years.

#9 Comment By James On February 12, 2016 @ 10:58 am

The blog “the Josias” had a series that examined the deism and enlightenment thinking of the American founders and contrasted their thought to scholastic and Aristotelian philosophy. Unfortunately the removed the series from their site (but alas, inarchive does have a snapshot of the essays!)

[2]

#10 Comment By Richard On February 12, 2016 @ 11:28 am

Rod –

It’s probably too late for you to make use of this information on this trip, but an antidote to those aspects of Jefferson’s personality that are off-putting is to give more consideration to James Madison – and Madison’s home, Montpelier, is not far from Charlottesville, just outside the town of Orange. A book to read is Lynne Cheney’s recent biography “James Madison: A Life Reconsidered”. I’m no fan of her husband, but she is an elegant writer, and her book explores the relationship between the two men. And while Monticello has the more interesting gadgetry, Montpelier has much the better view.

Richard

#11 Comment By James Kabala On February 12, 2016 @ 11:49 am

Since most of the comments here seem to filtered through secondhand or even thirdhand accounts of what the Revolution was about and what Revolutionary-era people believed,I would recommend this two-volume set of primary texts to those who want a good sense of the debate on both sides:

[3]

#12 Comment By Joan On February 12, 2016 @ 11:59 am

Apparently (I have not vetted any of the websites that make this claim) in some of his private letters, Jefferson said that he pretended to be a Deist in public for the sake of his reputation, but he was really an Epicurean. He didn’t mean in the modern sense of “foodie”, but in the sense of adhering to the teachings of the Greek philosopher Epicurus. And what did Epicurus teach?

– That there is no afterlife and therefore no afterlife judgement.

– That the gods do not punish or reward human behavior in this life, either. In fact, the gods are not concerned with men at all.

– That our best guide to action in this life is to seek pleasure and avoid pain. For this purpose, humans have reason, which gives us the ability to take into account future as well as present pain and pleasure. Thus, we can look at a jug of wine and see, not only the pleasant high it can give us now, but also the hangover that will inescapably follow the next morning.

– That fear of other men and the desire to avoid pain at their hands is the real purpose of most so-called virtuous behavior.

I think it’s plausible for a believer in reincarnation to argue that Epicurus was reincarnated as Aleister Crowley.

#13 Comment By Anne On February 12, 2016 @ 12:17 pm

The orthodox Christianities of Jefferson’s time — notably, the Catholic Church and the Church of England — thought Jefferson and the American founders wrong about many things. Fortunately, the American principles of freedom both from church and of religion prevailed here. That it did has benefited both church and state. Unfortunately, the orthodox bias toward hierarchal control tends to reassert itself whenever events or public opinion seem to be going against church and/or specific religious interests, but that’s when our founding principles prove most beneficial for the common good, as when events or opinion go the other way.

Re Jefferson, Deist fits his reality as well as any other title, I’d say. He didn’t believe in Jesus as God or savior, but he did reserve a special respect for him as teacher and ethicist. He was a Deist within a Christian setting, what small-o orthodox Christians today accuse progressive Christians of being — albeit wrongly most often.

#14 Comment By Mike Schilling On February 12, 2016 @ 12:28 pm

Religious liberty is the liberty to say that two plus two makes five, or negative twelve and a half, or pi. If that is granted, all else follows

#15 Comment By JonF On February 12, 2016 @ 12:34 pm

I keep seeing the phrase “devoutly religious” used of the Founding Fathers. Evidence please? Most of them seem to have been “conventionally religious” by the standards of their day. They went to church, said nice things about religion in stump speeches. None of them joined the new evangelical movement of the First Awakening– they were all in mainstream churches. Some, like John Adams, were Unitarians, which were the leftist fringe of Christianity even then. And most of them regarded their religion as a private matter. They did not wear it on the sleeve any more than they babbled on about their marital life.

#16 Comment By PGD On February 12, 2016 @ 12:46 pm

The Englightenment is too important and too multi-faceted to simply be read backward through our current concerns. You have to place yourself in the world of the Wars of Religion, the 16th and 17th century, to get a better feel for what the major enlightenment figures were responding to. And one needs a sense for different currents of thought in different countries (in many ways thinking of a single ‘Enlightenment’ is a misnomer). Adam Smith or even Burke are just as much Enlightenment thinkers as Voltaire.

If you want a deep and profound exposition of Enlightenment Deism you should read Pope’s ‘Essay on Man’, later mocked by Voltaire but a great poem and one that contains much unmistakable wisdom about human nature.

#17 Comment By Mike Alexander On February 12, 2016 @ 1:10 pm

When I first learned American history in junior high I was surprised to learn that I was on the side of the Tories. But then half of the country were Tories, and I suppose about half of Americans today would feel the same (they just wouldn’t admit it).

#18 Comment By JonF On February 12, 2016 @ 1:13 pm

Re: Monticello is a soulless monument to narcissism, full stop.

And yet it’s actually a fairly modest house, certainly not some sort of palace-in-exile. As a corrective I prescribe a visit to The Breakers in Newport, where you can view ostentation and self-indulgence on a scale that would have had the Founders muttering darkly to themselves.

Re: A sizable fraction of the 600,000 dead people two generations later can be laid directly at the feet of his bottomless moral cowardice and lifelong two-facedness on the subject.

It’s impossible to discern any sort of actions the Founders could have taken in 1787 to prevent the whirlwind of 1861-65 from descending. The wind had been sowed before their lifetimes.

Re: not only did he not free his loved ones during his own life, but he guaranteed their continued enslavement long after his demise as they were sold to pay his debts.

Actually this is not true. Two (or three) of Sally Hemmings’ six (or seven) children died young. Two Jefferson freed in his will. The other two he had turned a blind eye on when they escaped to Ohio (one of them with a good chunk of cash that had been slipped to her). Jefferson’s legitimate daughter and heir and sole surviving child from his marriage freed Sally Hemmings (who was her aunt, being a half-sister of Jefferson’s wife) after Jefferson’s death, who lived with her two freed children until her death.

#19 Comment By dominic1955 On February 12, 2016 @ 2:08 pm

Panda,

Serves me right for trying to fire off something quick, but it’s a bird walk. Enlightenment figures were complex, as is any historical figures.

William Dalton,

The American Revolution was not a religious war. Britain had already tolerated these colonies set up by Puritans and Catholics (which was subsequently taken away from them by local Prots, but anyway) and Baptists. The Established Church had little regard for such matters, most especially in the colonies. No, it was taxes and representation and just a chance to do their own thing without oversight from across the sea. The British Crown had no interest in trying to make the colonies Anglican.

#20 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 12, 2016 @ 2:16 pm

Carlo… there is nothing new under the sun. Ontogeny recapitualtes ontogeny. The inquisition did not die with Torquemada, nor did the Enlightenment spring full grown from the brow of Locke.

As an aside, Jefferson’s DNA indicates his paternal lineage is haplogroup T, formerly known as K2. What that means is that his fathers somehow made it to England from the Middle East most likely somewhere between Phoenicia and Egypt.

That would be consistent with certain Welsh and more generally Celtic myths about where they all came from long ago.

#21 Comment By Just Some Guy On February 12, 2016 @ 2:39 pm

Liam, thanks for the clarification/correction. I was probably relying more on the recent Adams miniseries and half-remembered studies from college. (The soil science I studied more recently, so I’m more confident about that.) But, still, Adams is an interesting contrast with Jefferson. It’s as though the two men established standard American types we’re still following today.

#22 Comment By Grumpy Realist On February 12, 2016 @ 2:47 pm

Eh. If you have a background in legal history, you will not read the Declaration of Independence as an “Enlightenment” document. It struck me forcibly as lifting a heck of a lot from Resistance theory. If there’s anyone who provided the verbiage for the Declaration of Independence, it’s people like Melanchthon. Which leads back to Luther and his quarrel with the Papacy.
And it’s been pretty well shown that the ideas on Constitutional thought go back to the 10th and 11th wranglings between the Popes and the Cardinals.

So for those of you who are thinking that there ever was a point where the Enlightenment could have been turned aside, good luck. The rot was baked in much earlier.

(And if you think that you can get modern medicine without having something like the Enlightenment, fat chance. Hope you like dropping dead at 40 instead.)

#23 Comment By Liam On February 12, 2016 @ 3:24 pm

“[NFR: My guess is that I would have sided with the British (though as a patriot, I hope not!) because the ideas of the Enlightenment would have struck me as a threat to the organic order. — RD]”

Well, you see, many of the Patriots viewed the actions and inactions of Parliament as the threats to the organic orders here.

Thinking about the ports of Massachusetts as the powderkegs in the colonial magazine, as it were, most Americans today don’t realize (i) how much Massachusetts spent in coin, materiel and personnel, in winning victories for the Crown in what is now Canada, only to have the Crown bargain the spoils away, and (ii) how much Britain engaged in impressment generations before the War of 1812. These two things dealt signficant blows to Boston (which had been among the largest English speaking cities in the world for almost a century) in the mid-18th century, blows that are largely elided today.

#24 Comment By Henry Clemens On February 12, 2016 @ 5:08 pm

I am increasingly tempted to believe that the wrong side won the Revolutionary War — in great part because the Parliamentary System, especially in our present dysfunctional political world, seems markedly superior to our own Constitution. Is it proper and historically well grounded to ask whether the U.S. would have been much like Canada today had the Tories won? And why would this be bad? or good? A series of questions arise never much considered by Americans as they study their history.

#25 Comment By JMM On February 12, 2016 @ 6:01 pm

Rod said: “As someone who has been doing a lot of reading lately in European intellectual history, and who has very mixed feelings about the Enlightenment…”

I’d be interested in hearing more about why Rod has mixed feelings about The Enlightenment.

#26 Comment By MikeCA On February 12, 2016 @ 6:03 pm

Rod,I didn’t know you were an avid shopper! Bloor is a major shopping street in Toronto and Bay Street is the heart of the financial district. Either is good in my view! Seriously,I do suspect that you would have remained loyal to the Crown if for no other reason than your horror of the mob. I worked just across the street from Independence Hall in Philadelphia and I lived in center city, where history is at every turn and I often wondered the same – would my attachment to place overrule my instinct for tradition and working within the system? And if I had been a person of means would I have committed to either side or remained neutral? Most of us simply aren’t cut out to be revolutionaries. I have to confess that Canada far better suits my temperament- I like the historical continuity of the monarchy and the peace,order & good government ethos that prevails. The US and many Americans thrive on a good fight – it simply wears me down.

#27 Comment By Floridan On February 12, 2016 @ 10:33 pm

There’s a large marble bust of John Adams in Jefferson’s study. He esteemed the man, apparently

A surprisingly good read is the collected correspondence of the two founding fathers, The Adams-Jefferson Letters, which covers their fifty-year, relationship.

These were two true intellectuals and very complicated men. They defy facile categorization.

#28 Comment By Sands On February 13, 2016 @ 11:40 am

“I keep seeing the phrase “devoutly religious” used of the Founding Fathers. Evidence please? Most of them seem to have been “conventionally religious” by the standards of their day. They went to church, said nice things about religion in stump speeches.”

George Washington, in all his writings and speeches only mentioned Jesus, I believe, one time. Our Founders knew that they lived in a Christian nation, and their thoughts on religion were merely political and philosophical. You’re right, the evidence does not show that they were “devoutly religious.”

#29 Comment By M_Young On February 13, 2016 @ 11:52 am

“[NFR: And we eat bibimbap for lunch! — RD]”

Selling your birthright for a mess of chopped cabbage.

#30 Comment By Frankie T. On February 13, 2016 @ 1:20 pm

“The melange America post -1965 has done pretty much zero. Can’t even maintain a near earth reusable orbiter.”

“Zero”? As Wolfgang Pauli might say, this is so ridiculous that it’s not even wrong. Advances in cosmology (to pick just one discipline) in the past two decades alone by the US scientific community have been astonishing. We’ve learned so much more about the origin and structure of the universe from the Hubble telescope, satellites to measure the cosmic microwave background, and instruments like the LIGO, which offers the promise of gravitational wave astronomy, than from the shuttle commuting back and forth to the international space station. And at a fraction of the cost!

#31 Comment By JonF On February 13, 2016 @ 1:43 pm

Re: I am increasingly tempted to believe that the wrong side won the Revolutionary War — in great part because the Parliamentary System, especially in our present dysfunctional political world, seems markedly superior to our own Constitution.

Do bear in mind that the British government of the ate 1700s was profoundly corrupt, exceeding even on our government in rottenness and incompetence. Britain in fact was very lucky that the other European powers were in even worse shape. And even so it was a near thing. If the ability to export surplus population and the nascent Industrial Revolution had not pulled the British chestnuts out of the fire, we might learn about a bloody popular revolt in early 19th century Britain rather than in France.

#32 Comment By Turmarion On February 13, 2016 @ 2:14 pm

Joan: I think it’s plausible for a believer in reincarnation to argue that Epicurus was reincarnated as Aleister Crowley.

Big tangent, I know, but: Epicurus was actually quite ascetic. The idea is that the pain associated with overindulgence is not enough to justify the pleasure you get. As P. J. O’Rourke would put it, “a long run for a short slide”. Also, Epicurus emphasized the pleasure of friendship over any physical pleasure, since unlike the latter, the former were not limited. You can eat and drink only so much, but there is no limit (according to Epicurus) to friendship.

On the other hand, Crowley was a hedonist and a self-admitted drug addict who was not prone to moderation, let alone asceticism. The way he treated wives, friends, and associates was abominable by any standard. Whatever else one might think of either of them, Epicurus was not much like Crowley.

#33 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 13, 2016 @ 2:56 pm

I am increasingly tempted to believe that the wrong side won the Revolutionary War…

That’s easy to say at this distance… but if you saw rebels hanging from gibbets in every town on the Atlantic seaboard, others shipped to Botany Bay, and others proscribed for life, you might not consider it a sound basis for peace, tranquility and the public good. Things might never have really gotten good after that. There were organic reasons for the revolution, and as to how the Crown would have acted after winning — well just look at Ireland after 1798.

#34 Comment By JonF On February 13, 2016 @ 3:11 pm

rE: That would be consistent with certain Welsh and more generally Celtic myths about where they all came from long ago.

Myths that very dubious– and not in keeping with the rest of the genetic evidence. Note that the gene is quite rare in Britain. Celtic genes are decidedly not.
More likely that A) some Middle Eastern folk ended up in Britain during the Roman era and Jefferson happened to have some of that in his lineage or B) the genes got there in the Middle Ages by way of Moorish Spain.

#35 Comment By William Tighe On February 13, 2016 @ 3:45 pm

On the one hand, the American Revolution was based (in part) on claims about the British Colonies’ legal and “constitutional” status vis-a-vis Britain (or, before 1707, England) that were the merest nonsense; on the other, it was a fairly faithful adaptation and application to the North American scene of the “Revolution Principles” advanced to justify, in England (things were a bit different in Scotland in that year, and very different indeed in Ireland) the events of 1689 which saw James II abdicated (in the sense of, “he was [unwillingly] abdicated) from his throne, and without which King George III would have been merely Elector of Hanover. So it’s hard to say where I would have stood in 1776, probably on the sidelines, keeping my head down, without any committment to the radical Whiggery of the Patriots, but rather thinking that the House of Hanover, in the person of its head, was at long last getting what it deserved.

#36 Comment By Carlo On February 13, 2016 @ 6:21 pm

Siarlys:

yes, there is nothing new under the sun but there is also… history.

#37 Comment By EliteCommInc. On February 13, 2016 @ 7:47 pm

“I am increasingly tempted to believe that the wrong side won the Revolutionary War —”

How very appropriately conservative of you. Bravo.
__________________
“Is it proper and historically well grounded to ask whether the U.S. would have been much like Canada today had the Tories won?”

even if the transition would have been peaceful, as it most assuredly should have been. Rebels without much cause. We down here still have developed a rough and tumble existence.

More orderly, perhaps, but still curious, all conquering, and destined. Something about the environment compels one to be such.

More Justice Antonin Scalia in import, but wildly adventurous nonetheless. It’a very sad day for me – for sure. Anything akin to old school conservatism seems to be slipping away.

Those darn French.

#38 Comment By EliteCommInc. On February 13, 2016 @ 7:48 pm

Darn French said with a smile, maybe a smirk.

#39 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On February 13, 2016 @ 11:41 pm

Given that both England and Canada seem to be better functioning societies than our own, I’d say the wrong side won the revolutionary war. Being a ‘revolutionary’ or a ‘conservative’ in general is silly. some revolutions are justified, others aren’t. The grounds offered in defense of the American Revolution were poorer than most. Unlike the average person in Mexico, France, Russia, Cuba, or Spain, the average American colonist wasn’t living a life of particular misery.

I seldom agree with Darth Thulu, or for that matter with Ta-Nehisi Coates, but I have to agree that the spectacle of Jefferson ‘correcting’ the New Testament is hilarious.

#40 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On February 13, 2016 @ 11:48 pm

The idea that Jefferson contributed something new to human thought is also pretty dubious. The American Revolution wasn’t a unique innovation any more than the Protestant Reformation was: the only unusual thing about both of them was that they ended up lasting to the present day. The idea that monarchy is a stupid form of government wasn’t new with Jefferson, it had been proposed by the radical Protestants in England a century and a half earlier, and by the radical Protestants in Germany a century before that.

#41 Comment By M_Young On February 14, 2016 @ 11:40 am

“We’ve learned so much more about the origin and structure of the universe from the Hubble telescope,”

Well, even the hubble telescope was launched before the massive expansion in numerical terms of legal immigration that was initiated in 1991, and certainly would have been designed and built mostly by Boomers who were born and educated in a time of low, ethnically balanced immigration.

But real Americans don’t care about telescopes. We were supposed to be colonizing Jupiter’s moons by now. Or rather, by 15 years ago. See 2001, A Space Odyssey.

#42 Comment By JonF On February 14, 2016 @ 12:38 pm

Re: The idea that monarchy is a stupid form of government wasn’t new with Jefferson, it had been proposed by the radical Protestants in England a century and a half earlier, and by the radical Protestants in Germany a century before that.

As well in the Dutch war for independence from Spain.

#43 Comment By Liam On February 14, 2016 @ 12:46 pm

“Given that both England and Canada seem to be better functioning societies than our own . . . ”

But you neglect the independence of the USA as a possible positive variable in those results.

#44 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 14, 2016 @ 3:56 pm

yes, there is nothing new under the sun but there is also… history.

Indeed there is. And I must agree with those who infer that Jefferson was not particularly original, only noteworthy for being modestly successful, and dying peacefully in his home, at a respected ripe old age.

Unlike the average person in Mexico, France, Russia, Cuba, or Spain, the average American colonist wasn’t living a life of particular misery.

The truly miserable seldom have either the vision or the energy to initiate a revolution, although they may become fervent foot soldiers when one is on offer, and may benefit considerably. E.g., the French Revolution was started by petit-bourgeois intellectuals, but it could field large armies because it gave the peasants their own land, and they would fight to the death not to give it back to the feudal class. (Old ladies in the Faubourge San Antoine also had their grievances recorded and ready to produce).

While some of the constitutional arguments were contrived, American colonists were used to doing things their own way with little or no interference in their local governments. When the Crown and Parliament actually started decreeing and legislating in ways that affected daily life, they were ready to cut the strings, and did so. One hundred fifty years of benign neglect is long enough to develop a firm set of ideas on ‘the way it spozed to be.’

#45 Comment By Frankie T. On February 15, 2016 @ 12:48 pm

“But real Americans don’t care about telescopes.”

I’m grateful that contemporary exploration of the universe is being conducted by real Americans who don’t share this view.

#46 Comment By Chris (MS Principal) On February 15, 2016 @ 9:45 pm

Rod, you are right to wonder about Jefferson. A portion of this passage is inscribed in the Jefferson Memorial:
“I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” – Jefferson to H. Tompkinson (AKA Samuel Kercheval), July 12, 1816[10]

This quote has always stuck in my mind because it shows that in some respects, the liberal SCOTUS judges have a more legitimate claim to to this particular Founding Father than the originalist judges. It certainly shows the error of modernist thinking.

#47 Comment By JaredK On February 16, 2016 @ 6:13 pm

Completely and totally agree Re: the Panthéon. I found it depressing.

#48 Comment By Aaron On February 16, 2016 @ 7:20 pm

It is sort of appalling what self-appointed public intellectuals don’t know about history.