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Light and Liberty

Light and Liberty: Thomas Jefferson and the Power of Knowledge

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 256
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    Light and Liberty
    Book Description:

    Although Thomas Jefferson's status as a champion of education is widely known, the essays inLight and Libertymake clear that his efforts to enlighten fellow citizens reflected not only a love of learning but also a love of freedom. Using as a starting point Jefferson's conviction that knowledge is the basis of republican self-government, the contributors examine his educational projects not as disparate attempts to advance knowledge for its own sake but instead as a result of his unyielding, almost obsessive desire to bolster Americans' republican virtues and values.

    Whether by establishing schools or through broader, extra-institutional efforts to disseminate knowledge, Jefferson's endeavors embraced his vision for a dynamic and meritocratic America. He aimed not only to provide Americans with the ability to govern themselves and participate in the government of others but also to influence Americans to remake their society in accordance with his own principles.

    Written in clear and accessible prose,Light and Libertyreveals the startling diversity of Jefferson's attempts to rid citizens of the ignorance and vice that, in the view of Jefferson and many contemporaries, had corroded and corrupted once-great civilizations. Never wavering from his faith that "knowledge is power," Jefferson embraced an expansive understanding of education as the foundation for a republic of free and responsible individuals who understood their rights and stood ready to defend them.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3237-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy

    This volume contains revised and expanded versions of essays first delivered at a conference at the United States Military Academy at West Point on September 22 and 23, 2008, commemorating the opening of the academy’s new library building, Thomas Jefferson Hall. Completed after ten years of planning and construction costs of $65 million—the first new academic building at the academy in thirty-six years—it occupies 148,000 square feet. By virtue of its location and bright lighting, the library is very prominent; the naming of the structure in honor of the third president of the United States, together with a...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    Thomas Jefferson believed that “light and liberty go together.” He affirmed that “no one more sincerely wishes the spread of information among mankind than I do’’ because no one had “greater confidence in its effect towards supporting free and good government.” He also warned that “if a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” He understood that “even under the best forms” of government, “those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” Illuminating “the minds of the people,” he...

  7. “The Yeomanry of the United States Are Not the Canaille of Paris”: Thomas Jefferson, American Exceptionalism, and the “Spirit” of Democracy
    (pp. 19-46)

    The source of much of our present ambivalence about Jefferson is rooted in the awkward tension between our sense that he was not inclusive enough to qualify as what most of us today would be willing to call a “democrat,” on the one hand, and, on the other, that he was, nevertheless, too naïve about the ability of ordinary white men to make wise decisions in a deliberative democracy to offer us anything useful in the way of a political theory. There are so many compelling and well-understood reasons to challenge Jefferson’s long-standing association in the American imagination with our...

  8. “To Diffuse Knowledge More Generally through the Mass of the People”: Thomas Jefferson on Individual Freedom and the Distribution of Knowledge
    (pp. 47-74)

    Thomas Jefferson is famous for stating in the Declaration of Independence that it was “self-evident . . . that all men are created equal . . . with certain unalienable Rights.” But rights were only Jefferso’s starting point. Jefferson believed that Americans would also need the tools necessary to take advantage of their newfound freedom. What use was it to be born free if citizens could not use their freedom to promote “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”? Despite often being invoked simply as an advocate of rights and limited government, Jefferson strongly supported an active state that would...

  9. Consistent in Creation: Thomas Jefferson, Natural Aristocracy, and the Problem of Knowledge
    (pp. 75-95)

    In October 1813, Thomas Jefferson wrote John Adams a long letter on the subject of natural aristocracy. Jefferson reasoned that aristocrats were part of the order of nature, for “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.” That belief had important implications for government. “May we not even say,” Jefferson wrote Adams, “that the form of government is best which provides the most effectually for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the offices of government?” How...

  10. The Jefferson Gospel: A Religious Education of Peace, Reason, and Morality
    (pp. 96-115)

    Most of Jefferson’s contemporaries agreed in principle with his core belief about education, that it should reinforce democracy by teaching citizens and leaders about the world and their rights and responsibilities. But his notion that public education should emphasize scientific rather than scriptural revelation was more controversial. While the First Amendment succeeded generally in providing Americans with a pluralistic and relatively tolerant religious landscape, they have argued ever since over prayer, Bible instruction, and evolution vs. creationism in public schools. Jefferson boasted near the end of his second presidential term that Americans had “solved, by fair experiment, the great and...

  11. West from West Point: Thomas Jefferson’s Military Academy and the “Empire of Liberty”
    (pp. 116-136)

    Thomas Jefferson selected Meriwether Lewis to lead the Corps of Discovery because he was the least unqualified person for the job. In January 1803, when Jefferson asked Congress to fund an expedition up the Missouri to the Pacific, the army captain was twenty-eight. In his brief military career he had served west of the Appalachians, where he had gained some familiarity with Native American cultures. Then, for nearly two years, he had worked as Jefferson’s secretary, demonstrating diligence, fidelity, and raw intelligence. Other than Lewis “no man within the range of my acquaintance,” Jefferson remembered decades later, “united so many...

  12. Thomas Jefferson, Colporteur of the Enlightenment
    (pp. 137-157)

    When Thomas Jefferson’s boyhood home, Shadwell, burned on February 1, 1770, he most mourned the loss of his library. In a letter to his college friend, John Page, he calculated “the cost of the books burned to have been £200. sterling. Would to god it had been the money; then had it never cost me a sigh!”¹ There were books that he had inherited from his father, classical literature that he had first read during his school days, law books and notebooks that he had collected to support his legal practice, and works from writers like Lord Bolingbroke and Lord kames...

  13. “Presenting to Them Models for Their Imitation”: Thomas Jefferson’s Reform of American Architecture
    (pp. 158-186)

    From his earliest days in Williamsburg to his retirement at Monticello, Jefferson never rested in his attempts to reform American architecture. In his influential Noteson the State of Virginia, Jefferson lamented the architecture that surrounded him, stating that “the genius of architecture seems to have shed its maledictions over this land.” Jefferson was not only concerned with the manner by which buildings were erected, but also he was troubled by Americans’ apparent lack of taste and appreciation of aesthetics.¹ He could imagine only one means by which to cultivate his countrymen’s sensibilities. “How is a taste in this beautiful...

  14. Recording History: The Thomas Sully Portrait of Thomas Jefferson
    (pp. 187-206)

    In early February 1821 Thomas Jefferson received a letter posted from the United States Military Academy at West Point. The letter, penned by mathematics professor Jared Mansfield, was written on behalf of the academy’s officers, cadets, and faculty and requested that Jefferson pose for a portrait that would be displayed in the academic library. His image would hang beside that of the “great” Washington and that of Colonel Jonathan Williams, the school’s first superintendent, and would serve posterity as an “appropriate memorial of your person.” Feeling confident of Jefferson‘s consent, they had commissioned Thomas Sully, one of America’s leading portrait...

  15. Afterword: Light, Liberty, and Slavery
    (pp. 207-216)

    Reading this cluster of fine essays made me aware that a new generation of Jefferson scholars has arrived. It has fascinated me to see how they are taking possession of this most interesting forebear of ours. People are always saying something is a great pleasure, but I want to begin by stressing that it really is a great pleasure to learn that there is a fresh group of historians studying Jefferson and bringing to bear on his career questions that their generation—and their generation alone—can ask.

    I was amused years ago when I read a quip from Millicent...

  16. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 217-220)
  17. Index
    (pp. 221-232)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 233-234)