INTERVIEWS WITH THE FAMOUSLY DEPARTED
Thomas Jefferson Speaks
Thomas Jefferson was born April 13, 1743 and died on Independence Day, July 4, 1826. He was the main author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United Sates. The Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark Expedition were the major achievements of his Presidency. A jack and master of all trades Jefferson founded the University of Virginia.
When President John F. Kennedy welcomed forty-nine Nobel Prize winners to the White House in 1962 he said, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent and of human knowledge that has ever been gathered together at the White House — with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”
WRR: You wrote a lot about the rights of man, how would you define man?
Thomas Jefferson: What a stupendous, what an incomprehensible machine is man! Who can endure toil, famine, stripes, imprisonment and death itself in vindication of his own liberty, and the next moment . . . inflict on his fellow men a bondage, one hour of which is fraught with more misery than ages of that which he rose in rebellion to oppose. (Letter to Jean Nicholas Demeunier (January 24, 1786) Bergh 17:103)
WRR: Any other definitions?
Men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties: (1) Those that fear and distrust people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes. (2) Those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise depository of the public interests. In every country these two parties exist; and in every one where they are free to think, speak, and write, they will declare themselves. (Letter to Henry Lee (August 10, 1824))
WRR: What is truth?
He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world’s believing him. This falsehood of tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions. (Letter to Peter Carr (August 19, 1785))
WRR: How about men/women as a society as opposed to individually?
WRR: What about Majority Rule?
All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate which would be oppression. (Declaration of Independence; July 4, 1776)
WRR: What about man’s role in Government?
Experience declares that man is the only animal which devours his own kind; for I can apply no milder term to the governments of Europe, and to the general prey of the rich on the poor. (Letter to Colonel Edward Carrington; January 16, 1787)
WRR: What would you recommend?
I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. (Letter to James Madison; January 30, 1787); referring to Shays’ Rebellion Lipscomb & Bergh ed. 6:65 )
WRR: And the reason you’re sure about that recommendation?
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. (Declaration of Independence; July 4, 1776)
WRR: What’s your take on the Arab Spring?
We are not to expect to be translated from despotism to liberty in a featherbed. (Letter to Lafayette; April 2, 1790)
WRR: What’s your take on religion in the Middle East and elsewhere – including the US?
I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. (Letter to Francis Hopkinson (March 13, 1789)
WRR: And your religious conclusion?
He who steadily observes the moral precepts in which all religions concur, will never be questioned at the gates of heaven as to the dogmas in which they all differ. (Letter to William Canby; September 18, 1813)
WRR: How would you square science and religion?
He who made us would have been a pitiful bungler, if he had made the rules of our moral conduct a matter of science. For one man of science, there are thousands who are not. What would have become of them? Man was destined for society. His morality, therefore, was to be formed to this object. He was endowed with a sense of right and wrong, merely relative to this. (First Inaugural Address; March 4, 1801)
WRR: You came up with quite a few inventions yourself. Are there any limits on science?
A man has a right to use a saw, an axe, a plane, separately; may he not combine their uses on the same piece of wood? He has a right to use his knife to cut his meat, a fork to hold it; may a patentee take from him the right to combine their use on the same subject? Such a law, instead of enlarging our conveniences, as was intended, would most fearfully abridge them, and crowd us by monopolies out of the use of the things we have. (Letter to Oliver Evans ; 16 January 1814); published in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (1905) Vol. 13, p. 66)
WRR: What do you think of lawyers?
That one hundred and fifty lawyers should do business together ought not to be expected. (On the U.S. Congress, in his Autobiography; January 6, 1821)
WRR: So you prefer judges?
The Constitution . . . meant that its coordinate branches should be checks on each other. But the opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action but for the Legislature and Executive also in their spheres, would make the Judiciary a despotic branch. (Letter to Abigail Adams; 1804)
WRR: What do you think of the 21st century view that a nanosecond is too long?
Delay is preferable to error. (Letter to George Washington; May 16, 1792)
WRR: Read anything good lately?
A lively and lasting sense of filial duty is more effectually impressed on the mind of a son or daughter by reading King Lear, than by all the dry volumes of ethics, and divinity, that ever were written. (Letter to Robert Skipwith; August 3, 1771) ; also in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (22 Vols., 1905) edited by Andrew A. Lipscomb and Albert Ellery Bergh, Vol. 4, p. 239)
WRR: Freedom of the Press?
To preserve the freedom of the human mind then and freedom of the press, every spirit should be ready to devote itself to martyrdom; for as long as we may think as we will, and speak as we think, the condition of man will proceed in improvement. (Letter to William Green Mumford; June 18, 1799)
WRR: Any qualifications on that?
No. The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. (Letter to Colonel Edward Carrington; January 16, 1787) Lipscomb & Bergh ed. 6:57)
WRR: Are you sure? Did you change your mind as you got older?
Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. (Letter to John Norvell; June 11, 1807)
WRR: So what are you doing with yourself now?
But though an old man, I am but a young gardener. (Letter to Charles Willson Peale; August 20, 1811)
WRR: Any advice for us mortals?
The earth belongs to the living, not to the dead. (Letter to John W. Eppes; June 24, 1813)
Joe practiced law in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, for 14 years and designed large scale databases for AT&T for five years. He currently works for NextLevel Web Strategies, a legal marketing firm based in Princeton, NJ. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, received his J.D. from George Washington Law School and he has a Masters Degree in Computer Science from Drexel University.
Joe’s book, Philadelphia Originals, was released for publication by Schiffer Publishing in 2009. The book shows that the unique styles (how Philadelphians paint, sing, practice law, tell a joke, cook) of Philadelphia’s most notable professions can be traced back to the perfect complement of the spiritual William Penn and the practical Benjamin Franklin.
His second project. Philadelphia Before You Were Born, is a study of the last time Philadelphia newspapers used artists for all their illustrations. It was published in 2011.
Joe’s many other published writings include a humorous look at book clubs for the Bucks County Writer and the literary stages of a baseball season for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He also writes the Interviews with the Famously Departed Column for the Wild River Review.
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