Jefferson on Youth and Inexperience
Q. Do you know of a Thomas Jefferson quote on not running for political office because of being too young or not having enough experience?
I am not familiar with such a quote; nevertheless, it might very well exist. Most of what I have read of Jefferson suggests that he had high hopes for, and great confidence in, the youth of the country.
In fact, Jefferson seemed to be concerned more with ability than with youth or inexperience as such.
"Men possessing minds of the first order and who have had opportunities of being known and of acquiring the general confidence do not abound in any country beyond the wants of the country." --Thomas Jefferson to Robert Livingston, 1801.
"Men of high learning and abilities are few in every country; and by taking in those who are not so, the able part of the body have their hands tied by the unable." --Thomas Jefferson to Archibald Stuart, 1791.
"Old heads as well as young may sometimes be charged with ignorance and presumption. The natural course of the human mind is certainly from credulity to skepticism." --Thomas Jefferson to Caspar Wistar, 1807.
Somewhat contrary to the idea of a person not running for political office because of being too young or not having enough experience, Jefferson seems to have looked to the youth of our country for its advancement.
"It is to them I look, to the rising generation, and not to the one now in power, for these great reformations [i.e., emancipation of slaves and settlement of the Virginia constitution on a firmer and more permanent basis]." --Thomas Jefferson to General Chastellux, 1785.
"I rejoice when I hear of young men of virtue and talents, worthy to receive and likely to preserve the splendid inheritance of self- government, which we have acquired and shaped for them." --Thomas Jefferson to Judge Tyler, 1804.
"Having labored faithfully in establishing the right of self-government, [we] see in the rising generation, into whose hands it is passing, that purity of principle and energy of character which will protect and preserve it through their day, and deliver it over to their sons as they receive it from their fathers." Reply to Pittsburgh Young Republicans, 1808.
Sometimes he expressed a disappointment in the younger generation, as in their failure to deal properly with the question of slavery.
"I had always hoped that the younger generation receiving their early impressions after the flame of liberty had been kindled in every breast and had become as it were the vital spirit of every American, that the generous temperament of youth analogous to the motion of their blood and above the suggestions of avarice would have sympathized with oppression wherever found and proved their love of liberty beyond their own share of it. But my intercourse with them... has not been sufficient to ascertain that they had made towards this point the progress I had hoped. I have considered the general silence which prevails on this subject as indicating an apathy unfavorable to every hope." --Thomas Jefferson to Edward Coles, 1814.
But towards the end of his life, he realized that our only hope is in our young people.
"I leave the world and its affairs to the young and energetic, and resign myself to their care, of whom I have endeavored to take care when young." --Thomas Jefferson to Charles Pinckney, 1820.
"They [the students of the University of Virginia] are exactly the persons who are to succeed to the government of our country and to rule its future enmities, its friendships and fortunes." --Thomas Jefferson to J. Evelyn Denison, 1825.
The conservative view that age and experience are primary assets is not seen much in the writings of Jefferson. His was a more progressive spirit, and he looked to the young and to experiment, not experience, for our advancement.
"When I contemplate the immense advances in science and discoveries in the arts which have been made within the period of my life, I look forward with confidence to equal advances by the present generation, and have no doubt they will consequently be as much wiser than we have been as we than our fathers were, and they than the burners of witches." --Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Waterhouse, 1818.
I would be very much surprised if there was a quotation from Jefferson strongly condemning persons running for elective office who were "too young or too inexperienced."
The Jeffersonian Perspective:
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