JEFFERSON'S POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY
> I am trying to put together a presentation on Jefferson's political > philosphy. I am to be Thomas Jefferson, present my political > philososphies and seek to encourage the revolutionaries(the class) to > adopt my ideas. I am having difficulty getting started, can you give me > some ideas. The website, Thomas Jefferson on Politics & Government, attempts to present the political philosophy of Thomas Jefferson in his own words. It is located at: http://etext.virginia.edu/jefferson/quotations But that is not a synopsis. It is book-length. I just recently read an excellent summary of Jefferson's political philosophy in the book by Merrill Peterson, "Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation." Beginning on (or maybe a page or two before) page 94, there is a summary of the entire section of the book that treats Jefferson's part in the founding of the United States. It is only about a half dozen or so pages long, but it is outstanding, and right on the mark. If you read that, and then went through the first few sections of the website referred to above, I think you would have a good base from which to start. You could then go to the website, The Jeffersonian Perspective, which is located at: http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/7970/index.htm Go to the table of contents. There are 63 essays there, most of which are not related to your topic. But you could look over the contents, and then look at any essay that you think might be related to your topic, such as "Democracies, Republics & the People." There might be others. Also, look at the bottom of the contents page, and there you will find some materials I have sent to other students making a class presentation on Thomas Jefferson. Some of that may be useful to you. My suggestion would be to go to the short summary in the Merrill Peterson book first. Then look over the fundamentals in the first few sections of the website, Thomas Jefferson on Politics & Government, especially the first on Natural Rights, and the seventh on Republican Principles. Then maybe check out the essays. That should provide you with a good grasp of Jefferson's political philosophy. > Thank you very much for the imput. Our library does not have the book you > mentioned. Any more suggestions that I can use to get started, I am at a > standstill. > > Not being a history buff, I am finding this quite difficult. When you say that your library does not have the Peterson book, do you mean your SCHOOL library? It is a very well-known book, and should be in any PUBLIC library. I would recommend that you try to find it, because it would be difficult to find an adequate summary of Jefferson's political philosophy anywhere else. Others, in my opinion, can be misleading. If you can't find it, however, you can refer to the website, Thomas Jefferson on Politics & Government. Jefferson's political philosophy is stated by himself in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, beginning with the words, "We hold these truths to be self-evident...." You will find the first part of that paragraph at the beginning of the first section of quotations in the above website. That is followed by other quotations that explain the fundamental natural rights of mankind, which is the foundation of his political philosophy. Thus, you will see these elements of that philosophy: * All men are created equal -- they have equal political rights * Those rights are to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness * The purpose of government is to secure the rights of the people and serve their collective will * The people have the right to alter or abolish any government that ceases to secure those rights * The people have the right to replace the government with one that will better secure their safety and happiness Thus, you will see that a proper government serves its people, not a king, and not an aristocracy. The purpose of a just government is to make possible the optimum existence of its people, by maximizing their powers to live their own lives, to live them in liberty, and to do whatever they think will promote their happiness, while not interfering with the equal rights of other citizens to do the same. Every individual is free to make whatever he can of his life, as long as he does this with respect towards the lives and liberties of those around him/her. We cannot disregard others while we pursue our own course of life, because we are all involved together in this process of living. Almost everything we do, everything we own, even everything we think, involves the input of others. You name it, and someone else has helped make it possible for us to do it. So, we are a nation of individuals living together cooperatively, but not exploiting one another. If this is to work, it must be done fairly and justly, and with consideration and gratitude towards others. Thus, we might decide as a nation to do things for others in distress, because an unhappy turn of events might mean that we will be in distress some day. A good people look out for one another in times of desperate need, just as though they were a big family. A government that secures the natural rights of its citizens secures an atmosphere that nurtures all, but that does not replace initiative and self-determination. It protects its citizens from a government that exploits them and allows the rich and powerful to use the citizens to promote the lives of the powerful to the detriment of the ordinary citizens. This is why the Founders (Revolutionaries) broke away from England: because the British government was trying to treat the colonists as instruments to be exploited, just as they in fact did do in other colonies, such as India. The British USED the colonists to increase their own wealth and serve their own interests, without any input or consent from the colonists themselves. They didn't care about the colonists. All they cared about was themselves, and how they might extract wealth from the colonists. That, in brief, is an outline of the political philosophy of Jefferson. But I advise you to study the materials I recommended, if at all possible.
Table of Contents