Thomas Jefferson: The Aristocrat as Democrat

Part 1

Section 1 Summary

The Federalist view of Jefferson has never been popular, but the Jeffersonian view has been. Jefferson’s legend has been overly dramatized.
Jefferson was born into aristocracy. When his father died, he was left with a large inheritance of land and many slaves. He had the time to write so many great works because of his many slaves.
Although an aristocrat, Jefferson was compassionate towards the common man. He reasoned that men were created equal and were capable of governing themselves.
Jefferson came into political leadership early, becoming elected into the House of Burgesses at 26. His marriage to a widow brought along a debt of four thousand pounds, and he came to hate the British creditors. He became anti-British and started writing about man’s natural rights.
He helped abolish primogeniture and entail in Virginia along with promoting the separation of church and state. He also unsuccessfully tried to establish a school system.
The importance of Jefferson’s reforms has been greatly exaggerated by historians. Resistance would be expected if the changes were so important, but the old institutions fell with remarkable ease.
Primogeniture was never mandatory and was usually only used when a man died without leaving a will dividing his land. Entail was actually a nuisance because the aristocracy was not free to just sell their land.
Jefferson did believe in abolishing slavery and drafted a law for gradual emancipation, but never introduced it because he did not believe the public would accept it. Trying to force any law onto the people would be uncharacteristic of Jefferson.
Jefferson wanted to retire from politics at age 38, but the death of his wife brought him back into service for the Congress. From 1785 to 1789 he served as American Minister to France and observed the extremes in the wealth of the aristocracy and the misery of the working class in Europe. It reaffirmed his view that republicanism is the best form of government and America was superior to the rest of the world.
Jefferson was consulted during the early days of the French Revolution by its leaders. He felt that the public and the King had to compromise, but the King’s terms were rejected because they were too moderate.
Jefferson was never a highly theoretical man, but was a practical man. He developed several inventions and documented social and natural phenomena. He based the layout of Washington on the plans of 12 large European cities and conceived the American decimal system of coinage.
Jefferson’s life was full of ambiguity, inconsistency and contradiction. He had the characteristics of an aristocrat as well as appreciation for the working class
Most of his greatest ideas were kept private, avoiding expressing them to a public that would not accept them. He believed in progress and hoped his ideas would be realized in the future.
Jefferson preferred to avoid conflict and was sensitive to criticism. He was very shy and had a slight speech defect, which prevented him from speaking in person at Congress. He would have been much happier keeping his life private.

Section 2 Summary
Jefferson believed in the power of the common man. He believed power in government should not come from any other source.
Although he agreed that the majority would often make the wrong decisions, their decisions would be better than those of the elite, who were only interested in themselves. He felt that a republic is best government for the people, and that occasional rebellion is better for the people than inactivity would be.
He pushed for the education of the masses so they would better serve the republic. He also thought it would bring out the talent in the people.
When Jefferson spoke about “the people,” he really meant “the farmers.” He believed that farmers are the best social base for a democratic republic.
He felt that an agricultural state would be best. He encouraged commerce but this was the extent of his support of urbanization.
Although Jefferson only believed in farmers, he still had much in common with the other writers of the Constitution. They shared the fear of the virtues of common man.
Jefferson supported the ideas of checks and balances of the people. He encouraged only a lower house of legislature to be elected by the people so they could be restrained.
He felt that a system without division of