While in Europe, I often amused myself with contemplating the characters of the then reigning sovereigns of Europe. Louis the XVI was a fool, of my own knowledge, and in despite of the answers made for him at his trial. The King of Spain was a fool, and of Naples the same. They passed their lives in hunting, and despatched two couriers a week, one thousand miles, to let each other know what game they had killed the preceding days. The King of Sardinia was a fool. All these were Bourbons. The Queen of Portugal, a Braganza, was an idiot by nature. And so was the King of Denmark. Their sons, as regents, exercised the powers of government. The King of Prussia, successor to the great Frederick, was a mere hog in body as well as in mind. Gustavus of Sweden, and Joseph of Austria, were really crazy, and George of England you know was in a straight waistcoat. There remained, then none but old Catherine, who had been too lately picked up to have lost her common sense. In this state Buonaparte found Europe; and it was this state of its rulers which lost it with scarce a struggle.
Thomas Jefferson, letter to Governor John Langdon, March 5, 1810
This was only about one year after Jefferson left the presidency. Maybe it’s a good thing there weren’t many meetings between heads of state back then.
No man on earth has less taste or talent for criticism than myself, and least and last of all should I undertake to criticise works works on the Apocalypse. It is between 50. and 60. years since I read it, and I then considered it as merely the ravings of a Maniac, no more worthy, nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams. … There is not coherence enough in them to countenance any suite of rational ideas. You will judge therefore from this how impossible I think it that either your explanation, or that of any man in the heavens above, or on the earth beneath, can be a correct one. What has no meaning admits no explanation.
Thomas Jefferson, letter to Alexander Smyth, January 17, 1825
I suppose the crippled state of Congress is not new to you. We have only 9 states present, 8. of whom are represented by two members each, and of course, on all great questions not only an unanimity of States but of members is necessary. An unanimity which can never be obtained on a matter of any importance. The consequence is that we are wasting our time & labour in vain efforts to do business.
Thomas Jefferson, letter to George Washington, March 15, 1784
So when a system is set up to allow a minority to easily block action almost nothing gets done. Imagine that.
A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. It gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body, and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be the constant companion of your walks.
Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr, August 19, 1785
Games played with balls are too violent, but guns are okay???? I hope Mr. Jefferson doesn’t mind my questioning his call on this one.
If we did a good act merely from the love of God and a belief that it is pleasing to Him, whence arises the morality of the Atheist? It is idle to say, as some do, that no such being exists. We have the same evidence of the fact as of most of those we act on, to-wit: their own affirmations, and their reasonings in support of them. I have observed, indeed, generally, that while in protestant countries the defections from the Platonic Christianity of the priests is to Deism, in catholic countries they are to Atheism. Diderot, D’Alembert, D’Holbach, Condorcet, are known to have been among the most virtuous of men. Their virtue, then, must have had some other foundation than the love of God.
Thomas Jefferson, letter to Thomas Law, June 13, 1814
I hold it, therefore, certain, that to open the doors of truth, and to fortify the habit of testing everything by reason, are the most effectual manacles we can rivet on the hands of our successors to prevent their manacling the people with their own consent.
Thomas Jefferson, letter to Judge John Tyler, June 28, 1804
Test things by reason. Texas Republican platform take note.
The endeavors to enlighten them [Indians] on the fate which awaits their present course of life, to induce them to exercise their reason, follow its dictates, and change their pursuits with the change on circumstances, have powerful obstacles to encounter; they are combated by the habits of their bodies, prejudice of their minds, ignorance, pride, and the influence of interested and crafty individuals among them, who feel themselves something in the present order of things, and fear to become nothing in any other. These persons inculcate a sanctimonious reverence for the customs of their ancestors; that whatsoever they did, must be done through all time; that reason is a false guide, and to advance under its counsel, in their physical, moral, or political condition, is perilous innovation; that their duty is to remain as their Creator made them, ignorance being safety, and knowledge full of danger; in short, my friends, among them is seen the action and counteraction of good sense and bigotry; they, too, have their anti-philosophers, who find an interest in keeping things in their present state, who dread reformation, and exert all their faculties to maintain the ascendency of habit over the duty of improving our reason, and obeying its mandates.
Thomas Jefferson, Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1805
Is it just me, or do those “anti-philosophers” sound a lot like the Christian Right, especially in Texas?
The Gothic idea that we are to look backwards instead of forwards for the improvement of the human mind, and to recur to the annals of our ancestors for what is most perfect in government, in religion & in learning, is worthy of those bigots in religion & government, by whom it has been recommended, & whose purposes it would answer.
Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Joseph Priestly, January 27, 1800
I do get the irony that this blog is very much looking backwards.
Calculate that one rebellion in 13 states in the course of 11 years, is but one for each state in a century & a half. No country should be so long without one.
Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Madison, December 20, 1787
Bad Jefferson. Bad.
Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.
Thomas Jefferson, letter to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1816