Jefferson: Self-governance and “the field of knowledge”


tjmonticellostatueThe final part in a four-part series

“The field of knowledge,” said Thomas Jefferson, “is the common prosperity of all mankind.”

Jefferson’s words are inscribed in big bold letters in the entryway of Monticello’s visitor center. They’re written in architectural perpetuity in Jefferson’s “academical village,” the University of Virginia. They’re enshrined in the very concept of democracy.

“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” Jefferson said. Knowledge enables self-determination. Continue reading “Jefferson: Self-governance and “the field of knowledge””

Jefferson: The Man Who Moved Mountains


Montecello TulipsThe second in a four-part series

He leveled the top of the mountain with gunpowder.

He began the project in 1768, when he was twenty-five. He had his slaves literally sheer off the tip of the mountaintop, peeling away soil rich in iron and clay, revealing bedrock of a local variety known as Catoctin greenstone.

On the flattened plane, he built his dream home. Over the next fifty-eight years, Thomas Jefferson would significantly remodel the house twice more as his personal tastes evolved. The house has a splash of Cavalier Virginia to it, but it also has touches of the classical and the continental.

Jefferson called it “my essay in architecture.” He named his “essay” Monticello. Continue reading “Jefferson: The Man Who Moved Mountains”

Jefferson: America’s Great Contradiction


monticellobenchThe first in a four-part series

I sit on a small wooden bench, little more than a plank with legs, really, beneath a tulip poplar whose wide branches umbrella me. The grass around the bench has been worn away by weary travelers come to the bench to rest, revealing the reddish iron-rich soil of Virginia beneath.

A few yards away from me, Thomas Jefferson rests in peace.

A slow stream of visitors comes down the brick walkway from Jefferson’s house to stand outside the black, wrought-iron fence that surrounds his family’s small graveyard, still in use today by descendents. Many visitors have thrown coins onto the president’s grave—not just the Jefferson-faced nickels you’d expect, either, but pennies, dimes, and quarters, too. Considering the rift between Washington and Jefferson in Washington’s last years, I wonder what Jefferson would think about that. Continue reading “Jefferson: America’s Great Contradiction”