Fundraising Campaign for Frederick Douglass’ Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas Series

Frederick Douglass with his second wife Helen Pitts and her sister Eva, public domain via Wikimedia CommonsAs you may know, dear readers, I’m embarking on the travel portion of my fifth philosophical-historical themed adventure in mid to late March. I’m off to Baltimore, MD, New York, Washington DC, and other East Coast sites to follow in the footsteps of Frederick Douglass.

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you.

Every single bit helps, from $1 on up: directly through your contribution, and indirectly by inspiring confidence and enthusiasm in others who see the support already given.

As always, I count on you to help me accomplish what I do here; thanks to all who have contributed in the past, and thanks in advance to all who contribute in the future!

What the Frederick Douglass Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas Series project will produce:
– A series of essays on the ideas of Frederick Douglass, how they relate to his time and ours
– A series of travel accounts of sites associated with Douglass’ life and ideas throughout the East Coast. I’ll be seeking insights into how the places informed the man, and vice versa. These will double as historical-philosophical investigations to bring Douglass to life in the mind of the reader, and as inspiration for other traveling history enthusiasts
– A series of downloadable walking tours to accompany the travel series: just subscribe and download in iTunes, and you’ll have your own travel guides to East Coast places I travel to for this series
– Free educational resources: supplementary teaching materials on the life and ideas of Douglass
– And if all goes as planned, a book!

Budget: In the interests of transparency and so you know exactly where your hard-earned, generously donated funds go, here’s the breakdown:

Primary Goal: $2,500 – To cover airfare, lodging, ground transportation, and advertising for Frederick Douglass’ Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series
– Airfare: to DC or NYC about $500 (w/taxes and fees)
– Car Rental: average $28 / day = $392
– Lodging: average $50 per night, will be staying with friends some nights = $700
– Parking / Fuel / Public Transportation: average $25 per day = $350
Subtotal = $1,942

Any amount I’ve saved on the above costs or amount collected in excess will be spent on paid advertising (Facebook, Google Adwords, Bing, Pinterest, etc, even a radio spot if funds allow!), which will be listed here, so that the total spent comes to $2,500. (I also advertise in a wide array of free venues)

Secondary Goal: $1,500 – Monthly wages
This year, O.P. is making a big push to include an expanded and more in depth history of ideas travel series, more regularly published podcast with downloadable history of ideas travel guides, interviews with fascinating people, scholarship and educational materials, more great guest posts, and so much more! To accomplish all this, O.P. will need to pay its own expenses and if possible, wages, so I can throw spend less time at other occupations, throwing myself into O.P. with all the heart, time, and energy I long to dedicate to this project.

Please visit the Subscribe, Submit, and Support page to help me fund this project.

I thank you in advance, from the bottom of my heart, for any support you can offer


Amy Cools


Second Day in Paris Following Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson, Part 1

22 rue Meslay, Paris. Mary Wollstonecraft may have lived here at Aline Filliettaz’s house from December 1792 through June 1793. See update to the search for the Filliataz house

Monday, August 10th, 2015

I get up at a decent hour, though of course not too early: I discovered early on when I began to travel in earnest that proper rest is essential for clear thinking, map-reading capabilities, and the good humor necessary for enjoying the day.

Since there’s such a huge number of sites to visit on my itinerary, I’ve decided to visit them in an order determined not by subject nor in any kind of chronological order, but by proximity to one another, so I can better cover them all.

I make my way from my temporary digs on Boulevard Voltaire up toward Republique, then make a soft left and head for 22 rue Meslée (now called the rue Meslay). Mary Wollstonecraft lived here at her friend Aline Filliettaz’s house from December 1792 through June of 1793, shortly after arriving in Paris. Wollstonecraft was full of hope for the Revolution and longed to be a part of it, and thought that the humanitarian and egalitarian Enlightenment principles she espoused were more likely to take hold there before they would in her home country of England, as they had (to an extent) in America. By the time she arrived in Paris, she was a self-made woman, a governess and schoolmarm who had become the bestselling author of two progressive and highly influential books, A Vindication of the Rights of Men, 1790 (a scathing rebuttal to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France) and A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792.

In fact, her Rights of Men was published the year before Paine’s Rights of Man, which was also a response to Burke, but Paine’s became the most famous by far. However, Wollstonecraft held her own with Rights of Woman, as it’s now widely considered the founding work of modern feminism. Wollstonecraft was lonely and blue when she first lived at this house, since her hosts were away and the servants behaved haughtily and uncooperatively towards her, but she soon cheered up when she began to get out more and hang out with her expatriate friends and their Parisian social circle. (More on that soon.)

Building where 22 rue Meslay is now located in Paris, France

The Fillattaz house is on a little side street in the Marais district, near the medieval Temple where the royal family was held during the French Revolution, before the King was guillotined in December of 1793 and Marie Antoinette was sent to the Concierge. Wollstonecraft wrote in her account of this period in her life that she saw the King being taken from the Temple prison to his trial at the Hôtel de Ville, where the Convention Nationale was held, from her window at this house. See update to the search for the Filliataz house

By the way, it’s important to make this point at the beginning: as is the case with all private residences and some other sites I visit during this tour, unless I can find a clear indicator of the history of the building (in accounts I have access to, on plaques, on cornerstones, etc), it’s very possible that I may not have found the exact location, especially if it’s not a public building with a clearly documented history. Many of my sources list an address without specifying whether it’s the modern address or the historical one and numbers change over time, and some streets are re-routed or disappear entirely, as do many of the original buildings, and records are not always consistently kept or may have been lost in the intervening years. Since my subjects were all here well over two centuries ago, it’s likely that at least a few of these locations are approximate, rather than the exact sites, despite my best efforts to discover them. This is especially true of Mary Wollstonecraft since she’s the only one of my subjects who never held public office or had any government appointments.

Courtyard behind 22 rue Meslay

63 rue Faubourg St-Denis, Paris, France. It’s the right address but not actually the site of Paine’s once-time residence, since the address had changed since his time. You can the story of how I find the true site here.

For example, poking around for historical details of the rue Meslay, I found that George Sands was born on that same street, and the address was 15 in her time, 46 now. I didn’t find any info as to whether Wollstonecraft’s 22 address is the new one, old one, or just that same address in different sources, but since she described seeing the King’s carriage pass by her window on the way to trial, it may be that the Filliettaz house was further up the street, in a taller building or at a higher elevation, so that she could see as far over as Boulevard Saint-Martin, the next street over and the route he would taken. But another source describes the house as having six stories, and the house now at 22 matches this description.

If I have time, I might swing back over there for further explorations since the place I’m staying now and the place I’ll be staying when I return to Paris (I’ll be joining my husband Bryan tomorrow for a quick family visit to Berlin, then to Saint Quentin en Yvellines where he’ll commence the Paris-Brest-Paris cycling event) are not too far away.

A mural on a wall on rue Faubourg St-Denis

Next, I head for 63 rue Faubourg St-Denis, at rue des Petits Ecuries, where Thomas Paine moved in 1793 to share the ground floor of a ‘mansion farmhouse’ with six friends. Paine wrote in glowing terms of the lifestyle there, and they had farm animals and grew fruits and vegetables, as that area was still pretty rural, and they would romp in the garden to take their minds off the tumult and violence in Paris. He was living here when he, with a committee of nine others, drafted a new constitution for France, though this one was unsuccessful: the Girondin faction which Paine worked with were moderates, while the radical Jacobins were gaining power and, over time, took over the Revolution entirely, instituting the Reign of Terror. (See update on the search for the rue Faubourg Saint-Denis house).

It’s unlikely that any part of the building that stands here now is original, either in whole or in part, given Paine’s description of it, and the current address may not the same as the historical one [this turns out to be the case]. The only fruits and vegetables to be obtained here now are from the colorful produce shops that line this now urban, rough-around-the-edges but vibrant and colorful part of the city. I think this neighborhood is wonderful, and it reminds me in many ways of the Mission district of San Francisco before it became mostly taken over by hipsters and tech people.

A view of rue Faubourg St-Denis

At 101 rue de Richelieu, Paris, France.

Next, I head down to rue de Richelieu in search of the place where Thomas Paine moved in with James Monroe’s family in November 1794. Monroe had finally secured Paine’s release from his eight-month imprisonment at the Luxembourg (I’ll return to this subject after I’ve visited that palace-turned-prison-turned-Senate house). Paine lived with the Monroes for about 2 years, not all of them here, since they moved more than once. At the time of his release, they lived at 101 rue de Richelieu, which begins at Bd. Montmarte where it meets Bd. Poissonere, in the 2nd Arrondissement.

At 101, I find a classy place, fit for an honored foreign dignitary, with a lovely courtyard with a lovely arched entryway, updated with a modern reflecting pool. Again, I’ll return to this street soon for further explorations, which will be easier next time since I’m now getting very familiar with this corner of Paris, and as I find more source material with which to confirm whether the numbers have changed. (See update to the search for the Monroe house on rue de Richelieu.)

Courtyard at 101 rue de Richelieu

An entryway to 101 rue de Richelieu

When Paine was released from prison, he was broken down in health and spirits: he had nearly died from typhus, and he had an open ulcer on his side that wouldn’t heal. He had also felt that his American friends in high places had deserted him, not doing what they could to rescue him from his predicament. He was especially upset with Gouverneur Morris, the ambassador (then ‘Minister Plenipotentiary’) to France at the time, and with president George Washington. Morris was the primary author of the preamble to the United States Constitution as well as many of its other sections and he was an able statesman, but the French government lacked confidence in him; he was recalled after they repeatedly requested he be replaced by another. From their writings, it appears that Paine and Morris alternately liked, respected, and loathed one another. Morris often writes very sarcastically about Paine, and though I’m quite the Paine fan-girl, I find some of his remarks very funny and witty, though others are just plain bitchy and catty.

While Paine did offer valuable assistance to Monroe (Morris’ replacement) in his role as the new American ambassador, Paine was at this time also, as an aftereffect of his imprisonment and disillusionment with the French Revolution, given to depression, anger, and paranoia, and as a result of all of these, binge drinking. He was to acquire a reputation as an alcoholic, but since these accusations came almost entirely from his political enemies during and after his lifetime, this characterization is suspect. His friends and colleagues describe him as a social drinker, wont to make merry in the evenings and engage in enthusiastic discussions about politics, science, and philosophical topics as long as anyone was willing.

I next head north to rue Taitbout and turn left on rue de la Victoire, and go to the grand house at 60 rue de la Victoire, which was 6 rue Chantereine in Paine’s time, in the 9th Arrondissement.

60 rue de la Victoire, once 6 Rue Chantereine, former Home of Napoleon and Josephine Bonaparte

It was likely in this house that Paine attended a party thrown by Julie and Francois-Joseph Talma in October 1792. The house was owned by Mrs. Talma, formerly Louise-Julie Carreau, and she held a famous salon here. Her husband was a well-known actor and passionate Revolutionary, friends with Jacques-Louis David (who, I was surprised to discover was among those who voted in favor of executing the King) and Napoleon Bonaparte, who moved into this house in 1796 with his new wife Josephine). Like Paine and Wollstonecraft, the Talmas were Girondinist in their sympathies, yet there was a ruckus between Paine and other attendees of the party, many of whom had begun to turn on this once-beloved muse and author of two revolutions.

Two Details of 60 rue de la Victoire, former Home of Napoleon and Josephine Bonaparte

The history of the French Revolution is, among other things, a prime example of how people, even as they see themselves pursuing the same lofty goals and are members of the same political party, just can’t seem to avoid petty infighting. This sort of thing undermines so many important projects, and as we see all too often, petty disagreements can devolve to self-righteousness and even blind radicalism over time. French culture, in that era especially, placed a high value on ‘sensibility’, valuing the free expressions of both raw and cultivated emotions. As we have also seen in the French Revolution, unbridled passion was very often allowed to trump reason. To Paine’s dismay, he watched the beloved Enlightenment campaign for rational democratic government, that he served so enthusiastically and so well, turn into a bloody campaign of vengeance and terror.

View of Église Notre-Dame de Lorette from Rue Lafitte, Paris, France

Side view of Opera Comique, Formerly Theatre Des Italiens

It was very near this place that Thomas Jefferson moved for awhile, eight years earlier in October 1784, on the cul-de-sac (impasse) Taitbout off rue La Fayette near rue St Georges. He signed a long-term lease at Hotel Landron, also called Hotel Taitbout, but only ended up living here for about one year. I explore this area very thoroughly, peeking into every courtyard, driveway, and byway I can find, but a hotel by this name is nowhere to be found so far as I can see. (By the way, ‘hotel’ wasn’t used in the same sense as we use it today: It could refer to a grand house or a large public building.) This area is very near where I’ll be staying next week, so I’ll return if I find more leads, and I’m looking ever more forward to doing so, it’s such a beautiful neighborhood.

Jefferson was an avid patron of the arts, and attended the theatre often while living in Paris to see plays and musical performances. He often went to the Theatre des Italiens, very near his Taitbout place on Boulevard des Italiens. There is no theatre today with that name, but I find Opera Comique in just about the right place. Could this be the same building? The building appears to be of the right vintage. I look into it, and sure enough, it is! It’s in the process of getting a facelift and a good cleaning, but the side entrance is in good repair and attractive with its lovely cast iron lacy canopy.

Opera Comique, formerly Theatre Des Italiens, Paris, France, under repair

I still have many sites I’ll be visiting throughout the course of the day, so I’ll take a break here.

To be continued in Part 2:  >>>


Sources and inspiration:

Adams, William Howard. The Paris Years of Thomas Jefferson. New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1997.

Bell, David. ‘5 Myths About the French Revolution‘, New York Post, Jul 9th, 2015.

Gordon, Lyndall. Vindication:  A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. New York: Harper Collins, 2006.

Grossman, Ira. ‘The House on the Rue de la Victoire
Jacobs, Diane. Her Own Woman: The Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

Jacoby, Susan. Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. New York: Owl Books, 2004.

Nelson, Craig. Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations. New York: Viking Penguin, 2006.

Todd, Janet. Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000

Tomalin, Claire. The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft. London: Weidenfield & Nicholson, 1974.’

French Revolution.’ Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia., Jul. 17 2015.

Williamson, Audrey. Thomas Paine: His Life, Work, and Times. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1973.

First Day in Paris Following Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson

My first rented room in Paris, France, following Paine, Wollstonecraft, and Jefferson

Sunday, August 9th, 2015

I arrive at Charles De Gaulle airport on Sunday afternoon, fairly well rested for once. Usually, I don’t sleep well on planes, and stumble off the walkway groggy and stupified. This time I slept about two thirds of the way through the 10 1/2 hour flight …not well, mind you, but much better than nothing. I attribute it to the ibuprofen tablets I took shortly before boarding, making the cramped quarters less painful to sleep in: my travel tip of the day! It was great to arrive and feel competent to navigate the trains, find my destination, and go out and start enjoying myself without delay.

At about 6pm, I meet my host Aurelia at 46 Rue Voltaire, a couple blocks down from Oberkampf station, in the 11th Arrondissement. She is sweet and helpful, and a practiced Airbnb-er: she has a series of photos on her iPhone at the ready so she can show me how to navigate the passageways, six flights of stairs, and unmarked doors to reach my mini apartment. The place is tiny, with the loft bed over the desk, the toilet tucked into a cubbyhole beside the shower, and the whole place the size of a small bedroom. On the whole, it suits me just fine, since it’s clean, private, and in a great neighborhood at a cheap price, but being somewhat tall and not used to these close quarters, I whack my head often.

Triomphe de la République, the sculpture at the Place de la Nation

I decide not to dive right in my historical adventures, but to take an aimless walk around instead, to get my bearings, wake up a little more, and re-immerse myself in this city which I last visited seven years ago on honeymoon. Right away, I find myself feeling a little wistful, feels odd to be here without Bryan. He’ll be joining me in a couple of days, so I console myself and head out.

I walk down Boulevard Voltaire in search of something better to eat than airplane food, which takes me awhile: most places are closed (usual in late July to mid-August, as my host informs me), until I get closer to Place de la Nation, which is is getting busier as the night crowd are starting to emerge. I find a boulangerie, where I pick up a butter croissant and another sweet one for tomorrow’s breakfast. I admire the sculpture, then turn up Boulevard Diderot, sit down for an Edelweiss (lightly tart beer), a couple of smokes (an old habit I like to indulge myself in on special occasions) and a little people-watching. It’s a lovely warm evening.

Latin dancers at the Quai St-Bernard along the Seine, Paris, France

I continue on towards the Seine, cross the Pont d’Austerlitz, and walk east along the river. In the park and sculpture garden on Quai St-Bernard, I happen upon masses of people dancing on three dance floors: the first was dedicated to the foxtrot, the other two to Latin dancing. One was huge, must have been well over a hundred people dancing until the sweat was dripping, ringed by crowds of spectators. I dare not join in the dancing: I can’t seem to learn steps to save my life, last time I took a dance class I caught the teacher apologizing to my assigned dance partner, probably for the bruises I pounded into his feet with my own.

The sunset is pink, orange, and gold against the blue sky and above the silver Seine as I pass by Notre Dame.

Gazing at the Île de la Cité from the Left Bank of Paris, France

On the bridge to the Île de la Cité, there was another crowd clapping and cheering for three performers, two on roller skates and one on rollerblades. In turn, they speed-skate up a ramp and over a crossbar set very high in the air, perhaps 15 feet or so.

As I’m reminded constantly on my evening stroll, Paris, like our Washington D.C., has not forgotten its nation’s Revolution. Its heroes and events are memorialized in the names of street after boulevard after avenue, in monument after statue after city square: Rue La Fayette, Place de la Bastille, Place de la Republique. So are its philosophes: along with Voltaire and Diderot, there’s Jean Jacque Rousseau, Montesquieu… even our own Thomas Jefferson is an honorary member of this elite company: his larger-than-life bronze sculpture adorns the Left Bank of the Seine.

Hôtel de Ville, Paris, France, on the right bank of the Seine

Other than some of the street names and monuments, my evening stroll took me by only one site
associated with a subject of my trip: the Hôtel de Ville, which has several connections with the life of Thomas Paine. It’s a very grand building, and looks both lovely and impressive all lit up at night, but it’s not the original building of Paine’s time. That one was burned down in another French revolution in 1871, in the same round of anti-monarchical arsonists that claimed the Tuileries palace and nearly claimed the Louvre.

I walk around the building to see if one of the statues in its many niches was Paine, but I can’t find one. It’s pretty dark out, though; the statues I see whose caption I can see in the half-light are all Frenchmen. However, Paine was a celebrity in France following his publication of Common Sense, which offered a comprehensive philosophical defense for the rightness of the cause for American Revolution, and again when he wrote The Rights of Man. His arguments resonated with many of the French people, who felt themselves chafing under a rigid hierarchical structure and high taxation maintained and imposed by an unchallengeable monarchy, aristocracy, and clergy. So it was at the Hotel de Ville on August 26, 1790 that the Paris Commune voted to make Paine an honorary citizen. When he returned to Paris in September of 1792, he was elected to the French National Convention; no matter that he couldn’t really speak French, one who so eloquently speaks for human freedom and dignity speak to all. So though he might be properly honored by a sculptural portrait here, so far as I can find out, he has none among the niches.

More to come soon: my next day in Paris is entirely dedicated to following in the footsteps of Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson. Stay tuned!  > Second Day, Part 1

Sources and inspiration:

Adams, William Howard. The Paris Years of Thomas Jefferson. New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1997.

Bell, David. ‘5 Myths About the French Revolution‘, New York Post, Jul 9th, 2015.

French Revolution.’ Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Gordon, Lyndall. Vindication:  A Life of Mary WollstonecraftNew York: Harper Collins, 2006.

Jacobs, Diane. Her Own Woman: The Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

Jacoby, Susan. Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. New York: Owl Books, 2004.

Nelson, Craig. Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations. New York: Viking Penguin, 2006.

Todd, Janet. Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000

Tomalin, Claire. The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft. London: Weidenfield & Nicholson, 1974.

Williamson, Audrey. Thomas Paine: His Life, Work, and Times. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1973.

To Paris, France I Go, In Search of Revolution-Era Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson

Hello, friends of Ordinary Philosophy!

From time to time, I take a trip to some corner of the globe, to explore the lives and ideas of great thinkers in the places where they lived and worked. For this series, I follow in the footsteps of thinkers who are no longer alive, since those who are still telling their own stories. But those who are no longer alive in the body live on in the ideas that they pass on, and in the example they provide for us to follow.

I’m pleased and excited to announce my fourth philosophical-historical themed adventure, this time in Paris, France to follow in the footsteps of Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson at the time of the French Revolution.

The French Revolution, following on the heels of the American Revolution, inspired and horrified many. The financial crisis, caused by over-expenditures in recent wars (including assistance to the Americans) and food shortages, caused by a series of crop failures, led to an uprising mostly of professionals and merchants, joined later by members of the laboring classes. The movement for reform called for disestablishment of the monarchy, who entangled the nation in wars and continued to spend lavishly in times of want, and for ending the special privileges of the aristocracy and clergy, whose tax exemptions often placed the heaviest financial burden on those who could least afford it.

Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson were three Enlightenment thinkers whose work is central in the intellectual legacy of modern human rights movements, and who were heavily influenced by the French Revolution. Paine, a British-born corset-maker who became involved in local politics and reform movements in his native country, in America, and in France, set down his political theory and freethought philosophy in Common Sense, The Rights of Man, and The Age of Reason. Mary Wollstonecraft, who was also born in England and also moved to Paris to take part in the revolutionary activism taking place there, followed Paine’s The Rights of Man with her Vindication of the Rights of Woman, now considered the founding work of the modern feminist movement. Thomas Jefferson, founding father of the United States and eventual President, was an American statesman living in Paris as the events leading up to the French Revolution unfolded, and continued to defend its core democratic values, if not all its tactics, even as it devolved to the bloody Terror.

So off to the Paris I go! There, from August 9th through the 21st, I’ll visit landmarks associated with their lives at this time, and see how the events that occurred at that time in the places where they lived, worked, died, thought, wrote, studied, rested, and played contributed to their thought during and after the Revolution.

~ Thank you, Ronnie Ruedrich and Mark Sloan, for your generous support

Here’s the story of the trip and related essays about these three thinkers and their ideas:

Thomas Jefferson Sites, Part 2: Williamsburg

Second day, April 20th

I drive down to Williamsburg, where Thomas Jefferson received much of his higher education, read law, and embarked on his political career. It’s a long drive of almost three hours each way, and I take advantage of much of the time to catch up on some research via podcast. (Thank you, inventor(s) of the podcast, I can’t tell you how many of my hours you made fascinating and happy!). The rest of the time, as is my wont, I sing loudly to myself.

Colonial Williamsburg is partly authentic restoration and partly tourist-pandering attraction: at times, it feels just a little more like a historically-themed street in Disneyland than a historical site. Perhaps because it’s a little too clean and tidy, with actors in period costumes incongruously mingling with tourists and very stage-ily reinacting Revolutionary-era colonial Virginia scenes. Many of the buildings are very obviously dedicated to hawking souvenirs.

But oh well, best not to be a hater. In a perfect world, perhaps, the public might fully finance the expensive restoration and upkeep of historic sites like this through taxes or donations. As it’s not a perfect world, ‘ye olde historickal shoppes’ and entertainment help keep the place afloat, and in the end, what matters is that it’s still here to be studied and enjoyed. The souvenir shops are not nearly as obnoxious as many others I’ve seen, the buildings are in excellent repair, the grounds are lovely and well cared for, and on the whole, I’m satisfied.

I make a loop around Colonial Williamsburg after buying maps and a vintage postcard for my mother-in-law (who’s trying her best to instill in me the virtue of thoughtfully sending postcards while traveling. It’s still tucked among my maps and notes. Sighhhh.). I start off with ice cream cone in hand, as it’s fairly hot and muggy for a spring day to a California gal like me. But there’s a nice breeze blowing, and the sky is blue.

I begin with George Wythe’s house.

Wythe was a lawyer and teacher, and instructed Jefferson in the law. He also helped Jefferson get started in politics, and was a co-revolutionary and lifelong friend as well. Like Jefferson, he believed that reason should determine who’s fit to rule, rather than heredity. He may have been, in fact, the single most influential person in Jefferson’s life which he actually met (in other words, not counting those whose ideas he studied), with the possible exception of James Madison.

Not only did Jefferson spend a good deal of time in this house in his years as a young law student in the early 1760’s, he lived in this house with his wife and little daughter for a while in 1776, soon after he drafted the Declaration of Independence, while he served in the Virginia House of Delegates.It’s a simple but handsome house, and I’d like to go inside but it’s a Monday just before the tourist season begins in earnest, and it’s closed for the day.

The Governor’s Palace, however, is open, and I take the tour. It’s a much more decorative building than most I’ve seen, but still made of the inevitable red bricks of native Virginia clay. It was designed and originally built in the early 1700’s.

But this actual building’s a reconstruction: the original building burned down in late 1781, almost 3 years after Jefferson moved into the Palace as governor of Virginia. A little under a year into his tenure, he moved out again, the government having moved to Richmond as a safety measure. The Revolutionary War was raging, the British were bringing the fight ever farther inland, and Jefferson had a young family now to protect.

Though Jefferson only lived in this house for about a year, he had already spent a lot of time here in as a student (he was a member of one of Virginia’s elite families) and later in his years as a lawyer and government official. He loved to play the violin, and Francis Fauquier, governor at the time, was a music enthusiast as well. Along with Wythe and another of Jefferson’s most beloved and admired teachers William Small, Fauquier took the talented young man under his wing, and the four would gather frequently under this roof (well, the original one anyway).Later on, Jefferson made many drawings of the Governor’s palace, ostensibly with the view of remodeling or upgrading it for his own planned tenure there, but the war changed his plans. Jefferson’s drawings would later aid in the reconstruction of the building in the 1930’s.

The gardens in the back of the palace are more formal than I like, laid out in geometric lines and aggressively pruned, but still nice to walk in on this sunny spring day.

I continue on, and make a counterclockwise loop around the town. It’s a lovely walk between the Governor’s palace and the next site I visit: I wander among green fields sprinkled with wildflowers, crisscrossed with paths, and bound with rough hewn fences; handsome old trees with tender young leaves, little bridges over winding streams, and Georgian and Federal style grand homes mostly made of that inevitable red brick interspersed with quaint little wood houses and outbuildings. I forget to take a picture of Peyton Randolph’s house, an imposing dark red brick, long, angular house, startled as I am by a carriage laden with sightseers which passes by me more closely than I would have liked. In fairness to the driver, I was distracted by site-seeking and more unaware of my general surroundings than safety might require. Randolph was a distant cousin and fellow Virginia politician, and Jefferson would surely have visited his house regularly.

Then to the Capitol Building.

Like the Governor’s Palace, the building that now stands is a meticulous reconstruction from the 1930’s, of the original building as it would have looked in Jefferson’s time and earlier. The British used it for military purposes during the Revolutionary War, since the government of Virginia had moved inland to Richmond, and the building fell into ruin from subsequent disuse. I really like its design, with its rounded ends and archways; it’s a refreshing break from the nearly unrelieved squareness of the rest of the architecture I’ve seen around here.

The original Capitol building witnessed many scenes of immense historical importance to the American colonies. Patrick Henry’s speech against the Stamp Act was greatly inspiring to Jefferson, who attended debates at the Capitol while still a law student, and who continued to admire Henry as an orator, if not as a serious intellectual or lawyer, for the rest of his life. Jefferson also spent a lot of time there as a member of the House of Burgesses, and with George Wythe, George Washington, and other leaders, debated and discussed issues related to the growing tensions with Britain, and how a possible split from the mother country could be brought about.

Then down the street to the Raleigh Tavern, this one a clapboard affair, and a reconstruction of the original.
As I arrive, I see a performance in progress, of several costumed ‘townspeople’ debating political issues of the days leading up to the Revolutionary War. I pick my way among the crowd and get as close a look as possible. Again, to my disappointment, it’s closed at the moment.

The Raleigh Tavern, like the Capitol building, also hosted many historically fraught scenes. Virginia and other colonial leaders met there regularly; George Washington frequented it often. Jefferson spent a lot of time there too: not only studying, lawyering, and politicking, but also wooing one of his earliest love interests. He was a romantic and a man of healthy sexual appetite, evidenced not only by the frequency of his wife’s pregnancies (which helped bring about her early death in 1782, at age 33) and his decades-long affair with Sally Hemings, but also the number of his romantic interests. At age 20, he danced there with Rebecca Burwell, where she rejected his (self-described) awkward declarations of love and devotion.Then onward along the square and across the row of pubs (which I note for future reference) to the Wren building at the College of William and Mary.

Jefferson enrolled here in 1760, a few days before he turned 17, to study moral philosophy, natural philosophy (as science was known then), and mathematics, until he went on the study law under (the aforementioned) George Wythe (William and Mary Colleges’ first law professor). He lived and studied in the Wren building itself. Ten years after he graduated, Jefferson drew up plans to improve and expand the Wren building, but as was the case with the Governor’s Palace, the Revolutionary War intervened, and the building looks like it did when Jefferson was a student, and not as Jefferson the architect imagined it.

The classrooms have a cozy or closed-in appearance, depending on your taste or mood, with dark, heavy wood paneling, lined with benches. Jefferson acquired much of the education he valued most highly at William and Mary under the instruction of his dearly loved teacher and friend William Small. In later years, he was sometimes admiring of, and sometimes critical of, the college in his writings. He thought it among the best educational institutions American parents could send their children to, because it had such excellent professors as Small and Wythe. Yet he was critical of the addition of its school for Christianizing Native Americans, and thought its location and resources insufficient for providing adequately for the intellectual and physical well-being of its students. As he critiqued William and Mary, he formulated plans for an institution of higher learning which he would later realize (more in a later post about that).

For all its Jefferson-described limitations, this college boasts many of the most famous graduates in early American history (as you can see from the Wren building’s proudly displayed plaques pictured below): Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Payton Randolph, George Wythe, and Edmund Randolph, among others.

After touring the central rooms of the building, open to the general public even though classes are in session as I explore, I leave the Wren building and William and Mary grounds and return to the row of pubs I had passed a little while ago. I choose the Trellis Bar and Grill, since the charmingly named Dog Street Pub with the cute sign isn’t seating people outside at the moment; they seem to be setting up for the dinner beer garden. The Trellis serves a favorite ale of mine (Ommegang Hennepin saison) and after all, one can’t visit a college town and not have a beer, right?

I cool my throat with the tasty cold brew and relax my slightly achy traveling feet as I edit my photo roll and write up some notes of today’s trip.

The breeze, having turned into a gusty wind, bring clouds and a few drops; the air feels soft and velvety and seems to indicate a coming storm. Time to make the long drive back to Takoma Park, where I’m staying, at the north edge of D.C. On the way home, I witness the most spectacular lightning storm I’ve seen in years (we don’t see those much in California) and a fairly brief yet dramatic hail-and-rain-and-wind-storm. Though I’m a little nervous as the wind shakes my tiny little rental car around and the rain renders me a little blind, I’m enjoying it more than not as I take shelter in a fast-food barbecue joint (kinda good, kinda gross, as you might expect), and feel it’s been an excellent adventuresome day.

To be continued…

*Listen to the podcast version here or on iTunes


Sources and Inspiration: 

“Capitol (Williamsburg, Virginia).” Wikipedia contributors. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.,_Virginia%29

Colonial Williamsburg, website of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Jefferson: Writings. Compiled by The Library of America, New York: Penguin Books.

Jenkinson, Clay. The Thomas Jefferson Hour. Podcast.

Meacham, Jon. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. New York: Random House, 2012.

‘Timeline of Jefferson’s Life’. Website of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

Traveling Philosophy Series, Thomas Jefferson Edition: Prologue

As I sit here in the airport terminal in Salt Lake City, waiting for one of my connecting flights to DC, I sleepily munch on French fries and watch the crowd go by. My ever-generous darling awoke with me at three thirty this morning to drive me to the airport, and though I’m almost too tired to think, I can’t sleep either, as is usually the case at the beginning of a trip (I can usually sleep on the way home).

So as I’m watching the crowd, I’ve got Thomas Jefferson in the back of my mind, as I’ve been immersing myself in biographies, lectures, discussions, and author’s talks about his life and thought over the last couple of weeks. On the first leg of my trip, I had just been re-reading the first chapters of Susan Jacoby’s marvelous Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, in which Jefferson’s Enlightenment philosophy, his Deism, and his efforts to enshrine a robust conception of human rights and separation of church and state in state and federal law play a large role.

A strong belief in the basic natural goodness and perfectibility of humankind underlie Jefferson’s view of human nature and his political philosophy. In the airport, I see those traits personified which would justify Jefferson’s faith in humanity if they were as universal as he hoped. I see cooperation, courtesy, patience, and friendliness abound: people chat freely with others they just met; others stand in line and in crowded aisles with forbearance, and courteously let others go ahead of them, or step around them with a smile, if they are burdened with children or slowed by age or disability; still others helpfully pick up a bag or a scarf dropped by a fellow passenger in a hurry to get their things so as not to delay others. I just saw a man give up the standby seat he had just won to the woman who had forfeited it, who was on the verge of tears because she arrived mere moments before her flight was due to take off.

I also see a wide diversity of race, culture, and creed represented in the crowd peacefully assembled here, cooperating seamlessly with one another, which the slaveowning-yet-abolitionist-yet-repatriationist Jefferson thought impossible (more on these contradictions in a later piece). He didn’t think, for one thing, that people of different races could live harmoniously in one place, not to mention his dim view of women’s ability to fully engage in public life and the professional world! I see an elderly woman murmur fervent prayers in a low voice to an image of a Hindu saint (I think) perched on the bag in her lap, with no-one protesting or even batting an eye; I see a black woman with a cross prominently displayed on her bosom accept instructions from the woman of apparent Middle Eastern descent at the podium, and then share pleasantries with her; I see a young white apparently Mormon man praising the sweet looks and winning personality of the child of Indian parents across the aisle, comparing her virtues to those of his own children at home; I sit next to two women, smelling of stale smoke, missing a few teeth, and wearing cheap clothes, happy, chatting, and smiling about the adventure they’re embarking on, without any show of feeling out of place next to the obviously much wealthier woman sitting next to them on the other side (and who, in turn, shows no sign of noticing or even caring about ‘rubbing shoulders’ with those of a different economic class). I see a young female pilot stride confidently down the aisle, a young boy gazing at her admiringly.

This airport, right now, in so many ways, is the America of Jefferson’s dreams, in some ways realizing his rather idealistic view of human nature, and in many more ways surpassing it. I wish he could see it right now, to relish this justification of his hopes for what his country could be, and to learn that human nature is capable of being even better than he thought possible. But when I think about all that’s going on in the world right now, I know we still have a long way to go. For now, I’m not going to dwell on that. I’m just going to enjoy this microcosm of human goodness I find myself in right now.

*Listen to the podcast version here or on iTunes

To Washington DC, Virginia, and Philadelphia I Go, In Search of Thomas Jefferson

Hello, friends of Ordinary Philosophy!

From time to time, I take a trip to some corner of the globe, to explore the lives and ideas of great thinkers in the places where they lived and worked. For this series, I follow in the footsteps of thinkers who are no longer alive, since those who are still telling their own stories. But those who are no longer alive in the body live on in the ideas that they pass on, and in the example they provide for us to follow.

I’m pleased and excited to announce my third philosophical-historical themed adventure, this time in Washington DC, Philadelphia, and various sites in Virginia to follow in the footsteps of…. you may have guessed it… Thomas Jefferson!

Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13th, 1743, and in his long life, he accomplished more than most. He was a founding father of the United States, and went from being a young scholar, lawyer, and representative in the Virginia House of Burgesses, to writing the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, to public service as a congressman, as Minister to France, as Secretary of State, as Vice President to friend and rival John Adams, and finally as third president of the United States. Throughout his life, among many other things, he was an inventor, amateur scientist, farmer, avid reader, architect, naturalist, author, founder of the University of Virginia, and of course, philosopher.

He was a fascinatingly complex and contradictory figure: a self-described shy and modest man with a distaste for politics, who time and time again re-entered the strident political arena of his day to eventually reach the highest office in the land; a critic of the national debt and of too much federal power and a strict Constitutional constructionist, who helped create a stronger national government in the first place, and who flouted the Constitution and further indebted the nation to make the Louisiana Purchase; a promoter of personal liberty and a slaveowner; an idealist and a pragmatist.

So off to the east coast I go! There, I’ll visit landmarks associated with his life, and places where he lived, worked, died, thought, wrote, studied, and rested.

I’ll be traveling there from April 18th through the 26th, and will be writing throughout the trip. I’ll be writing not only about his ideas, but about what I can discover about his everyday life in these places, and whatever feeling of the time and place I can capture.

Here’s the story of the trip, and related essays about Jefferson and his ideas:

To New York City I Go, In Search of Ernestine Rose and Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Hello, friends of Ordinary Philosophy!

I’m pleased and excited to announce my upcoming adventure: my second philosophical-historical themed adventure, this time to New York City!

In case you missed my first go-round in my series of philosophy-travel pieces, here’s my plan:

So I’m taking a series of trips to places around the world, where I explore the lives and ideas of great thinkers in the places where they lived and worked. I’ll follow in the footsteps of thinkers who are no longer alive, since those who are still telling their own stories. But those who are no longer alive in the body live on in the ideas that they pass on, and in the example they provide for us to follow.

For this next installment, I’ll be following Ernestine Rose and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, two of the greatest founders of the women’s rights movement. Elizabeth was born in New York state, and lived many years in New York City, where she also died. Ernestine was born in Poland (so at some point, I hope to make it to Poland and write an ‘Ernestine Rose, Part 2 series!) and lived for many years in New York City, and though she did not live in the United States for all of her life, much of her most important work on behalf of women was done here. So off to New York City I go! There, I’ll visit significant landmark associated with their lives, places where they lived, worked, died, thought, wrote, studied, and rested.

I’ll be traveling there from October 29th through November 2, and will be writing throughout the trip. I’ll be writing not only about their ideas, but about what I can discover about their everyday lives here, and whatever feeling of their time and place I manage to uncover.

If you have any questions for me to answer while I’m there, or pictures you’d like me to take for you, or any information you have that could help me with this project, I’d love to hear from you!

Follow Ernestine Rose and Elizabeth Cady Stanton with me:

Ernestine Rose and Elizabeth Cady Stanton: A Brief History
Ernestine Rose and Elizabeth Cady Stanton Sites, NYC, Part 1
Ernestine Rose and Elizabeth Cady Stanton Sites, NYC, Part 2
Ernestine Rose and Elizabeth Cady Stanton Sites, NYC, Part 3
In Her Own Words: Solitude of Self, by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1892
In Her Own Words: A Defense of Atheism, by Ernestine Rose, 1861

For more about Elizabeth Cady Stanton at Ordinary Philosophy, please visit:

Frederick Douglass Albany, Troy, and Syracuse NY Sites
Frederick Douglass Seneca Falls, Canandaigua, Honeoye, and Mt Hope Cemetery Sites
Is Feminism Passe? No! Cries A Distinct Lack of Statuary

And about Ernestine Rose and Elizabeth Cady Stanton:

Philosophy and Early Feminist Thought

To Edinburgh I Go, In Search of David Hume

Hello, friends of Ordinary Philosophy! I’m pleased and excited to announce my upcoming adventure: my first philosophical-historical themed adventure, and my first trip to Edinburgh, Scotland!

Here’s my plan:

I’m taking a series of trips to places around the world, where I explore the lives and ideas of great thinkers in the places where they lived and worked. I’ll follow in the footsteps of thinkers who are no longer alive, since those who are still telling their own stories. But those who are no longer alive in the body live on in the ideas that they pass on, and in the example they provide for us to follow.

I’ve decided to start with the philosopher I most admire as a person as well as a thinker, the great David Hume. He was not only revered for the brilliance of his ideas and his honesty in presenting them, but also as a premier example of a genial, generous, great-hearted person; so much so, in fact, that one of his closest friends nicknamed him ‘Saint David’.

Hume is often described as the greatest philosopher to write in English and among the greatest philosophers of all time, period. He was a central figure in the Scottish Enlightenment, and a profoundly influential empiricist and moral philosopher

So off to beautiful Edinburgh I go! There, I’ll visit the places where he worked, thought, wrote, studied, and rested. I’ll be traveling there in the first two weeks of May, and will be writing throughout the trip. I’ll be writing in this blog not only about his ideas, but about what I can discover about his everyday life, and whatever feeling of his time and place I manage to uncover in my time there.

If you have any questions for me to answer while I’m there, or pictures you’d like me to take for you, or any information you have that could help me with this project, I’d love to hear from you!


Here are my essays on Hume as I discover him in my travels, in (roughly) chronological order:

First Day in Old Edinburgh: Hume Sites and Monuments
Hume’s New Scene of Thought, and, It’s Good to Be Able to Say ‘I Don’t Know’
Hume Sites and Monuments, Part 2
The Consolations of Philosophy, and A Death Free from Fear
Happy 303rd Birthday, David Hume!
Cycling Through Edinburgh, First Time
The Debate Over Government and Freedom
The Tale of the Magic Toe – Superstition? Or What?
Hume Sites and Monuments, Part 3
Water of Leith
Last Day in Edinburgh, May 13th, 2014
Hume, Aristotle, and Guns
and a memory quilt I created for my 2014 Edinburgh trip: A Hill and a Wall in Edinburgh, 2015, 102″ x 69″
Chirnside and Ninewells, Scottish Borders, Childhood and Summer Home of David Hume

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