Happy Birthday, Thomas Jefferson!

Thomas Jefferson by Charles Bird King, 1836, after Gilbert Stuart, at the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Photo 2016 by Amy Cools

As I rest after completing my term papers, exploring the highlands and islands of Scotland with my dear friends, I find I have little time to write and even less time with good internet connection. So let me share some old things with you, friends, until I can write and record for O.P. again.

In remembrance of Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826) on his birthday, here are my tributes to his memory, his life, and his ideas from over the years:

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

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

and my thrilling interview with Clay Jenkinson, Jefferson scholar, of just over two years ago

Interview with Clay Jenkinson as Thomas Jefferson

I hope you enjoy following me as I followed in the footsteps of Jefferson!

~ Ordinary Philosophy is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Any support you can offer will be deeply appreciated!

Happy Birthday, Thomas Jefferson!

Thomas Jefferson by Charles Bird King, 1836, after Gilbert Stuart, at the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Photo 2016 by Amy Cools

In remembrance of Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826) on his birthday, I’ll share my tributes to his memory, his life, and his ideas: my traveling philosophy / history of ideas series

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

and

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

and my thrilling interview with Clay Jenkinson, Jefferson scholar, last year

Interview with Clay Jenkinson as Thomas Jefferson

I hope you enjoy following me as I follow in the footsteps of Jefferson!

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. Please offer your support today!

Photobook: What’s Past is Prologue

What's Past is Prologue statue, National Archives in Washington DC, 2015 Amy Cools

Future, 1935, by sculptor Robert Ingersoll Aitken, at the National Archives building in Washington, D.C.. The inscription is from William Shakespeare’s line ‘What’s past is prologue’ from The Tempest, Act 2, Scene I, spoken by Antonio as he and Sebastian plot the murder of Alonso, King of Naples

I took this photograph while in Washington D.C. in April 2015 following the life and ideas of Thomas Jefferson; to read more about Jefferson and our nation’s capital, click here.

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, entirely supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

New Podcast Episode: Frederick Douglass Washington DC Sites, Day 1, Part 1

Statue and quote at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

Statue and quote at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

Listen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

Thirteenth Day, Friday April 1st

I begin at Cedar Hill in Anacostia, Frederick Douglass’ handsome, gabled house on a hill overlooking Washington DC. He moved here with Anna and the kids in September of 1878, having lived in the capital city of Washington for a little over six years. In a sense, the Douglasses didn’t really move out of Washington when they moved into their new suburban home east of the Anacostia River. Anacostia, called Uniontown in the mid-1800’s then switched back again, was part of the District of Columbia, which in turn was larger than Washington and encompassed it. When the boundaries of Washington and the District of Columbia became one and the same in 1878, the Douglasses’ Anacostia home became a Washington city home then too.

It’s another lovely day, again the sky is partly cloudy, the air soft and warm and a little breezy, freshly washed by the morning’s rain. The cold weather I had shivered in for much of the first half of my trip is nearly forgotten.

The National Park Service now owns and runs the house, the grounds, and the visitor center and museum, collectively called The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. I take a brief look at the outside of the house, then stop at the visitor center and sign up for the guided tour which will start shortly. I take another brief look around while I wait, and note the displays and artifacts I want to examine more closely when I return to the visitor center museum…. Read the full account here:

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, entirely supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

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

Sincerely,

Amy Cools

 

Thomas Jefferson Sites, Part 1: Washington, D.C., First Day

First day, Sunday April 19th:

I get a late start on my first day. But that’s okay: I’ve long since made it my policy to get my rest at the beginning of a trip because three things happen when I’m sleep-deprived: 1) I’m cranky and don’t enjoy myself fully 2) It’s much harder to take in everything and remember it, and 3) I lose my sense of direction and ability to read maps. Since I need to have my good spirits and my thinking, remembering, and map-reading capabilities intact for the purposes of this trip, I sleep in. I get a late start on my first day. But that’s okay: I’ve long since made it my policy to get my rest at the beginning of a trip because three things happen when I’m sleep-deprived: 1) I’m cranky and don’t enjoy myself fully 2) It’s much harder to take in everything and remember it, and 3) I lose my sense of direction and ability to read maps. Since I need to have my good spirits and my thinking, remembering, and map-reading capabilities intact for the purposes of this trip, I sleep in.

When I finally get a move on, I head over to the Mall, and start with:

 
– The Jefferson Memorial 
It’s neoclassical in design, inspired by the ancient Greek and Roman architecture that Jefferson loved. It’s also tall, well-appointed, classy, and full of memorable quotes… like the man himself. He would also appreciate its open-air design, its setting among trees and on the water: he was quite the outdoorsman, as studious and writerly as he was. And he would love to see the crowds that visit the site continuously, people from all walks of life, admiring the building and the grounds, resting on the steps, discussing the thoughts expressed on the walls.

Jefferson would probably have protested the idea of setting up such a grand monument to himself, something so close to a shrine or a temple; he described himself as a modest man. But it’s also clear, despite his protestations to the contrary, that he enjoyed being admired, that he sought love and approval from others. I think he’d look on this monument with secret pride and gratification, and would praise its hospitable openness to the public, as available to them as he made himself and the White House during the years of his presidency, and its edification to the people’s sense of beauty and the intellect.

I visit the museum beneath the memorial, which gives an overview of his life, times, and ideas. Jefferson was born at Shadwell in Albemarle County, Virginia in 1743, his father a successful planter, his mother from a well-connected, wealthy family. Jefferson was educated at home by tutors and at boarding schools as a youth, and studied law at William and Mary College. He entered public life early, elected to Virginia’s House of Burgesses at age 25. His tenure as a public servant lasted over 40 years, from congressman to minister to France to Secretary of State to President. All the while, he was a farmer, amateur scientist, inventor, architect, writer, philosopher, and whatever else captured his imagination, more details of which will come up in later posts.

As I leave Jefferson’s memorial, I waver in deciding where to go next: do I abandon the Mall and go immediately in search of other sites associated with Jefferson’s life, or do I continue on my way? It’s really a beautiful day, a bit windy, perhaps, but it’s fairly warm and there’s still some cherry blossoms left on the trees and wildflowers scattered all around the Mall’s park grounds.

I decide do something a little different this time: I usually stick to writing about the sites more or less directly related to the people I’m writing about, be it sites they visited themselves or sites created by others in their memory. But it occurs to me that I’m surrounded by memorials to people who, in addition to carrying out their own vision, carried out something of Jefferson’s vision as well. Nearly all American civic and moral leaders since Jefferson’s time reference his ideas when promoting their own, and cite his authority in carrying out their political missions. That’s to be expected: none of the members of our nation’s founding generation addressed so many matters of public concern, wrote or helped to write so many of its founding documents, explained the philosophy behind our form of government and our bill of rights so throughly, helped formulate the political structure of our government, and personally lived out our promises, our strengths, our contradictions, and our weaknesses as a nation as Thomas Jefferson, with the possible exception of James Madison and John Adams.

And no others were as widely influential, and who, while a de facto aristocrat, was more of a man of the people than Jefferson, with the possible exception of… (and who, by the way, laid the cornerstone of the Jefferson Memorial…)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

…FDR!A year or so ago, I first listened to an utterly fascinating episode of the Thomas Jefferson Hour discussing how Jeffersonian ideals may only be realizable by non-Jeffersonian means. It’s a radio show and podcast by Jefferson scholar and historian Clay Jenkinson (one of my all-time favorite podcasts, I’ve listened to every one that I could get ahold of at least once, often two or three times, except the ones about gardening, since I have no yard and hence, no garden). I recently went back and listened to again. It’s a discussion on Jefferson’s letters to Madison, and one in particular, after he had spent some years in Paris before the French Revolution. Jefferson discussed the dangerous political situation in France that resulted from a long history of a powerful and wealthy few systematically gobbling up most of the nation’s wealth and political power for themselves, leaving the majority of the population destitute. It was only a matter of time, Jefferson pointed out, before the people could take no more, and would inevitably rise up violently against their oppressors.

It’s always been the case that there will be some portion of a nation’s population that lack sufficient humanity, that are greedy and rapacious, and their thirst for power and hunger for wealth will drive them to spend their lives getting as much as they can, regardless of how many others they must harm to get it. Others might not be so purposeful in their predations, but their shortsighted efforts to increase their own personal gains without a though for the welfare of others, or a blind faith that the market will alwasy correct itself, often lead to the same harmful results. Because of this, Jefferson explains, it might very well be necessary for society to engage in some sort of redistribution of wealth.

Given Jefferson’s background as a passionate promoter of states’ rights and his fear of a too-powerful central government, this might come as a surprise to the modern reader, as it was to me when I first heard Jenkinson’s podcast on the subject, and read the letter for myself. But Jefferson was a believer in John Locke’s theory of natural rights, as Jenkinson explains, and in particular, in his theory of property rights. Our primary property right is the right of subsistence, to have enough to provide for one’s own needs, to preserve the health of one’s body and of mind. Our secondary property rights allows for the accumulation of wealth beyond that needed to maintain a happy and healthy existence, but we may only take advantage of secondary property rights if they do not infringe on the primary property rights of others.

This is the key point of property rights that many overlook today, especially those who select from Jefferson’s writings, especially his early writings before the evidence of the dysfunctional and unraveling French society tempered his views, to support their ideas about small government and absolute rights of property and contract. But Franklin Delano Roosevelt, like his progressive cousin Theodore Roosevelt, realized that the pursuit of personal gain without respect for to the primary property rights of others led to a society that systematically placed Jefferson’s ideals of a self-sufficient, educated, free citizenry out of the reach of too many people. Teddy Roosevelt, initially a more strait-laced conservative, had toured the slums of New York City, and had seen for himself how the ruthless, unrestrained pursuit of profit led to the impoverishment, sickness, and death of so many people, rendered easily exploitable by circumstance. In response, he changed his mind about the extent of rights of contract and made some reforms. Spurred on by the Great Depression, FDR carried forward the progressive vision of his cousin and overhauled the whole system, enlarging the government so it would work better for the ordinary citizen in the way Jefferson had hoped a small government would.

– Martin Luther King Jr Memorial

MLK was quite the wordsmith; besides revealing extraordinary personal bravery in the face of repeated and threatened imprisonment as well as death threats, he had a way, like Jefferson, of putting things.There are many of his memorable quotes engraved on the walls surrounding his memorial. One that’s not engraved on his memorial (but I think should be) is the one that links most directly to Jefferson and that stands out in both succinctness and explanatory power: his analogy of the promissory note from his great ‘I Have a Dream Speech’ of 1963.

At the time they were written and first put into action, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution increased the liberty of very few people. In severing themselves from Great Britain, the leaders of our new country mostly secured more rights for themselves and those like them: landowners, lawyers, merchants, and so on. The ordinary colonist lived more or less the same life just after the Constitution was ratified as before. Most free men could not vote since they were not property owners and/or were not fully literate, and no women or slaves at all could vote. Same for members of some religious minorities; this situation was one of the first political injustices to be reformed. Taxes went to a new set of leaders almost as far removed from the reality of most Americans as before. In other words, ‘taxation without representation’ was still the rule rather than the exception in the newly United States of America.

As MLK pointed out, the promissory note promising ‘liberty and justice for all’ remained unpaid: for black people, for other ethnic and racial minorities, for women, for working people. He revealed, in an eloquent and moving way (aided by his experience as a preacher), how the words of the Declaration of Independence rang hollow since ‘all …are created equal’ was not manifested in law, attitudes, and practice in the lives of far too many American people.

While he reviled and wrote and fought against slavery as a young lawyer and politician, giving up the fight after years of unsuccessful opposition to (and I add, hypocritically enjoying the benefits of) of what he called the ‘abominable crime’ of slavery, Jefferson also believed the races could not live together in peace and friendship. MLK dreamed otherwise.

 Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln, unlike Jefferson, was a man brought up in poverty, and had little formal education in his youth. Like Jefferson, he was largely self-motivated and self-taught in his advanced education, and like Jefferson, hated slavery as a young man and spoke passionately and eloquently against it, only to waffle on the issue in his later years somewhat for reasons of personal bias, and even more for political reasons. Fortunately, yet again unlike Jefferson, he came back around, and did what Jefferson had hoped and predicted future generations would do.
The violence of the Civil War was as horrific as were the centuries of slavery that proceeded it; while it’s debatable whether it could have been averted or that it was the inevitable outcome of the discrepancy between the practice of slavery, the political and moral theory informing our founding documents, and the individual human longing for freedom, Lincoln, like MLK, recognized the societal moral debt that remained unpaid, using the rhetoric of blood redemption in the words of his second inaugural address, immortalized on the right wall of his memorial: ‘…shall [the Civil War] continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-men’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn by the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”

And as Jefferson pointed out in his letters referring to the bloody Revolution in France, it would be unrealistic to expect that the struggle for freedom against such a deeply entrenched, cruel, and oppressive institution would be pleasant or easy. Jefferson famously wrote ‘The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.’ I hope he’s wrong when it comes to the future, though he was not wrong about the revolutions of his own time and about the worsening effects of slavery on society. There’s an excellent book I often refer to, Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature (a phrase borrowed from Lincoln) which, as the book’s subtitle Why Violence Has Declined suggests, indicate that, among other things, the free(ish) market world economy, the scientific and human rights revolutions, and the advances in communications are making the world a much more peaceful place than it ever has been. Perhaps these advances will give many more of us the potential to become as informed, as cosmopolitan, and as courteous as Jefferson himself.

I had come to the end of my tour of the memorials.
Between visiting the MLK and Lincoln Memorials, I had swung around to the left to see if I could stop by what is now know as Theodore Roosevelt Island, known in Jefferson’s time as Analostan. He used to visit his friend John Mason, who had a farm and mansion there. The 66 connects it to the mainland, and there’s a footpath on the bridge.

It was a blustery walk, to say the least, and I discovered that footpath reaches across, but not down to, the island. I’ll return to visit another time. But looking back, I could plainly see TJ’s memorial between the trees.My Uncle Bob, who lives in nearby Fall’s Church, Virginia, picked me up to take me on a little driving tour and then to dinner. I’m fond of my Uncle Bob, tall, handsome (a common trait of the Cools’), courteous, old-fashioned in his sensibilities and speech, seemingly grave and imposing with his deep and slightly thick voice (I was a little scared of him as a child, funny to think of that now!), but with an enthusiasm that would rival any small child’s when it comes to seeing something beautiful or discussing a subject he loves. He has a good sense of humor.
On our way around the Mall, we passed by the corner of C and New Jersey Streets, where Conrad and McMunn’s boarding house was. Jefferson lived there for a while when he was Vice President, but the building no longer stands. I check it off my list. The rest of the evening is devoted to non-Jeffersonian-themed touring and dinner.

To be continued….

*Listen to the podcast edition here or on iTunes

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sources and Inspiration: 

Jacoby, Susan. Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. New York: Owl Books, 2004.
http://us.macmillan.com/freethinkers/susanjacoby

Jenkinson, Clay. The Thomas Jefferson Hour. Podcast.
http://www.jeffersonhour.com/listen.html

King, Martin Luther, Jr. ‘I Have A Dream’ Speech, 1963.
http://www.ushistory.org/documents/i-have-a-dream.htm

Meacham, Jon. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. New York: Random House, 2012.
http://www.jonmeacham.com/books/thomas-jefferson-the-art-of-power/

‘Timeline of Jefferson’s Life’. Monticello.org. Website of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.
http://www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/timeline-jeffersons-life

‘Washington, D.C.: Sites Associated with Thomas Jefferson’. Monticello.org. Wiki, Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

http://wiki.monticello.org/mediawiki/index.php/Washington,_D.C.
 

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: