- Series: American Poltical Thought
- Paperback: 184 pages
- Publisher: Univ Pr of Kansas (November 19, 1984)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0700602933
- ISBN-13: 978-0700602933
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #928,665 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Radical Politics of Thomas Jefferson
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"One of the most provocative studies of Jefferson of the last thirty years. Effectively challenges the received wisdom of Jefferson's politics—and more generally on the origins of American democracy—in refreshing and wholly original ways."—Sean Wilentz, author of Chants Democratic "Elegant and compelling. . . . On the leading edge of the field."—John M. Murrin, coauthor of Colonial America
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"One of the most provocative studies of Jefferson of the last thirty years. Effectively challenges the received wisdom of Jefferson's politics--and more generally on the origins of American democracy--in refreshing and wholly original ways."--Sean Wilentz, author of Chants Democratic
"Elegant and compelling. . . . On the leading edge of the field."--John M. Murrin, coauthor of Colonial America
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First, in the colonial era, capitalism existed in only a fledgling form. Citizens, especially elites, were seen to have an obligation for public concerns, not simply those of the marketplace. The underpinnings of democracy can be seen in Jefferson's words in the DOI concerning the equality of all men and government based on consent. In fact, those words are often seen as providing cover for the absence of democracy in modern America. Democracy is at heart a communitarian concept, but individualism, self-interest, and property rights trump collective social concerns in America. Jefferson, perhaps the foremost political theorist of the founding era, nowhere systematically laid out a complete political philosophy. However, in examining thousands of documents, the author shows that Jefferson had a political vision for democracy beyond the other founders, and not much realized today.
Jefferson held that man is naturally sociable with an innate moral sense capable of adapting and learning with the capacity for self-government. Jefferson was enamored with New England townships and Indian tribal councils that were small enough for all residents to actually participate in self-governance. He proposed wards at the sub-county level as the primary political division, as well as the locus for general education and militia units. To avoid political dependence, he advocated for all men to own at least 50 acres of land, given by the state if need be. However, Jefferson was hardly a Lockean private property advocate. The pursuit of happiness should be the aim for mankind, not accumulations of property and goods in an unforgiving marketplace. In fact, he seriously proposed the rewriting of the Constitution every generation, or every 19 yrs, contending that the laws of the dead should not bind the living including property arrangements. In other words, community should constantly be renewed. Jefferson would be disdainful of current concerns with original intent.
There is a great deal of room to nitpick these ideas of Jefferson in today's context. Most obvious is the urbanization of America. His reliance on farming as the backbone of America would have to be modified. Unfortunately, Jefferson never had the chance to adjust his views of democracy in the face of industrialization and the rise of the monolithic corporation. Furthermore, there is his faith in the common man to question. He was a highly educated social elite; his confidence in ordinary men may have been more wishful than realistic.
There have been many groups through the years, including both New Deal liberals and rural militia men which have claimed Jefferson as their own, though most of them have not fully grasped his thinking. The author makes perfectly clear that Jefferson was not a Madisonian liberal, a prevalent view. This small book is an excellent contribution to clarifying the views of Jefferson.
Jefferson saw the American Revolution as a fulfillment not only of Locke,and Sidney, but also saw it as a new begining for liberated man. This new begining would constantly renew the faith of the American Revolution through periodic change in laws and constitutions. Jefferson wanted to preserve liberty by extending democratic republicanism to virtually all white males through his granting of 50 acres of land to every man in Virginia in the belief that property ownership would secure the liberty fought for in the Revolution. Jefferson's proposals to abolish primogeniture and entail are radical attepts to equalize property relations by as he put it " to put all on an equal footing". This was to increase propery ownership by allowing estates to be given to more than just the eldest son.
Next is Jefferson's "ward republics". This proposal Jefferson saw as his most important. The ward would be the basic unit on democratic government. Similar to New England Townships, these wards would allow for participation in the affairs of society right down to it closest level. Public schools, militia duty, opposition to tyranny from other branches of government could all be begun here. He also included the "care of the poor" and "care of the roads". This proposal I consider as one of his most profound of democratic ideals.
Matthews books is fantastic it illuminates these ideals in the freat Mr Jefferson. A great buy.