Friday, April 14, 2006

The Real Thomas Jefferson

David N. Mayer of MayerBlog posted "Thomas Jefferson, Man vs. Myth" yesterday in observance of the 263rd anniversary of Jefferson's birth. Mayer debunks a lot of bunk that's been written -- and believed -- about Jefferson, including his standing as the "father of American democracy":

Many people today – including historians, political scientists, and even Jefferson scholars – misunderstand Jefferson’s commitment to republicanism and particularly his advocacy of “self-government,” confusing it with democracy. But democracy is government by the majority of the people; republican government is government by the representatives of the people; and limited, constitutional, republican government – the American system – is government by the people’s representatives whose power is limited by various constraints imposed by the constitution. “Self-government,” as Jefferson understood it, meant, literally, individuals governing themselves, without the interference of government. Early in his presidency Jefferson wrote, “Our people in a body are wise, because they are under the unrestrained and unperverted operation of their own understandings.” He viewed the United States as the leading model to the world for “the interesting experiment of self‑government”; that it was the nation’s destiny to show the world “what is the degree of freedom and self‑government in which a society may venture to leave it's individual members.” To “leave” them to do what? To be free – to govern themselves.

Mayer, who devotes a section of the post to a clear-eyed assessment of Jefferson (no idolator is Mayer), also writes about the Sally Hemings myth and several aspects of Jefferson's belief system, including his deism and embrace of free markets. Read the whole thing.