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Huzzah, and a happy Independence Day!

And in the spirit of independence, I'm going to go ahead and disagree with you that "almost singlehandedly defeating the Federalist agenda of establishing an American social and political aristocracy" helped to pave the way for modern America. Rather, the way for modern America was paved by the struggle between Federalists and Anti-Federalists -- we've benefited from the one as much as from the other, and the struggle between the two is what really paved the way for what we have now.

After all, if Jefferson has triumphed completely, we'd all be farmers living some idyllic agricultural lifestyle, and the Constitution would never have been ratified as it was.

Arwyn, I'd have to do some US History reading to really make an informed statement, but my impression is that the Fed/Anti-Fed debate took place in newspapers and state ratifying conventions in 1787-88 as the fight over the Constitution played out. Once the national government formed under Washington, those divisions abated for years, and only emerged as a nascent party system (the Democratic Republicans coalescing around Jefferson) toward the end of Washington's first term. Certainly the parties picked up some of their terminology and ideology from the Fed/Anti-Fed debates, but a lot had changed by then. Hamilton and Madison, for example, were both Federalists in 1787-88 but were in different camps in the 1790s. Jefferson was entirely absent from the Fed/Anti-Fed episode.

I still remember as a child when my family visited Thomas Jefferson's Monticello home. It's a visit I'd like to make again.

Even though I was small at the time I can still remember them showing various machines and contraptions Jefferson invented and adapted for his needs. For example he had a set up that made it possible for him to write a letter and have a second pen that would be writing along with him -- a sort of primitive (but ingenious) copy machine.

Thanks for your post. I always remember that Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence but I often forget some of his other huge accomplishments, i.e. the Louisiana Purchase.

i don't know if we would have ended up farmers, but it would have been interesting if TJ had more influence. On the one hand, he loved the French. Yet...if he hadn't made the LA purchase (featured on the new Monopoly-America edition that I played on the 4th), then we might be speaking french instead of spanish.

Jefferson wasn't entirely absent from the Fed/Anti-Fed debate; even if he wasn't directly involved in debating, his letters from the time indicate that he was keeping up with the ideological and political arguments.

Jefferson as our finest president?! The reason that Jefferson didn't include his presidency on his tomb stone was not because he was so accomplished that there wasn't room for this particular triumph, but rather because he himself viewed his presidency as a failure. Far from decisively defeating the federalist approach to the new nation, his approach was ultimately decisively rejected. The federalists got Marshall on the Supreme Court and ultimately Marshall's judicial opinions proved more decisive than did Jefferson's constitutional theories. As has been aptly pointed out by others, at Appomatax, Thomas Jefferson surrendered to John Marshall. Furthermore, the reduction of federalism to an aristocratic plot works only if one characterizes federalism as meaning only High Hamiltonian Federalism (as opposed to the Middle Federalism of Adams and Marshall) and if one views that High Federalism exclusively through the lens of the Republican polemic.

Jefferson was a great man of enormous talents who made monumental contributions to his country. However, I don't think that there is any plausible argument to be made that he was America's greatest president (Jefferson surely would never have made such a claim, and he was a man given to the assidious cultivation of his own reputation), nor can modern America be viewed as his creation. Marshall, Lincoln, and FDR are much better candidates for that honor.

Well that's a low blow, Nate, holding the man's own humility against him. Only a lawyer could put Marshall in the same discussion with Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and FDR — it's hard to take that suggestion seriously.

A couple of addional points in favor of Jefferson: Washington didn't really have to deal with the difficulties of domestic politics, which didn't emerge until his second term. Adams made a mess of it. Jefferson managed it fairly well, and his dinner table diplomacy was an effective way to accomplish things despite political infighting.

Jefferson didn't have a war to boost his image. Washington, Lincoln, and FDR all had a big war to boost their historical legacy. Jefferson's accomplishment was avoiding war with England during his term of office, no easy feat. His reputation rests on his persona and accomplishments, not a contemporary war. Unlike FDR or Lincoln, Jefferson was not conveniently martyred — he lingered 18 years, in which he managed to create the finest exchange of public letters (with John Adams) in our history. My vote still goes to Jefferson.

From Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson:
When he had finished a draft [of the Declaration] and incorporated some changes from Adams, Jefferson sent it to Franklin on the morning of Friday, June 21. “Will Doctor Franklin be so good as to peruse it,” he wrote in his cover note, “and suggest such alterations as his more enlarged view of the subject will dictate?”

Franklin made only a few changes, the most resounding of which was small. He crossed out, using the heavy backslashes that he often employed, the last three words of Jefferson’s phrase “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable” and changed them to the words now enshrined in history: “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”

The idea of “self-evident” truths drew less on John Locke, Jefferson’s favorite philosopher, than on the scientific determinism espoused by Isaac Newton and the analytic empiricism of Franklin’s close friend David Hume. By using the word “sacred,” Jefferson had asserted, intentionally or not, that the principle in question—the equality of men and their endowment by their creator with inalienable rights—was one of religion. Franklin’s edit turned it instead into an assertion of rationality.

Of course, the Declaration is a great work, and Franklin made "few changes," so it's not that he deserves credit for the bulk of the document. I do agree with Isaacson, though. The change from "sacred and undeniable" to "self-evident" is an important one.

Ah, Dave, Jefferson did have a war: The naval war with the Barbary Pirates ("From the halls of Motezuma to the shores of Tripoli"). BTW, I am not holding Jefferson's humility against him. I am suggesting that his assessment of his own presidency is not without value in our assessment of it. Furthermore, I don't think that Jefferson's decision was motivated by humility. It was not one of his virtues ...

Incidentally, Jefferson's association with slavery is frequently glossed over by reference to the deleted passage on the slave trade in the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. The passage itself, however, is bizarre, in essence blaming American slavery on the English King. This was more than a little absurd since slavery was introduced into British North America by the Dutch and was fostered by the Virginia aristocracy rather than the English monarchy. In his youth, Jefferson seems to have been an abolitionist. He later modified his opinions. The first draft of the Declaration of Independence, I think, is best viewed as a transitional piece. What is most striking to me about it is that it attempts to shift the moral odium from slavery away from American slave owners. Hardly a bit of moral clarity. Of course, this hardly makes Jefferson a villian. He was better than some on slavery and no worse than most. Proto-emancipator, however, he was not.

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