Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Time to think

I just realized that this was a draft from almost two years ago and that I had forgotten to actually publish it. But I thought it was worthwhile so making up for that error now:

Recently, I visited Monticello - the beloved home of the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. Every American child learns about Jefferson as the third president and his importance in the history of the nation (not to mention, since 1998, his apparent relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings). What may not always be mentioned in those lessons is his other interests and proficiency in many of them. Or, if they are, they are secondary to the larger importance of his place in history.

But I was reminded that Jefferson truly was a renaissance man in every sense of the word. It was his fervent belief that the purpose of government was to secure the natural rights of man, the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. While this may seem natural to those of us in the 21st century, it was quite a leap at a time when the right of governance was determined by birth and those who were not so fortunate were subjected to the whims of those who were. Almost every nation in the world was run by kings and leaders whose positions were determined by their lineage, not by their ability to lead. Their people were subjected to lives similarly predetermined by their birth, but not at the lofty level of their lords and lieges. To argue that men had the right to choose their own leaders and to pursue their own lives independent of kings chosen by God was a revolutionary thought in more than a few ways.

These were things about which I was certainly aware though partly forgotten over the years. But my visit to Monticello did remind me and I was grateful for the opportunity to relearn them. I have and will also continue to relearn those lessons for they are no less important today than they were 200+ years ago.

But what caught my interest was what apparently also caught Mr. Jefferson's interest - architecture, science, history, technology and horticulture - among other things. He was an accomplished architect (I believe he designed Monticello), noted the daily weather in a diary for 50 years and filled his home with maps of the known world at his time as well as bones of animals not known in his homeland and artifacts from different cultures. His intellectual curiosity knew no bounds. Combined with that interest, however, was the desire to spread the knowledge out further. The University of Virginia, a highly regarded place of higher learning, was conceived and originated by Mr. Jefferson. Indeed, he was a man of letters (more than 20,000 if I recall correctly) who professed his love of books to his friends. Aside - I had forgotten that the US Library of Congress was founded through the generous assistance of Mr. Jefferson.

Jefferson's legacy is one of the few who can be said to be almost universal. His approach to government, not to mention his contributions to science and the pursuit of higher learning, have endured and are emulated not just in his own nation but elsewhere throughout the world. This is a man to whom great debts are owed and much praise is due. Frankly, I think the world needs another like him who can transcend his own time and similarly provide for the future.

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