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.
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.