The life of Jefferson highlighted, amongst other things – the thirst for knowledge, the capacity to create, the love of family and friends, the hunger for accomplishment, the applause of the world, the marshaling of power, the bending of others to one’s own vision.
On Leadership and Politics
- Philosopher’s think, politicians maneuver. Jefferson’s genius was that he was both and could do both, often simultaneously
- Politics was informed by philosophy, but one could achieve the good only by putting philosophy into action
- “If you meant to escape malice you should have confined yourself within the sleepy line of regular duty”
- Rarely does one leave office with the reputation and goodwill that one had upon entering
- “A person not sick will not be injured by getting wet…Brute animals are the most healthy and they are exposed to all weather”
- Leadership meant knowing how to distill complexity into a comprehensible message to reach the hearts as well as the minds of the many
- Politicians often talk too much and listen too little, which can be self defeating, for in many instances the surer route to winning a friend is not to convince them that you are right but that you care what they think
On hard work
- Laziness was a sin – time spent at study was never wasted. “Knowledge indeed is a desirable, lovely possession”
- “No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness…as the diffusion of knowledge among the people
How he came to be
- He came of age amid conflict, not certitude. To him statecraft was always a struggle between passionately held points of view.
- Smooth marches of like minds to glorious conclusions may have been the stuff of his dreams, but reality was far from different – and it was reality that concerned him most.
- He was both an unflinching political warrior and an easily wounded soul. He always would be.
- He never had to raise his voice: Their sense of his authority was so complete that it was unnecessary.
On political manoeuvring
- The Jefferson style – cultivate his elders, make himself pleasant to his contemporaries, and use his pen and his intellect to shape the debate – armed him well for the national arena
- Settling differences with his peers or rivals over dinner – Tends to be more difficult to oppose someone with whom you have broken bread and drunk wine
- Getting difficult bills that he drafted up himself to be presented by an ally, and then backing it up as if it wasn’t his idea in the first place
- It was not an easy thing to do to defy George Washington but Jefferson’s subtlety enabled him to assert his own will against that of the president in such a seemingly gracious way that Washington was unable to counterattack.
- The political Jefferson – a man who got his way quietly but unmistakably, without bluster or bombast, his words congenial but his will unwavering
- He characteristically left himself a rhetorical escape by introducing the subjective standard of practicability
- His conversational skill of speaking of topics of interest to his companion of the moment
- When those were exhausted he would muse widely about the past and the future
Some personal points of view
- Religion required careful thought, not reflexive acceptance. “Fix reason in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear”
- Sometimes you do not need to strive for perfection – “He wrote beautifully of the pursuit of the perfect, but he knew good when he saw it. He would not make the two enemies.”
- The power to tax was the most fundamental and far-reaching of all the powers of government (with the possible exception of war)
- “That rare and charming egotism which can interest the listener in all one’s concerns”
- War tends to lead to the fall of republics
- Rendering moral judgments in retrospect can be hazardous
- Odly, his innate sense of control and place may have enabled him to see debt as an abstract problem rather than a concrete one
- I remained closely at home, saw none but those who came there, and at length became very sensible of the ill effect it had upon my own mind, and of its direct and irresistible tendencey to render me unfit for society, and uneasy when necessarily engaged in it.
- Withdrawing from the world leads to an antisocial and misanthropic sate of mind.
Of being a good host
- The most fundamental duty is to show respect to those under one’s roof (eg. to transform an unnoticed guest into a person of importance)