Political Writings

Political Writings

Political Writings

Political Writings

Synopsis

Author of the Declaration of Independence and third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson is among the most important and controversial of American political thinkers. Joyce Appleby and Terence Ball have selected the most important of Jefferson's numerous writings, setting out his views on topics such as revolution, slavery and the role of women. The texts are supported by a concise introduction, suggestions for further reading and short biographies of key figures, all providing invaluable assistance to the student encountering Jefferson's thought for the first time.

Excerpt

Thomas Jefferson is surely among the most original, complex, and important of American political thinkers. He wrote the Declaration of Independence, served two terms as President, founded the Library of Congress and the University of Virginia, and was also an architect, inventor, scientist, and – amongst his many other complexities – a slave-owner who advocated the abolition of slavery. There is in American political thought a distinctly “Jeffersonian” strain – “small-l” libertarian, democratic, participatory, and agrarian-republican – that has long locked horns with an alternative “Hamiltonian” vision (nationalist, commercial and credit-based, and relying on a strong central government). This tension, sometimes described as “Main Street vs. Wall Street, ” has been a staple of American political thought for more than two centuries. The purpose of the present volume is to give the former a full and fair hearing by letting its main proponent speak at length for himself.

To edit Jefferson's political writings is no easy task. Indeed it is doubly difficult. First, Jefferson was a prolific writer. His complete Papers, edited by Julian P. Boyd et al. (Princeton, 1950–), have so far taken up twenty-seven fat volumes, bringing that series up to 1793 with no end in sight – he was to live another thirty-three years, during eight of which he was President of the United States. Second, Jefferson wrote no systematic treatise on politics. While he did have a political philosophy, he did not present it whole, as a more systematic thinker might, but expressed his views in a scattered, unsystematic and piecemeal way in his massive and meandering Notes on the State of Virginia, a posthumously published . . .

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