The Jeffersonian Tradition in American Democracy

The Jeffersonian Tradition in American Democracy

The Jeffersonian Tradition in American Democracy

The Jeffersonian Tradition in American Democracy

Excerpt

There are several fairly obvious ways in which a study of the Jeffersonian political philosophy might be written. It might, for example, be approached chronologically, treating the intellectual development of the man against the background of the social and political history of the day; it might be approached through a treatment of various large-scale problems which enter significantly into the whole fabric of his thinking; or it might be handled biographically, tracing the gradual modification of a theory in the light of a career. I have done none of these things in the present volume, but have taken as my point of departure the assumption that the political ideas of Thomas Jefferson form in some sense a fairly complete and coherent system. He dealt, as they arose in the course of his career, with most of the fundamental problems of government; and it was his treatment of these problems which gave substance and direction to his party. It is to the mass of Jefferson's writings and public utterances that later democrats, theorists as well as statesmen, have appealed; and it is accordingly mainly from these that I have attempted a logical reconstruction of his most mature position-- his position, that is, as it was handed on to his followers.

Where historical circumstances or economic conditions seem to have had a determining influence in the formulation of his views, I have included these factors in my discussion. In general, however, I have assumed a knowledge of the history of the period, and of the primary events in Jefferson's life. To go into these in any detail would be to obscure or confuse the broad philosophy behind his official conduct with the minutiae of party controversy.

It is never well to lose all sense of continuity with the past, even though a hasty glance at any given period may reveal nothing even remotely resembling what we are pleased to call the realities of today. To the political democrat of the modern age . . .

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