Monday, August 21. 2006
Author: GM Raymond Keene OBE
CELEBRATING YOUR FREEDOM AND TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR IT.
“I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man”.
THE INDIVIDUAL IN SOCIETY
Our seventh revolutionary thinker, Thomas Jefferson, was one of the Founding Fathers of the American Revolution, which ensured Independence from the British Crown. He was a member of the committee, which drew up the Declaration of Independence, dated 4 July 1776. The committee included John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingstone, and Benjamin Franklin, but it was Jefferson who drafted the final version.
Jefferson's prose was a powerful statement of universal egalitarian and humanitarian ideals, but it was also in perfect harmony with the enlightenment philosophy of the 18th century. From Jefferson you can learn how to celebrate your freedom and take responsibility for it. Jefferson regarded liberty as so important that he said ‘I would rather be exposed to the inconveniencies attending too much liberty than those attending to small degree of it’.
In the following resounding terms Jefferson articulated the optimum political system for protecting and cultivating the dignity and potentiality of the individual in society:
'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter and abolish it; and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness’.
This is, undoubtedly, one of the most quoted passages in the English language.
The premise is equal creation and it echoes one of the most quoted passages from Shakespeare:
“hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands….if you prick us, do we not bleed-if you tickle us do we not laugh-if you poison us do we not die?”
The birth of the United States and the formulation of an equal society constituted a fabulous leap forwards for mankind. The protection, which the new American system gave to freedom, granted potential to human creativity on an unprecedented scale. Jefferson’s example can teach you to think about what freedom means to you and how you can use it. Do the freedoms demanded by different groups, the freedom to be homosexual or the freedom to take drugs for example, really undermine society?
Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body & mind
will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.
Jefferson was a man of many talents, not only a skilled politician and lawyer, but also a philosopher, archaeologist, architect, mathematician and meteorologist. Moreover, his memory was phenomenal and he was fluent in six languages. In his early teens, Jefferson came into a large inheritance, which helped him to establish himself in business and politics.
He was also a passionate admirer of women, which often led to intense emotional turmoil, particularly on one occasion when he tried to seduce a neighbour's wife. He married in 1772, but sadly his wife Martha died ten years later, giving birth to their sixth child. Jefferson was devastated, but later, while travelling in Europe, he fell in love and corresponded with Maria Cosway, an English artist and musician.
It has been suggested that at the age of 65 Jefferson fathered a son by Sally Hemings, a slave at his home of Monticello. DNA tests show that Jefferson could well have been the father of her son, but so, indeed, could 25 other men of the Jefferson family, who lived within a twenty mile radius of Monticello!
Jefferson was prominent in the calling of the First Continental Congress in 1774, which he attended as a delegate and he was only 33 when he drafted the Declaration of Independence. Although the Declaration was debated at considerable length by Congress, it was adopted with just one major change. Jefferson’s denunciation of slavery was removed to appease the delegates from the Southern States, where society and industry depended largely on slave labour. Although Jefferson was a slave owner himself, he believed that slavery was an ignoble tyranny and that eventually the slaves would be freed. He also believed that they should be repatriated to their original homelands. His opposition to slavery was sincere, but at this time he also accepted that the time to free the slaves had not yet come.
JEFFERSON ON SLAVERY
There is nothing I would not sacrifice to a practicable plan of abolishing every vestige of this moral and political depravity.
I have considered the general silence which prevails on this subject as indicating an apathy unfavourable to every hope. Yet the hour of emancipation is advancing, in the march of time. It will come; and whether brought on by the generous energy of our own minds; or by the bloody process of St Domingo … is a leaf of our history not yet turned over … It is an encouraging observation that no good measure was ever proposed, which if duly pursued, failed to prevail in the end’.
Letter to Edward Coles, 1814.
Jefferson on the Future:
‘I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past’.
One of the greatest achievements of his second term of Presidency was the prohibition of the slave trade. However, the United States had to wait for a further half century and Abraham Lincoln before slavery was finally and effectively abolished in 1863, and yet another century after that before Martin Luther King conclusively established civil rights for all black Americans. Nevertheless, Thomas Jefferson, the first major opponent of slavery in the US, was the man who laid the foundations for the achievements of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King and the granting of civil rights to the entire population of the American continent.
Jefferson also helped Virginia to frame a state constitution and served as Governor from 1779 to 1781. Religious freedom was a basic human right for Jefferson and he was particularly proud of his Bill for Religious Freedom enacted in Virginia in 1786 after a decade of campaigning.
When he came to write his own epitaph, Jefferson chose these words to describe his own achievements:-
‘Here was buried Thomas Jefferson author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and father of the University of Virginia’.
From 1784 to 1789 Jefferson served as an ambassador in France before returning to become Secretary of State under George Washington. He served as Vice-President in 1797 and was chosen as third President of the United States in 1801. He was subsequently re-elected, by a large majority, for his next presidential term. He was to become the personal hero of both the 35th President, John F.Kennedy, and of the 42nd President, William Jefferson Clinton, who has said: 'What is most amazing about Jefferson was his ability to pursue not only his ambitious public agenda but also his personal interests. Jefferson did so many things – he invented gadgets, designed homes, rode a horse daily well into his 70s…'
In 1818 Jefferson wrote the report of the Commissioners for the University of Virginia. He recommended that the following main subjects should be taught :-
Ancient languages, modern languages, pure mathematics, ‘Physico-Mathematics’ (by which he meant mechanics, dynamics, acoustics, optics, astronomy, and geography), Physics, Chemistry, Mineralogy, Botany, Zoology, Medicine, Anatomy, government, History, Law, and Ideology, which was to be studied through grammar, ethics, rhetoric, belles lettres and the fine arts. This curriculum would form the statesmen, legislators and judges ‘on whom public prosperity and individual happiness are so much to depend’.
Now look at this list again and reflect on which subjects are missing from your own intellectual arsenal and which ones you would like to pursue.
ASSEMBLY OF DEMI-GODS
In 1787 the convention to establish the first Constitution of the United States of America, took place in Philadelphia.
In the words of Jefferson himself, the men who gathered in Philadelphia were 'an assembly of demi-gods'. Although Jefferson and John Adams were absent on diplomatic service abroad, the Convention was attended by Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and of course, George Washington, whose name is associated with the final version of the Constitution.
Their problem was to balance individual freedom with the responsibilities of the citizen. This age old problem was adressed by Plato in his ideal state in The Republic and was raised again during the Renaissance when there was a rediscovery of classical political thought and a rebirth of the emphasis on individual empowerment. From then onwards political systems evolved that could support the rights of the individual, but it was not until the American and the French Revolutions that political systems were formulated that truly celebrated the Renaissance discovery of individuality.
Even the famous English Magna Carta of 1215 and the English Bill of Rights of 1689 did not fully protect the rights of the individual citizen. In America the solution to this problem was enshrined in the immortal opening words of the Constitution:
'We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America’.
The concept of personal freedom contains a central paradox in that the pursuit of an individual’s freedom can impinge on the freedom of others. The philosophers of utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-73), tried to overcome this through their philosophy of ‘the greatest good of the greatest number’ – e.g. freedoms would be curtailed if they were harmful to the majority. Jefferson was himself influenced by utilitarianism. In his report for the foundation of the University of Virginia, Jefferson wrote that ‘a sound spirit of legislation … banishing all arbitrary and unnecessary restraint on individual action, shall leave us free to do whatever does not violate the equal rights of another’.
We confide in our own strength, without boasting of it; we respect that of
others, without fearing it.
The men who came together in the last quarter of the 18th century to create the new American nation were an extraordinary group. Their grand endeavor led ultimately to the creation of the most prosperous and freedom-conscious nation the earth has ever witnessed. In his efforts to create a new state, Jefferson was supported by two towering intellects, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. These men took on the might of Great Britain, the world's foremost naval and military power of the day and they won.
Washington, the military leader of the American Revolution became the first President of the United States in 1789.
Under Washington’s leadership the American army with French help forced the surrender of the British General, Cornwallis, at Yorktown in 1781. On 3 September 1783, the peace treaty which guaranteed the Independence of America was signed with Great Britain.
Washington’s main virtues were persistence and the ability to get straight to the point. The story that he confessed to cutting down a cherry tree with the words ‘father I cannot tell a lie’ is probably apocryphal. On other occasions he did summon up the telling phrase.
In his farewell address to the people of the United States in 1796 Washington advised them to ‘labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience’.
JEFFERSON ON CONSCIENCE
Never do nor say a bad thing. If ever you are about to say any thing amiss or to do any thing wrong, consider before hand. You will feel something within you which will tell you it is wrong & ought not to be said or done: this is your conscience, & be sure to obey it. Our maker has given us all, this faithful internal Monitor, and if you always obey it, you will always be prepared for the end of the world: or for a much more certain event which is death. This must happen to all: it puts an end to the world as to us, & the way to be ready for it is never to do a wrong act.
Benjamin Franklin was a journalist, scientific experimenter and Enlightenment thinker. Franklin's achievements are astonishing - his formal education ended when he was ten, but that did not impede his desire for learning. He devised a series of mental training games that were to serve him for the rest of his life.
You could easily incorporate some of these games into your own mental training. They included making notes on essays in The Spectator (you could choose the The New Yorker), and then rewriting the essays based on his notes and memory. He also converted essays into poetry and then back into prose and embarked on a massive training programme to improve his vocabulary.
Franklin started his working life as a printer. In 1729, aged just 23, he bought the Pennsylvania Gazette. These achievements are amazing for one so young and demonstrate his enormous energy and fierce spirit of individual enterprise. Franklin also founded Poor Richard's Almanac, in which he regularly advised readers on how to be successful.
Thoughts from Poor Richard's Almanac:-
Blessed is he that expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.
Observe all men; thyself most.
Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.
Franklin also conducted a famous experiment in electricity, which earned him election as a Fellow of the Royal Society in London. He proved that lightning and electricity are identical and demonstrated the distinction between positive and negative charges. He invented the lightning conductor to protect buildings, bi-focal glasses and an efficient stove. He also charted the routes of storms over North America and the course of the Gulf Stream. After acting as a diplomat in France, Franklin was elected President of Pennsylvania state three times and there was international mourning when he died.
CHESS AND THE POLICIES OF THE MIND
Benjamin Franklin wrote and published the first American book on chess. In his autobiography, he explains how useful the playing of chess was in his life, but his most frequently quoted writings about chess come from a piece entitled The Morals of Chess, published in Philadelphia in 1786. In it, he likens the game to life itself:
"The game of chess is not merely an idle amusement; several, very valuable policies of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired and strengthened by it, so as to become ready on all occasions. For life is a kind of chess, in which we have often points to gain, and competitors or adversaries to contend with, and in which there is a vast variety of good and ill-events, that are, in some degree, the effect of prudence or the want of it".
If you already play chess, you will understand what Franklin meant. If you do not, then you should find out. Buy a set, board and beginner’s book (see the bibliography for a recommendation) and persuade your friends to join you in this new mental exercise. Playing chess will develop your logical thought processes and will also stimulate the your mental spatial abilities.
AMERICA AND THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
Franklin obtained French support for the insurgent colonists in their war of independence and at the same time he helped export egalitarian notions of freedom and brotherly love to Paris. He was therefore partly responsible for establishing the notions of "Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité" whereby the French themselves overthrew their own form of despotism in 1789.
Jefferson himself noted in his Autobiography that ‘celebrated writers of France and England had already sketched good principles on the subject of government; yet the American Revolution seems first to have awakened the thinking part of the French nation in general, from the sleep of despotism in which they were sunk’.
I DIDN’T KNOW THAT
Jefferson regarded Francis Bacon (1561-1626), John Locke (1632-1704) and Isaac Newton (1642-1727) as the three greatest men that ever lived for ‘having laid the foundation of those superstructures which have been raised in the Physical and Moral sciences’.
He commissioned oval portraits of the three men to be executed on the same canvas so that ‘they may not be confounded at all with the herd of other great men’.
Jefferson saw mistakes as an inevitable but didactic part of human life:
He wrote that ‘error is the stuff of which the web of life is woven: and he who lives
longest and wisest is only able to weave out the more of it’ and ‘the errors and misfortunes of others should be a school for our own instruction’.
SUMMARY OF ACHIEVEMENT
q Drafted the Declaration of Independence – the most inspiring statement of human rights ever penned.
q Helped frame the Constitution for Virginia and was state governor from 1779-81.
q In 1783 he secured the adoption of the decimal coinage in Congress.
q Acknowledged head of the Republican party from its inception.
q Became President of the United States in 1801.
q Presided over the prohibition of the slave trade.
q Helped to found the University of Virginia in 1825.
“Jefferson was ahead of his time when it came to extolling the virtues of wine:
I rejoice, as a Moralist, at the prospect of a reduction of the duties on
wine, by our national legislature. It is an error to view a tax on that
liquor as merely a tax on the rich. It is a prohibition of its use to the
middling class of our citizens, and a condemnation of them to the poison of
whiskey, which is desolating their houses.
No nation is drunken where wine is cheap; and none sober, where the dearness of wine is cheap; and none sober, where the dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage.
It is in truth the only antidote to the bane of whiskey. Fix but the duty at the rate of other merchandise, and we can drink wine here as cheaply as we do grog; and who will not prefer it? Its extended use will carry health and comfort to a much enlarged circle.
Every one in easy circumstances (as the bulk of our citizens are) will prefer it to the poison to which they are now driven by their government.”
JEFFERSON ON EDUCATION
‘If the condition of man is to be progressively ameliorated, as we fondly hope
& believe, education is to be the chief instrument in effecting it’.
q I am aware of and value the freedoms I have in my society.
q I wish to protect the freedoms of other people
q I do not personally wish to do anything, which restricts the freedoms of others
q I cherish intellectual freedom.
q I regard education as a fundamental human right.
q I regard religious freedom as an important right.
q I do not buy products from countries that are run by dictatorships.
q I conduct my private affairs as if they might be made public at any time.
q Even when severely provoked I am very slow to anger.
• CONSIDER FREEDOM AND ITS MODULATIONS WITHIN A CIVILISED SOCIAL FRAMEWORK.
Think about the following points, make notes about them in your notebook.
• What freedoms do you enjoy?
• Are there freedoms you desire but which are prohibited?
• Are there freedoms desired by others which your opinions restrain?
• If granted how much damage from them would impact upon your life?
• Contentious freedoms might include for example: gay rights-even gay marriages-freedom to take certain types of drug-freedom to smoke tobacco-
• Does it not appear curious that there are voluminous laws against taking virtually every type of drug, that there are state warnings against smoking tobacco accompanied by massive class action lawsuits against tobacco companies-yet there are no laws against licking the highway clean with your tongue or drinking gasoline, both of which activities seem infinitely more injurious to the enactor!
• What would have been Jefferson’s reaction to such questions?
• PERSONAL IMPROVEMENT
Now consider Jefferson’s ten-point plan for personal improvement.
Note your reactions to each statement. :
1. Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.
2. Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
3. Never spend your money before you have it.
4. Never buy what you do not want, because it is cheap; it will be dear to
5. Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst and cold.
6. We never repent of having eaten too little.
7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
8. How much pain has cost us the evils which have never happened.
9. Take things always by their smooth handle.
10. When angry, count ten, before you speak; if very angry, an hundred.
Now make your own personal list of ten things that will improve your own life.
Here are five of my favorite Jefferson quotes. Read them and note your reactions to them, then pick out your favorites from your own reading of his works.
• I have ever deemed it more honorable, & more profitable too, to set a good
example than to follow a bad one. The good opinion of mankind, like the lever
of Archimedes, with the given fulcrum, moves the world.
• Rapid integrity is the first and most gainful qualification (in the long run)
in every profession.
• Above all things, and at all times, practise yourself in good humor; this of
all human qualities is the most amiable and endearing to society.
• Above all things lose no occasion of exercising your dispositions to be
grateful, to be generous, to be charitable, to be humane, to be true, just,
firm, orderly, courageous, & c. Consider every act of this kind as an
exercise which will strengthen your moral faculties & increase your worth.
• Encourage all your virtuous dispositions, & exercise them whenever an
opportunity arises, being assured that they will gain strength by exercise
as a limb of the body does, & that exercise will make them habitual. From the
practice of the purest virtue you may be assured you will derive the most
sublime comforts in every moment of life, & in the moment of death.
We have already observed Jefferson’s ringing prose in the final version of the Declaration of Independence-but it is also worth considering the draft original where he wrote-
“ We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable; that all men are created equal and independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Even after the American and French Revolutions it is doubtful whether majority opinion in the western world would have concurred with Jefferson on the point of men’s “equal creation.” However, reinforcing proof was to come from an unlikely direction, the educationally undistinguished and religiously unadventurous scion of an English upper middle class family - Charles Darwin.
Display comments as (Linear | Threaded)
The author does not allow comments to this entry