Liberty and Power: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and "the Mutual Influence of These Two Mighty Minds"
The following is an excerpt of a talk given by James Morton Smith during an "Evening Conversation" at
Monticello, sponsored by The Jefferson Legacy Foundation on May 23rd (see related article).
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison first met in Williamsburg, Virginia, in October 1776. Jefferson, a veteran legislator at thirty-three, had written the Declaration of Independence that summer, then resigned from the Continental Congress, and hurried home to share in the modeling of new governments. Madison, a freshman legislator at twenty-five, had shaped the religious liberty
guarantee in the Virginia Declaration of Rights in early June before voting for the Virginia Constitution on June 29, 1776, the first of the new state governments established during the American Revolution.
When the two men met in the Virginia Assembly in the fall, Jefferson was "one of the most learned men of the age," Madison later recalled, "a walking Library," whose "relish for books never forsook him." Indeed, Jefferson was a prodigy with whom
"the Genius of philosophy ever walked hand in hand." Madison was impressed by the remarkable range of Jefferson's readings in a variety of languages: French, Italian, and Spanish as well as "Anglo-Saxon, as a root of. . .English" and an element in legal
philosophy. The law itself "he studied to the bottom," Madison wrote, "and in its greatest breadth, of which proofs were given at the Bar which he attended for a number of years, and occasionally throughout his career. For all the fine arts, he had a more commontaste; and in that of architecture, which he studied in both its useful, and its ornamental characters, he made himself an adept; as the variety of orders and stiles [sic], executed according to his plan founded in the Grecian and Roman models and under his superintendance, which the Buildings of the University of Virginia fully exemplify."
Dr. Robley Dunglison, professor of medicine at the University of Virginia who became the physician to both Jefferson and Madison, admired the intellectual powers of both, but he thought that "Mr. Jefferson had more imagination, Mr. Madison excelled perhaps in judgment." And John Quincy Adams, who knew both of the men well, agreed. "The influence of Mr. Jefferson over the mind of Mr. Madison, was composed of all that genius, talent,
experience, splendid public services, exalted reputation, added to the congenial tempers, undivided friendship and habitual sympathies of interest and of feeling could inspire.
Among the numerous blessings which it was the good fortune of Mr. Jefferson's life to enjoy, was that of the uninterrupted, disinterested, and efficient friendship of Madison. But it was the friendship of a mind not inferior in capacity and tempered with a calmer sensibility and a cooler judgment than his own."
Jefferson was the more speculative, inventive, and theoretical, gifted at making generalizations, coining powerful metaphors, and writing felicitous prose.
Madison was more tough-minded, more analytical, more pragmatic, the more persistent student of politics, the harder-headed thinker on the art of the possible. Jefferson was the eternal optimist, thinking always in terms of human happiness. Madison was the occasional pessimist, constantly aware of the power of human selfishness.
In balancing the elements of liberty and power in a republican system, Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, tended to emphasize
the first, fearing governmental power as a threat to liberty. Madison, the Father of the Constitution, tended to stress the second, viewing the new and more powerful government created by the Philadelphia Convention as a protector of liberty.
As extraordinary as were Jefferson and Madison, even more unusual was the 50-year friendship between them, one that began that fall of 1776 in Williamsburg and ended only with the death of Jefferson in 1826 on the 50th anniversary of the
Declaration of the Independence. Of this remarkable relationship, Adams observed that "Mr. Madison was the intimate, confidential, and devoted friend of Mr. Jefferson, and the mutual influence of these two mighty minds upon each other is a phenomenon, like the invisible and mysterious movements of the magnet in the physical world, and in which the sagacity of the future historian may discover the solution of much of our national history not otherwise easily accountable."
James Morton Smith is Director Emeritus of The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum and editor of the widely praised, three-volume, The Republic of Letters: The Correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, published by W.W. Norton.
NEWS FROM THE JEFFERSON LEGACY FOUNDATION
Happy Birthday, Mr. Jefferson
a big snowstorm and a short power outage, The Jefferson Legacy Foundation's first annual Birthday Party for Thomas Jefferson held on March 31st was a huge success. Thirty-five children, fifteen adults, and a dozen volunteers participated. The Ripton Community House came alive with balloons, posters, and inspiring Jefferson quotes peppered about. Winning names were drawn every half hour for a book raffle, with more than 30 wonderful books donated by the Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury. Six thematic hands-on activity tables included Agriculture, Architecture, Arts & Crafts, TJ the Inventor, Science & Nature, and Voting. The Henry Sheldon Museum for Vermont History in Middlebury provided educational kits for the Colonial Games area. Children dressed up in colonial outfits, churned butter, and played with toys from Jefferson's day. They planted seeds from Monticello, looked through microscopes on loan from Middlebury College, completed an architectural paper model of the Rotunda, made puppets, and participated in a mock election. The party finished with a birthday cake and the JLF's very own puppet show, The
Life of Thomas Jefferson, performed by The Traveling Storyteller. The adults loved it, but how did we do with the kids? This comment from a fourth-grader in attendance says it all: "Thomas Jefferson was a cool guy. And the cake was great!" Visit our web site for photos of the fun.
On another celebratory front, JLF President Clarence W. "Bud" Leeds, III, represented the Jefferson Legacy Foundation at a White House gathering on April 12th
marking the 258th birthday of Thomas Jefferson on the following day. President George W. Bush provided opening remarks, expressing his admiration for Jefferson, and Colonial Williamsburg's Jefferson interpreter Bill Barker read from Jefferson's 1801 inaugural address.
THE JLF Welcomes Frank Shuffelton to the Board of Directors
The The Jefferson Legacy Foundation is delighted to announce that Frank Shuffelton, professor in the department of English and American Literature at the University of Rochester
where he has been teaching for nearly 30 years, has joined our Board of Directors. He has served on numerous literary and editorial boards, including Early American Literature and Journal of the History of Ideas. He also served as vice-president and president successively from 1996 to 1999 for the Society of Eighteenth-Century American Studies. He is author of numerous articles for publications, including New England Quarterly and Early American Literature.
Through a collaboration with Monticello, the University of Virginia, and The Jefferson Legacy Foundation, a web site has been created that lists more than 5,000 titles from Shuffelton's two-volume Thomas Jefferson: A Comprehensive Bibliography of Writings About Him (etext.virginia.edu/ jefferson/bibliog).
An Evening Conversation at Monticello
The Jefferson Legacy Foundation sponsored an "Evening Conversation" on the west lawn of Monticello, Wednesday, May 23rd. Since 1993, Monticello has hosted a series of "Evening Conversations." After a social hour and tour of the house and grounds, a special guest speaks on a topic related to Thomas Jefferson, followed by a question-and-answer period and reception.
The theme of our
"Conversation" was a fascinating talk on "Thomas Jefferson and James Madison," with James Morton Smith as guest speaker. Professor Smith is Director Emeritus of The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum and editor of the widely praised, three-volume, The Republic of Letters: The Correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, published by W.W. Norton. Book News called the work "a beautiful job . . . and an obvious labor of love."
The JLF also used the affair to honor Sydney Nelson Stokes, Sr., a founding member of the JLF Board of Directors and generous contributor, on the occasion of his 90th birthday. (top)
A LETTER FROM THE CHAIRMAN
Thomas Jefferson's Birthday.
My father's 90th birthday on May 8th. Father's Day. These occasions have gotten me thinking about heroes. People may think that Thomas Jefferson is my hero. But in truth, long before I discovered the American Revolution, or even books for that matter, it was my parents who were my heroes. They kept me from falling through the cracks in school. They also supported my decision to leave the rat race in New York and encouraged me to pursue my interest in Jefferson studies.
My father has some things in common with Mr. Jefferson. He is the very kind of citizen the Founders said we needed, in my father's case, working quietly behind the scenes to make things happen. He has, for instance, been The Jefferson Legacy Foundation's greatest advocate and supporter since we began to pursue our mission in 1993.
He still remains a driving force behind it all. In fact, he is the one who came up with the name to best represent our mission: The Jefferson Legacy Foundation.
Moreover, public service has been a tradition in my father's family since 1908. In 1952 The New Haven Register chronicled the civic life of his father. It is clear that my father has continued an impressive legacy from what the newspaper then called "a young and hopeful immigrant [from England] who landed in New York in 1896." Through the efforts of the JLF, I'd like to think we are continuing that legacy as well.
Over the years, I remember two themes of advice from my father: (1) Kill them with kindness, and (2) Much can be accomplished if we don't worry about who gets the credit. He has lived up to Jefferson's advice of "taking things always by their smooth handle." These philosophies are a model for living-a model that guides me personally and as Chairman of the Jefferson Legacy Foundation. Thanks to heroes, old friends, and new members, much has been accomplished. And there is much more to be done. You can help.
Sydney Nelson Stokes, Jr.
- In preparation for bicentennial commemoration activities in 2003, a number of pages devoted to Jefferson and the Lewis & Clark Expedition have been added to Monticello's web site, www.monticello.org. Among the features on these illustrated pages are an essay on Jefferson's long fascination with the American West, a chronology of his involvement with Western exploration, the texts of his letter to Congress
and his instructions to Lewis, a bibliography, a calendar of events, and links to other relevant sites on the Internet.
- The JLF's exhibit, The Northern Journey of Thomas Jefferson & James Madison and Jefferson's Role in Vermont Statehood, 1791, is currently on display at Berkshire School in Sheffield, Massachusetts. The exhibit opened in late April and will be up throughout the summer.
Call 413-229-1390 for more information.
- Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, a traveling exhibit organized by the Library of Congress, will be on display at the Virginia Historical Society from June 7 through August 19, 2001. Through more than 200 objects and original documents, the
exhibit explores how the First Amendment was conceived and addresses how the Founding Fathers defined the relationship between religion and government. Call 804-358-4901 or visit their web site at www.vahistorical.org for more info.
- Congratulations to JLF Director Emeritus and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, David McCullough, on the publication of his latest work, John Adams, just
out from Simon & Schuster.
The JLF Publishes Its First Monograph
The Jefferson Legacy Foundation has published its first monograph, Discourse.
Marking the bicentennial of the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson on March 4, 1801, the theme of this thought-provoking issue is "The Election of 1800: Context and Implications for A Rising Nation. . ." Articles include "The New Republic of 1790s: Prelude to Revolution," "The World in 1800," and "Jefferson as President: A Bibliographic Essay." We hope to make Discourse an annual publication. Contact the JLF to order a copy.
We urge you and other "kindred spirits" to join our efforts and become a member of The Jefferson Legacy Foundation. We seek support in advancing our mission: to encourage participation in public affairs in
the spirit of Thomas Jeffersonís life, thought, and ideals. We advocate continued examination of Thomas Jeffersonís legacy, particularly as it applies to self-government, religious and intellectual freedom, and education. Charter members who join at the $100 "sustaining" level of membership will receive an autographed copy of Merrill D. Petersonís classic, The Jefferson Image in the American Mind. For more information, call, write, or e-mail us; or visit our web site. Details...
The Jefferson Legacy Foundationís News and Comment is published on a periodic basis and provided to members and friends of the JLF. For more information, contact News and Comment editor Wendy Leeds at The Jefferson Legacy
Foundation, P.O. Box 76, Ripton, Vermont 05766.