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Thomas Jefferson is one of the most remarkable political leaders of the 18th and 19 centuries. He is mostly known as an American Founding Father and the third president of the United States for two terms in 1801-1809. Thomas Jefferson had a fascinating political career, but he was also a profound author of his time. His words and ideas have both inspired, confused, and horrified readers for over 200 years. Jefferson coined out the official writing style and brought excellence to political and government papers.
His major contributions to american literature are the Declaration of Independence, the Notes on the State of Virginia, and his letters. In his works, Jefferson mostly touched upon the values of political and moral equality and the complexity of nature and society. Thomas Jefferson’s writings are crucial for understanding the themes and values of American literature and history of the 18-19 centuries, as they have tremendous political, social, and literary value.
The Main Themes
Thomas Jefferson is a philosopher of his era since he touches upon many universal issues that are central at all times. Jefferson ponders upon the nature of humans and states that the happiest state for people is between what is savage and what is refined (Holowchak). The writer also draws parallels between natural laws and the laws that should guide a civil society. These basic beliefs are framed into the Declaration of Independence, which rests upon the principles of all men being equal by nature and by rights. It is worth mentioning that by the word “equality” Jefferson referred to the equality of opportunity and moral equality (Holowchak). In brief, the American Founding Father shows in his writings that the laws of nature are crucial for understanding what civil society principles should be.
Other pivotal themes of Jefferson’s writings include religion and morale. The natural human right to pursue his or her happiness implies that all persons are free to worship as they choose (Holowchak). However, according to Jefferson, religion should stay personal and avoid interfering with the government’s affairs (Holowchak). Such interventions may result not only in restricting the civil rights of the US citizens but also in restraints of religious freedoms. Jefferson saw similarities in the political tasks of tearing down the old forms of authority and the intellectual tasks of eliminating superstition (Klinghard and Gish 18).
Consequently, he believed that moral is God-given and that is similar to human senses like sight and hearing. Holowchak states that Thomas Jefferson thought the sense of virtue to be tied to an organ, like a heart. Hence, morality can be made better or worse depending on the actions a person performs. In short, while not opposing the church, Jefferson practiced a rational approach towards the questions of religion and morale.
While contemplating the eternal questions, Jefferson provided a significant base for the abolitionists while discussing the problem of slavery. While Jefferson remained a slave owner, he insisted on all men being created equal and, consequently, on abolishing slavery (Crow 151). However, Holowchak points out that Jefferson considered African Americans being equal only by moral, as the slaves were not intellectually comparable with the white population. Jefferson insisted that the abolition of slavery should be a steady process, as it could only be possible by a gradual transformation of the states’ policies and the people’s minds (Klinghard and Gish 60). In summary, Jefferson in his works created the legal and moral basis for the future elimination of slavery in the United States.
Thomas Jefferson published only one full-length book, The Notes on the State of Virginia, during his lifetime, while the central portion of his literature heritage consists of letters and notes. Thomas Jefferson’s works are rhetorical and belong to the epistolary genre (Hitchens 115).
Even his only book is more a collection of works concerning politics, religion, and human nature rather than a book in a conventional way of understanding (Crow 132). However, “the rhetorical style of the Notes weaves connections between and among these seemingly disparate essays in knowledge, inviting readers to explore, examine, and discover” (Klinghard and Gish 84). In short, Jefferson preferred writing in the form of essays and letters rather than in belles-lettres.
Jefferson’s language seems to be complicated and exalt for a contemporary reader, however, in comparison with other authors of the time, his works are concise and coherent (Klinghard and Gish 73). This is especially true for the Notes on the State of Virginia, and for the Declaration of independence, as these works were aimed at a wider audience than his letters. The American Founding Father believed that all literary Americans should understand political principles, as it is central for organizing a republic. In short, while Jefferson’s word may appear to be comprehensive for a present-day reader, it is a notable step towards the overall apprehensibility of the legal language in the United States.
The Significance of Jefferson’s Writings
The importance of Jefferson’s works can be hardly overstated as he provided the theoretical, political, and moral basis for the future development of civil society in the US. First, the American Founding Fathers provided the theory for authors to base upon in their philosophical searches. For instance, most abolitionists mention Jefferson’s notes on the State of Virginia in one way or another while promoting the elimination of slavery in the United States (Klinghard and Gish 109).
Jefferson is one of the pioneers in proclaiming that slavery is outdated; thus, he created a political and philosophical ground for future writers to ponder upon the issue. In short, Thomas Jefferson set up central themes for the forthcoming generation of writers and politicians.
Second, Thomas Jefferson penned the main portion of the Declaration of Independence that is central for the American nation is it was the first official document of the United States. Apart from having an obvious political significance, the Declaration of Independence implies great literary importance, as it sets the gold standard for the style of future legal and political documents. While being eloquent and somewhat wordy in comparison with the contemporary literature, Jefferson set the norm for official documents to be concise, precise, and easy to comprehend (Klinghard and Gish 73).
Thomas Jefferson is an outstanding politician and ideologist of the American way of life. Moreover, Jefferson is a prodigious writer who left a rich philosophical legacy in his letters, messages, bills, and public papers. He wrote about every philosophical aspect of life including religion, morality, human rights, and slavery. These themes became central in the works of his followers and set the basis for the abolitionists’ movements. Jefferson’s tone establishes the standard for the official style of the US political and legal documents. In conclusion, Jefferson as a writer is equally significant for American history as Jefferson as a politician, as he made an immense contribution towards all the spheres of American life.
Crow, Matthew. Thomas Jefferson, Legal History, and the Art of Recollection. Cambridge University Press, 2017.
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Hitchens, Christopher. Thomas Jefferson: The Author of America. Atlas & Co., 2009.
Holowchak, Andrew. “Thomas Jefferson”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2015. Web.
Klinghard, Daniel, and Dustin Gish. Thomas Jefferson and the Science of Republican Government: A Political Biography of Notes on the State of Virginia. Cambridge University Press, 2017.