Dear Alumni, Parents and Friends:
Every person tends to fit others into their own worldview. In our minds, we shape them to our own understanding. This tendency was particularly strong in Jefferson. Thus, when George Washington became concerned that Jefferson’s and Madison’s Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions threatened the union and convinced Patrick Henry to enter his last political campaign as a Federalist, Jefferson had to declare Henry an “apostate” to Republicanism – nothing else could explain Henry’s political opposition. Not only did Jefferson shape his own understanding of people, but he also tried to shape people themselves to his idealized understanding. He wrote letters to his daughters telling them that, to earn their father’s love, they needed to meet his exacting standards. The people around Jefferson were a palette on which he tried to paint, and a palette on which he can be read.
Jefferson’s vision of early America lived on after his death, not just in his political philosophy, but in those whom he had shaped and who helped to define what Jefferson’s world was and was not. Studying Jefferson through those around him – friends, family, and foes – is a wonderful way to better understand his world, and our own.
I hope that you will join us in Virginia’s beautiful Piedmont in June to continue this discussion of Jefferson’s family, friends, and foes. Learn more and register.
Faculty Director, Summer Jefferson Symposium
Robert C. Vaughan Fellow, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities
University of Virginia