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Thread: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

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    Default Was thomas jefferson an idiot?



    I just finished a biography of Washington (:the indispensable man by flexner, which was superb), and one of the things I was surprised to see was how badly jefferson appears, entirely through his own quotes. He's generally considered one of the best presidents, but he sounds rather idiotic here. Of course, I assume the author is pro-washington. So, is the general picture of jefferson as great for the DoI and Louisiana purchase just a rose tinted glasses view?

    Also, I'm feeling like going on a run of biographies of presidents/revolutionary era people, does anyone have recommendations?

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    Default Re: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

    Jefferson could easily be considered the most idealistic of what we call the "Founding Fathers" generally those who are most idealistic are those most likely to dispense both beauty in words, philosophy and politics and at some point in their life fail to deliver the goods through their actions either by inaction, failure or hypocrisy. This does not make Jefferson an idiot, in fact you can argue that this process made Jefferson uniquely wise beyond most others. Those that live life with mediocrity including their politics and language are limited in both their ability to inspire and their ability to disappoint thus they are given a lower standard to uphold. Jefferson's words of limited government (gross oversimplification) was challenged by the situation he was put in of incredible power by being President, as all idealists do he succumbed to practicality and chose the security and well being over the country over his principles in his expansion of the government both in military strength and in overall land area control.

    In order for me to feel comfortable continuing I would like to know what exactly makes him sound like an idiot in this biography you read.

    EDIT: Read "John Adams" by David McCullough
    In all these papers we see a love of honest work, an aversion to shams, a caution in the enunciation of conclusions, a distrust of rash generalizations and speculations based on uncertain premises. He was never anxious to add one more guess on doubtful matters in the hope of hitting the truth, or what might pass as such for a time, but was always ready to take infinite pains in the most careful testing of every theory. With these qualities was united a modesty which forbade the pushing of his own claims and desired no reputation except the unsought tribute of competent judges.

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    Hope guides me Senior Member Hosakawa Tito's Avatar
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    Default Re: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

    Here's an interesting op-ed piece that ran in the WSJ this past 4th of July.
    A Cold Man's Warm Words.

    American Sphinx: by Joseph Ellis is a worthy biography I can recommend.

    Signing Their Lives Away: by Denise Kiernan & Joseph D'Agnese. A short synopsis of the fame & misfortune of the individual signers of the Declaration of Independence. I enjoyed this one immensely. The best part about this one is that you can find more info about the obscure participants from this era. The bibliography alone is worth the price of this book
    Last edited by Hosakawa Tito; 07-26-2010 at 14:40. Reason: added info
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    Default Re: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sasaki Kojiro View Post


    I just finished a biography of Washington (:the indispensable man by flexner, which was superb), and one of the things I was surprised to see was how badly jefferson appears, entirely through his own quotes. He's generally considered one of the best presidents, but he sounds rather idiotic here. Of course, I assume the author is pro-washington. So, is the general picture of jefferson as great for the DoI and Louisiana purchase just a rose tinted glasses view?
    Jefferson was very human and in some ways our quintessential "founder." He had towering strengths: intellect, skill with words, sense of what could be. He had towering flaws: spendthrift (even by planter standards), political knife artist, hypocrite (opposed slavery yet did not manumit much during his life). In short, he embodied the best and the worst of us -- a very human man and a compelling figure to study.

    I concur with the suggestion of McCullough's Adams. I'd add (though this is from a later period) Kearns on Lincoln.
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    Senior Member Senior Member Reenk Roink's Avatar
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    Default Re: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

    What are the quotes in question that make you think he was an idiot?
    Last edited by Reenk Roink; 07-28-2010 at 02:55.

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    Default Re: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

    Quote Originally Posted by Reenk Roink View Post
    What are the quotes in question that make you think he was an idiot?
    Washington: "He's an idiot."
    Adams: "Tommy - he's an idiot."
    Franklin: "Jeffers is an idiot - but he's OUR idiot."
    Jefferson: "I'm an idiot!"
    This space intentionally left blank

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    Senior Member Senior Member Reenk Roink's Avatar
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    Default Re: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

    Quote Originally Posted by Gregoshi View Post
    Washington: "He's an idiot."
    Adams: "Tommy - he's an idiot."
    Franklin: "Jeffers is an idiot - but he's OUR idiot."
    Jefferson: "I'm an idiot!"


    Washington: jealous
    Adams: ... obnoxious and disliked in general
    Franklin: inebriated
    Jefferson: humble

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    Default Re: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

    Quote Originally Posted by a completely inoffensive name View Post
    Jefferson could easily be considered the most idealistic of what we call the "Founding Fathers" generally those who are most idealistic are those most likely to dispense both beauty in words, philosophy and politics and at some point in their life fail to deliver the goods through their actions either by inaction, failure or hypocrisy. This does not make Jefferson an idiot, in fact you can argue that this process made Jefferson uniquely wise beyond most others. Those that live life with mediocrity including their politics and language are limited in both their ability to inspire and their ability to disappoint thus they are given a lower standard to uphold. Jefferson's words of limited government (gross oversimplification) was challenged by the situation he was put in of incredible power by being President, as all idealists do he succumbed to practicality and chose the security and well being over the country over his principles in his expansion of the government both in military strength and in overall land area control.
    hmm I don't think I agree with your definition of idealist. The fact that people fall short of their ideals isn't the only criticism of idealism. Sometimes the idealistic view is just inaccurate and wrong. But I'm not really out to call jefferson stupid, he was just surprisingly short of my impression of him.

    Quote Originally Posted by Hosakawa Tito View Post
    Here's an interesting op-ed piece that ran in the WSJ this past 4th of July.
    A Cold Man's Warm Words.

    American Sphinx: by Joseph Ellis is a worthy biography I can recommend.

    Signing Their Lives Away: by Denise Kiernan & Joseph D'Agnese. A short synopsis of the fame & misfortune of the individual signers of the Declaration of Independence. I enjoyed this one immensely. The best part about this one is that you can find more info about the obscure participants from this era. The bibliography alone is worth the price of this book
    Thanks! Having read the description, I think the American Sphinx book might be just what I'm looking for, although I'll shop around.

    I really enjoyed Edward S. Morgan's book about the revolution, so I might look at one of his or flexner's books first.


    Quote Originally Posted by acin
    EDIT: Read "John Adams" by David McCullough
    Quote Originally Posted by Seamus
    I concur with the suggestion of McCullough's Adams. I'd add (though this is from a later period) Kearns on Lincoln.
    hmm, I read the first chapter of this, and it seems to be more in the "life story" vein (and also a bit on the feel good side? Like the 4th of july wsj piece hosa posted). Probably interesting, but I'd be more interested in the ideas and beliefs that led to his support of the revolution and the constitution. Was my feeling about the McCullough book correct?


    Quote Originally Posted by acin
    In order for me to feel comfortable continuing I would like to know what exactly makes him sound like an idiot in this biography you read.
    Quote Originally Posted by Reenk Roink View Post
    What are the quotes in question that make you think he was an idiot?
    Similar to what the description of the biography that hosa posted says about him. Let me see what I can pick out from the flexner book:

    The information which soon reached America of the Terror--the rise and fall of the guillotine to the seemingly endless plop of severed heads--did not dampen the enthusiasm of the American republicans. Jefferson wrote that the three of liberty had to be watered by human blood. He was willing to see "half the earth desolated. Were there but an Adam and Eve left in every country, and left free, it would be better than as it now is".
    Washington, who had seen men die in bloody anguish as Jefferson had not, was neither enthused nor encouraraged.
    Under Genet's spell, Jefferson committed his greatest indiscretion while in the cabinet. To officials in Kentucky he backed, subtly but yet clearly, Genet's scheme for raising an army of American citizens that would liberate Louisiana from spain and create an independent nation under the French aegis. Jefferson must have known that this was exactly opposite to the policies of his president. Washington was doing all in his power to reduce the possibility of war with Spain. Such a conflict would surely involve the British
    On June 9, 1793, Jefferson wrote Madison, "The President is not well...He is also extremely affected by the attacks made and kept on him in the public papers. I think he feels those things more than any person I ever yet met with. I am extremely sorry to see them." But, so Jefferson continued, Washington had brought the attacks on hmiself. "Naked he would have been sanctimoniously reverenced, but enveloped in the rags of royalty, they can hardly be torn off without laceration"
    The profoundest reason for the Jeffersonian-Hamiltonian controversy dates back to long before the birth pangs of the United States: it reflects one of the most basic shifts in the whole history of European man. For many centuries society was agricultural, regions being primarily self-sustaining, wealth (and with it temporal power) appertaining to the ownership of land. Gradually, as communications improved, merchants began to compete with the landowner...The American Revolution, which pitted the self-reliant individual against hereditary power, was a world-shaking explosion of new points of view. Yet the eighteenth-century American experiment was by no means the final move in the great cultural shift from the medieval to the modern world. Although fought a considerable distance down the read, the battle between Jeffersonianism and Hamiltonianism was a contest between the old agrarianism and teh new economics that was, for better or worse, on the rise. It was not inapposite that, when the conflict finally burst all bounds into the bloody Civil War, sourthern officers often thought of themselves in terms of medieval chivalry.
    The Virginia Republicans saw in their own plantation society the forthright agricultural virtues claimed by the British country gentlemen.
    Ok, so some of these aren't quotes, just bits from the book that are about what I was talking about. The last quote is beyond me to say anything significant about, but it does give cause for concern.

    The impression I got was that jefferson was overly confidant in his beliefs and didn't have the necessary world experience to ground them. His ideas seem detached from the world in a way that washington's don't. His eager support for the french revolution and revolutions all over is an example. And the stuff about agrarian virtues, well I'd be interested to read a bit more about what led to the civil war really.

    Quote Originally Posted by Seamus Fermanagh View Post
    Jefferson was very human and in some ways our quintessential "founder." He had towering strengths: intellect, skill with words, sense of what could be. He had towering flaws: spendthrift (even by planter standards), political knife artist, hypocrite (opposed slavery yet did not manumit much during his life). In short, he embodied the best and the worst of us -- a very human man and a compelling figure to study.
    But it seems like those pillars of strength need some support for the structure as a whole to be strong. An arch is no good without a keystone.

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    Default Re: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

    The McCullough book on Adams is superb. Actually all McCullough book are superb. Plus I have a soft spot for adamsasan unfairly overlooked president like his son who both did superb ions with little gratitude.

    Plus Adams had my single favorite quote of all time

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    Default Re: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

    @Sasaki

    The definitions of idealist:

    1. One whose conduct is influenced by ideals that often conflict with practical considerations.
    2. One who is unrealistic and impractical; a visionary.

    I don't think those definitions conflict with mine and I think they describe Jefferson perfectly. Your note of him being overly confidant of his beliefs is a symptom of being an idealist everywhere at any given time past, present and future.

    I will agree that sometimes the idealistic view is wrong. History gives plenty of examples.
    EDIT: See the fourth quote you posted.

    The first quote in my opinion is not an indication of being "stupid" but is just in lacking tact. As my girlfriend likes to say when I start bashing religion in her father's house: "remember your audience". Anyone who has seen, lives and breathes death as much as a general and his soldiers do in the middle of a war begins to tire of the needless death that principles and ideals bring about when pitted against each other in a state of power vaccum that the colonies/early US was in at the time. Even if such principles (liberty, freedom from tyranny, all that good stuff) are of the most noble nature.

    The second quote deals with Jefferson acting behind the scenes against the policies of Washington. Jefferson was a cabinet member as Secretary of State and his actions independent of Washington were a failure of Washington to keep his cabinet in line. There have been other presidents where the cabinet was left alone to handle their respective areas and the president bowed to their expertise on the matter and subsequently they became more independent from the president and resistant to any meddling when the president did want to take action. Those presidents are looked upon as weak, and Washington should be viewed a bit more harshly in this regard imo since the backlash against Jefferson in that quote would mostly stem from the fact that he simply was going against Washington which is not inherently bad in itself if Washington and other "Founding Fathers" were not deified. It was no secret that Jefferson had huge support for the French, everyone knew it.

    In the third quote, Jefferson is completely right. Washington had and still has a cloak of no wrongdoing and deification going for him. All public officials, no matter how loved or beloved must be subjected to harsh criticisms in order to keep the overall power of the man and position in check.

    In the fourth quote, it is just indicative that Jefferson in this matter was wrong. For a man ahead of his time in political thought he was behind in economic thought. Blame it on his upbringing in agrarian Virginia or blame it just on ignorance, he was wrong in the matter of the derivation, creation and holding of wealth for the future of human society.

    I hope that last statement made it clear I'm not trying to be a Jefferson apologist here.
    In all these papers we see a love of honest work, an aversion to shams, a caution in the enunciation of conclusions, a distrust of rash generalizations and speculations based on uncertain premises. He was never anxious to add one more guess on doubtful matters in the hope of hitting the truth, or what might pass as such for a time, but was always ready to take infinite pains in the most careful testing of every theory. With these qualities was united a modesty which forbade the pushing of his own claims and desired no reputation except the unsought tribute of competent judges.

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    Default Re: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

    Quote Originally Posted by a completely inoffensive name View Post
    @Sasaki

    The definitions of idealist:

    1. One whose conduct is influenced by ideals that often conflict with practical considerations.
    2. One who is unrealistic and impractical; a visionary.

    I don't think those definitions conflict with mine and I think they describe Jefferson perfectly. Your note of him being overly confidant of his beliefs is a symptom of being an idealist everywhere at any given time past, present and future.

    I will agree that sometimes the idealistic view is wrong. History gives plenty of examples.
    EDIT: See the fourth quote you posted.
    But here's the thing...actually hold on till after the next quote.

    The first quote in my opinion is not an indication of being "stupid" but is just in lacking tact. As my girlfriend likes to say when I start bashing religion in her father's house: "remember your audience". Anyone who has seen, lives and breathes death as much as a general and his soldiers do in the middle of a war begins to tire of the needless death that principles and ideals bring about when pitted against each other in a state of power vaccum that the colonies/early US was in at the time. Even if such principles (liberty, freedom from tyranny, all that good stuff) are of the most noble nature.
    How many stupid, bloody wars have been fought because of people who haven't tired of needless death fighting over some principle? How can it be of a "most noble nature" if it is leading to death and destruction? Isn't bush an idealist who thought he could bring democracy to the middle east? How many people died as a result of the french revolution?

    The second quote deals with Jefferson acting behind the scenes against the policies of Washington. Jefferson was a cabinet member as Secretary of State and his actions independent of Washington were a failure of Washington to keep his cabinet in line. There have been other presidents where the cabinet was left alone to handle their respective areas and the president bowed to their expertise on the matter and subsequently they became more independent from the president and resistant to any meddling when the president did want to take action. Those presidents are looked upon as weak, and Washington should be viewed a bit more harshly in this regard imo since the backlash against Jefferson in that quote would mostly stem from the fact that he simply was going against Washington which is not inherently bad in itself if Washington and other "Founding Fathers" were not deified. It was no secret that Jefferson had huge support for the French, everyone knew it.
    Nah, the backlash against jefferson from that quote is because he was pushing for war between the US and spain (and thus england) all because of his rosy view of the french revolution. Genet was going around rousing the people into a fervor and outfitting privateers. But I think it was clearly for the best that the US keep out of war.

    Washington didn't bow to expertise (in his first term at least). He stood apart from the angry partisan politics and acted as expert mediator. At that point in our history that was what was needed most.

    In the third quote, Jefferson is completely right. Washington had and still has a cloak of no wrongdoing and deification going for him. All public officials, no matter how loved or beloved must be subjected to harsh criticisms in order to keep the overall power of the man and position in check.
    Jefferson was paranoid about the aristocracy, he painted all his political opponents as "monocrats". The "harsh criticisms in order to keep the power in check" were simple propaganda aimed at a political goal.

    It's a mistake to either deify, or cynically trash washington when we find he was imperfect--although perhaps that's what I'm doing to jefferson

    In the fourth quote, it is just indicative that Jefferson in this matter was wrong. For a man ahead of his time in political thought he was behind in economic thought. Blame it on his upbringing in agrarian Virginia or blame it just on ignorance, he was wrong in the matter of the derivation, creation and holding of wealth for the future of human society.
    Shouldn't he, as an intellectual and political leader, have worked his way towards a better understanding?

    I hope that last statement made it clear I'm not trying to be a Jefferson apologist here.
    Sure, I didn't think that.

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    Default Re: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

    McCullough's Adams book is a fairly linear biography. It discusses him less than I'd have liked in terms of his motivations/thoughts about the Declaration etc., but does a wonderful job on his attitudes during his presidency as well as in his role as framer for the constitution of the commonwealth of Massachusetts.
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    Senior Member Senior Member Reenk Roink's Avatar
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    Default Re: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

    Reading the quotes, I would go as far to say that the author himself was not intending to portray Jefferson as an idiot in those quotes, just simply foiling him with his idea of Washington's pragmatism, which he seems favorably inclined to (I haven't read the entire book so maybe he was trying to accomplish that somewhere else or in the whole book).

    I'll deal with the first quote the most because it seems to be the main one where the author tries and makes a point of Jefferson vis a vis Washington.

    The author foils Jefferson's views on the French Revolution with Washington's, and seems to be implying that Jefferson was so full of idealism and bravado because he never saw real war or death unlike Washington who was down to earth. This of course, rests on the assumptions that Jefferson's position was based on his ignorance of the realities of the violence occurring and that had he experienced what Washington had, he would not have held those views about the French Revolution. I disagree, I don't think wartime experience would have changed Jefferson's ideals. At the very most it might have dampened some of his rhetorical bravado when discussing the matter with others, but I believe Jefferson's inner sentiments would remain virtually unchanged. This falls in line with what I've read of Jefferson's strong idealistic personality; did the author bring some evidence to justify his implications to the contrary?

    The impression I got was that jefferson was overly confidant in his beliefs and didn't have the necessary world experience to ground them. His ideas seem detached from the world in a way that washington's don't. His eager support for the french revolution and revolutions all over is an example. And the stuff about agrarian virtues, well I'd be interested to read a bit more about what led to the civil war really.
    I'd say none of these attributes contribute to idiocy, and I personally look upon confidence in his beliefs as a generally positive trait. As for his ideas seeming detached from the world, granting for the sake of argument that Washington was more pragmatic than Jefferson and more in tune with the way of world, this still does not lead to Washington being more 'right' or 'smarter' or 'wiser' about these matters as Jefferson could have had the right idea, too bad the world wasn't at his level yet.

    How many stupid, bloody wars have been fought because of people who haven't tired of needless death fighting over some principle? How can it be of a "most noble nature" if it is leading to death and destruction? Isn't bush an idealist who thought he could bring democracy to the middle east? How many people died as a result of the french revolution?
    Well this entire position seems to rest upon the idea of "needless deaths" outweighing the principle being fought for. What if Jefferson didn't see things that way? In those R:TW loading screens a quote from Tacitus contrasted the his dim view of the desire for safety with the his esteemed view of the noble enterprise of war and he seemed not to even regard to the "death and destruction" it may have brought. You may disagree, but I don't think you can claim that Jefferson was being inconsistent or contradictory with his moral views. How many people died as a result of the American Revolution?

    By the way, I'm not making any moral or value judgments on either Jefferson or Washington (to keep the thread focused), just pointing out that the charges of naivety on Jefferson's part seem to rest on an assumption that he would have changed his ideas had he had some experiences like Washington, which I don't buy.

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    Default Re: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sasaki Kojiro View Post
    How many stupid, bloody wars have been fought because of people who haven't tired of needless death fighting over some principle? How can it be of a "most noble nature" if it is leading to death and destruction? Isn't bush an idealist who thought he could bring democracy to the middle east? How many people died as a result of the french revolution?
    As Reenk pointed out, it depends on how you view the deaths. If they are not "needless" then it is ok to go about your thing, which can be terrible in its own right as we all know "needless" can be subjective. That was actually where I was trying to come from actually. I shouldn't have stated "needless" as it was fact, and should have made it clear that sentence was written in the mind of the subject (the soldiers and generals) I was talking about. Soldiers and generals who see death all the time begin to desensitize to the motivations behind such killings if they are not sociopaths/mass murderers. Once you experience 1,000 deaths firsthand or even second hand (mass death camps or just the sight of a used battlefield once the armies have finished fighting) I can imagine any more no matter what the cause, seems to become needless and/or pointless. But that is from their perspective perhaps and is not fact.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sasaki Kojiro View Post
    Nah, the backlash against jefferson from that quote is because he was pushing for war between the US and spain (and thus england) all because of his rosy view of the french revolution. Genet was going around rousing the people into a fervor and outfitting privateers. But I think it was clearly for the best that the US keep out of war.

    Washington didn't bow to expertise (in his first term at least). He stood apart from the angry partisan politics and acted as expert mediator. At that point in our history that was what was needed most.
    A mediator ends the conflict by bringing about an established settlement between two parties, and not by forcing action as the decider picking a side and sticking with it. Even if it was for the best of the country, by being more of a mediator then the decider, every issue would break out into a problem between the Jeffersons and Hamiltons or what have you and each side would go about their own plans until told no or until a settlement was reached. Unfortunately, it seems that there was a settlement more often then Washington saying "no" if I am inferring correctly from this book you have read. I should probably read this book, otherwise I'm afraid I sound like an idiot right now. My point is that a mediator doesn't end a conflict between parties, he just postpones it until the next issue.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sasaki Kojiro View Post
    Jefferson was paranoid about the aristocracy, he painted all his political opponents as "monocrats". The "harsh criticisms in order to keep the power in check" were simple propaganda aimed at a political goal.

    It's a mistake to either deify, or cynically trash washington when we find he was imperfect--although perhaps that's what I'm doing to jefferson
    I don't know about that. Jefferson seemed very rational and excellent in his view towards the media's relationship with public officials. As far as I can remember, he didn't seem to attempt to silence the media when they threw such accusations at him of adultery with slaves like Adams had with the Alien and Sedition Acts.

    When you talk about the "criticisms" being simple propaganda I would like to ask during what period any such criticisms against a public official were not muddled in lies, deceit and half truths toward a political goal. Your second sentence is spot on, imo. I recognize that Washington handled being the first president on an almost perfect example, but there were critical errors in his administration imo.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sasaki Kojiro View Post
    Shouldn't he, as an intellectual and political leader, have worked his way towards a better understanding?
    Perhaps, but when has being an intellectual and a political leader ever mean you can't be human? Should we chastise Einstein as a fool for wasting the last decades of his life on his Unifying Theory while showing disdain for and not including modern Quantum Mechanics?
    "Quantum mechanics is certainly imposing. But an inner voice tells me that it is not yet the real thing. The theory says a lot, but does not really bring us any closer to the secret of the 'old one'. I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice."
    -Letter to Max Born (1926)

    Being intelligent does not impart the ability to have a clear and open mind any stronger then having a Forest Gump level of intelligence.
    In all these papers we see a love of honest work, an aversion to shams, a caution in the enunciation of conclusions, a distrust of rash generalizations and speculations based on uncertain premises. He was never anxious to add one more guess on doubtful matters in the hope of hitting the truth, or what might pass as such for a time, but was always ready to take infinite pains in the most careful testing of every theory. With these qualities was united a modesty which forbade the pushing of his own claims and desired no reputation except the unsought tribute of competent judges.

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    Default Re: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

    Quote Originally Posted by Reenk Roink View Post
    Reading the quotes, I would go as far to say that the author himself was not intending to portray Jefferson as an idiot in those quotes, just simply foiling him with his idea of Washington's pragmatism, which he seems favorably inclined to (I haven't read the entire book so maybe he was trying to accomplish that somewhere else or in the whole book).
    He does that, but I think a major point of his is that washington's approach was much better at the time.


    I disagree, I don't think wartime experience would have changed Jefferson's ideals. At the very most it might have dampened some of his rhetorical bravado when discussing the matter with others, but I believe Jefferson's inner sentiments would remain virtually unchanged. This falls in line with what I've read of Jefferson's strong idealistic personality; did the author bring some evidence to justify his implications to the contrary?
    Shouldn't his sentiments have changed though? I don't know much about the french revolution, but it seems to have been pretty bad.
    I'd say none of these attributes contribute to idiocy, and I personally look upon confidence in his beliefs as a generally positive trait. As for his ideas seeming detached from the world, granting for the sake of argument that Washington was more pragmatic than Jefferson and more in tune with the way of world, this still does not lead to Washington being more 'right' or 'smarter' or 'wiser' about these matters as Jefferson could have had the right idea, too bad the world wasn't at his level yet.
    hmm, that's a bit opposite of how the book portrayed it. Washington came off as being more farsighted--seeing the prudence of keeping out of a war with britain and spain, being wary of the french revolution as it was getting started, etc.



    Well this entire position seems to rest upon the idea of "needless deaths" outweighing the principle being fought for. What if Jefferson didn't see things that way? In those R:TW loading screens a quote from Tacitus contrasted the his dim view of the desire for safety with the his esteemed view of the noble enterprise of war and he seemed not to even regard to the "death and destruction" it may have brought. You may disagree, but I don't think you can claim that Jefferson was being inconsistent or contradictory with his moral views. How many people died as a result of the American Revolution?
    It would depend on the war...I'm not concerned with jefferson being inconsistent, just with pushing war for the wrong reasons.

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    Default Re: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

    Quote Originally Posted by a completely inoffensive name View Post
    As Reenk pointed out, it depends on how you view the deaths. If they are not "needless" then it is ok to go about your thing, which can be terrible in its own right as we all know "needless" can be subjective. That was actually where I was trying to come from actually. I shouldn't have stated "needless" as it was fact, and should have made it clear that sentence was written in the mind of the subject (the soldiers and generals) I was talking about. Soldiers and generals who see death all the time begin to desensitize to the motivations behind such killings if they are not sociopaths/mass murderers. Once you experience 1,000 deaths firsthand or even second hand (mass death camps or just the sight of a used battlefield once the armies have finished fighting) I can imagine any more no matter what the cause, seems to become needless and/or pointless. But that is from their perspective perhaps and is not fact.
    I don't think "needless" is all that subjective. Hard to figure out maybe.



    A mediator ends the conflict by bringing about an established settlement between two parties, and not by forcing action as the decider picking a side and sticking with it. Even if it was for the best of the country, by being more of a mediator then the decider, every issue would break out into a problem between the Jeffersons and Hamiltons or what have you and each side would go about their own plans until told no or until a settlement was reached. Unfortunately, it seems that there was a settlement more often then Washington saying "no" if I am inferring correctly from this book you have read. I should probably read this book, otherwise I'm afraid I sound like an idiot right now. My point is that a mediator doesn't end a conflict between parties, he just postpones it until the next issue.
    He had more of a "this part is what's really important, the other stuff is a distraction" thing going.

    I don't know about that. Jefferson seemed very rational and excellent in his view towards the media's relationship with public officials. As far as I can remember, he didn't seem to attempt to silence the media when they threw such accusations at him of adultery with slaves like Adams had with the Alien and Sedition Acts.

    When you talk about the "criticisms" being simple propaganda I would like to ask during what period any such criticisms against a public official were not muddled in lies, deceit and half truths toward a political goal. Your second sentence is spot on, imo. I recognize that Washington handled being the first president on an almost perfect example, but there were critical errors in his administration imo.
    They seemed way worse about it back then, well, we don't have guys dying in duels anymore at least. Washington kept away from the bickering on the whole.

    Perhaps, but when has being an intellectual and a political leader ever mean you can't be human? Should we chastise Einstein as a fool for wasting the last decades of his life on his Unifying Theory while showing disdain for and not including modern Quantum Mechanics?
    "Quantum mechanics is certainly imposing. But an inner voice tells me that it is not yet the real thing. The theory says a lot, but does not really bring us any closer to the secret of the 'old one'. I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice."
    -Letter to Max Born (1926)

    Being intelligent does not impart the ability to have a clear and open mind any stronger then having a Forest Gump level of intelligence.
    You're right, I would do well to get some perspective on him instead of just looking at the flaws. Have a book on him, adams, and washington ordered from the library now actually.

  17. #17
    Senior Member Senior Member Reenk Roink's Avatar
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    Default Re: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sasaki Kojiro View Post
    Shouldn't his sentiments have changed though? I don't know much about the french revolution, but it seems to have been pretty bad.
    It's been a while and all I really remember Robspierre, the Reign of Terror, the Jacobians, and them making a new calender , but yeah it was pretty bloody. Jefferson would have likely made the point that it was all worth it though, even if he was completely aware of the situation (did the author make an argument that he wasn't?).

    He does that, but I think a major point of his is that washington's approach was much better at the time.

    hmm, that's a bit opposite of how the book portrayed it. Washington came off as being more farsighted--seeing the prudence of keeping out of a war with britain and spain, being wary of the french revolution as it was getting started, etc.

    It would depend on the war...I'm not concerned with jefferson being inconsistent, just with pushing war for the wrong reasons.
    Well not having read the book or being too familiar with the period I'm not in any position to accept/refute the authors views on Jefferson pushing for war for wrong reasons as compared to Washington's cool headed approach (though with what little I know I think I agree with the author that Washington's reserved position would be the safer bet for America herself). With that being said, if the author was making the larger point that Jefferson's idealism was 1) due in large part to his naivety or 2) detracted him from being a responsible leader later on, my first impulse would be to disagree for reasons already stated.
    Last edited by Reenk Roink; 07-30-2010 at 05:05.

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    Default Re: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

    Idiot or not, he's got a theme song:

    This space intentionally left blank

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    Default Re: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

    Quote Originally Posted by Reenk Roink View Post
    Well not having read the book or being too familiar with the period I'm not in any position to accept/refute the authors views on Jefferson pushing for war for wrong reasons as compared to Washington's cool headed approach (though with what little I know I think I agree with the author that Washington's reserved position would be the safer bet for America herself). With that being said, if the author was making the larger point that Jefferson's idealism was 1) due in large part to his naivety or 2) detracted him from being a responsible leader later on, my first impulse would be to disagree for reasons already stated.
    hmm, I think idealism is going to be a whole kettle of fish. It's not a word that makes it easy to think. When people say idealist they sometimes mean that the person is a visionary, and they will do something great in the face of the cynicism and pessimism of others. But sometimes the person is unrealistic, naive, and maybe irrational and that their ideas would do much more harm than good. Because some ideals are false and some are true. The colonists idea that they could govern themselves without a monarch was true. But the idea that they only needed a weak federal government was false.

    So what does it really mean when you guys say "but jefferson was an idealist" in response to the authors suggestion that he supported things he shouldn't have as a result? I don't get it. Having a dream or idealistic vision is far from inherently good. I mean, washington had a vision of america becoming a strong and united nation. In fact when he's said to be pragmatic what that really seems like to me is that he kept his eye on the goal and didn't get too distracted by the things that jefferson and hamilton were duking it out in the newspapers over. He freed his slaves in his will too. Isn't all that being more of a visionary?

    Having ideals, having confidence in them, sticking by them, that's all null. What's important is how true they are.

    Nah, how reasonable it is for the person to have that as an ideal is what's important. Which I would have to read more about jefferson to judge.
    Last edited by Sasaki Kojiro; 07-31-2010 at 22:05.

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    Senior Member Senior Member Reenk Roink's Avatar
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    Default Re: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sasaki Kojiro View Post
    Because some ideals are false and some are true. The colonists idea that they could govern themselves without a monarch was true. But the idea that they only needed a weak federal government was false.
    and

    Having ideals, having confidence in them, sticking by them, that's all null. What's important is how true they are.
    Getting into a discussion about the truth value of ideals is very likely to end up in futility, that is if you can even get both sides to discount skepticism about assigning such values to things.

    That is why when I read the author's quotes on Jefferson, I simply understand that he obviously did not agree with the ideals (such as his views on the French Revolution) that Jefferson held. He is simply doing a bit of moralizing that many historians will indulge in. I personally see little point in arguing that his opinions of Jefferson's ideals are right or wrong, just like the case with say Bosworth or Green on Alexander the Great. What rather I WOULD contest would be ideas that Jefferson's ideals were due to his naivety or just plain idiocy.

    So what does it really mean when you guys say "but jefferson was an idealist" in response to the authors suggestion that he supported things he shouldn't have as a result? I don't get it. Having a dream or idealistic vision is far from inherently good.
    I'll let ACIN speak for himself but I'm not replying to the author's criticism of Jefferson supporting such things that the author doesn't such as the French Revolution by noting that Jefferson was an idealist. I'm saying that Jefferson being "idealistic" was likely not due to any naivety as the author seemed to imply in the first quote.
    Last edited by Reenk Roink; 08-02-2010 at 03:10.

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    Ni dieu ni maître! Senior Member a completely inoffensive name's Avatar
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    Default Re: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

    Quote Originally Posted by Reenk Roink View Post
    I'll let ACIN speak for himself but I'm not replying to the author's criticism of Jefferson supporting such things that the author doesn't such as the French Revolution by noting that Jefferson was an idealist. I'm saying that Jefferson being "idealistic" was likely not due to any naivety as the author seemed to imply in the first quote.
    When I say Jefferson was an idealist, I simply mean that he put ideals above practicality, which makes for some decisions that in hindsight could be viewed as "stupid" or "idiotic". If you put practicality above ideals you can get equally "idiotic" decisions such as not rebelling against England in the first place, because which is more practical, accepting the taxes or potentially dying in a prolonged war that could easily destroy your economy and wealth faster then any tax could.
    In all these papers we see a love of honest work, an aversion to shams, a caution in the enunciation of conclusions, a distrust of rash generalizations and speculations based on uncertain premises. He was never anxious to add one more guess on doubtful matters in the hope of hitting the truth, or what might pass as such for a time, but was always ready to take infinite pains in the most careful testing of every theory. With these qualities was united a modesty which forbade the pushing of his own claims and desired no reputation except the unsought tribute of competent judges.

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    Hope guides me Senior Member Hosakawa Tito's Avatar
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    Default Re: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sasaki Kojiro View Post
    hmm, I think idealism is going to be a whole kettle of fish. It's not a word that makes it easy to think. When people say idealist they sometimes mean that the person is a visionary, and they will do something great in the face of the cynicism and pessimism of others. But sometimes the person is unrealistic, naive, and maybe irrational and that their ideas would do much more harm than good. Because some ideals are false and some are true. The colonists idea that they could govern themselves without a monarch was true. But the idea that they only needed a weak federal government was false.

    So what does it really mean when you guys say "but jefferson was an idealist" in response to the authors suggestion that he supported things he shouldn't have as a result? I don't get it. Having a dream or idealistic vision is far from inherently good. I mean, washington had a vision of america becoming a strong and united nation. In fact when he's said to be pragmatic what that really seems like to me is that he kept his eye on the goal and didn't get too distracted by the things that jefferson and hamilton were duking it out in the newspapers over. He freed his slaves in his will too. Isn't all that being more of a visionary?

    Having ideals, having confidence in them, sticking by them, that's all null. What's important is how true they are.

    Nah, how reasonable it is for the person to have that as an ideal is what's important. Which I would have to read more about jefferson to judge.

    I'm just back from a vacation trip to Virginia, and we spent a day touring Monticello. A very interesting day indeed, and I highly recommend it to anyone. Jefferson was an idealist, true, but he had to live in a pragmatic/practical world, so his idealism and practical needs often clashed. Most plantation owners inherited big debts along with the family plantation and Jefferson was no exception. Farming is a tough business that is at the mercy of the weather and wildly fluctuating market prices, and back then there were no "crop insurance subsidies" or pensions for those in politics. The labor intensive nature of running a financially successful large plantation required the use of slave labor, so despite the his ideals of slavery = bad, the financial practicality of the institution for plantation owners obviously benefited them and took precedence. Like many plantation owners, Jefferson died in debt, and his property, including most of the slaves had to be sold off piecemeal by his daughter to pay his creditors. I believe that of the 200+ slaves he owned, only about 5 were actually freed upon his death.

    Fortunately, Commodore Uriah Levy purchased Monticello as a summer retreat, and his son preserved/restored the place. It was eventually purchased by a private non-profit group which converted it to a museum, and has been buying back the original surrounding properties. There is a graveyard for Jefferson and his descendents on the grounds, and when we were there they had just buried another relative. Sasaki , if you ever get the chance go see Monticello.

    When I say Jefferson was an idealist, I simply mean that he put ideals above practicality, which makes for some decisions that in hindsight could be viewed as "stupid" or "idiotic".
    From what I've learned of Jefferson I believe you got it backwards. Like many of the Founders, Jefferson often put practicality above ideals.
    Last edited by Hosakawa Tito; 09-14-2010 at 15:34.
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    Senior Member Senior Member Brenus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

    "Every man has two countries, his own and France" T. Jefferson.
    Seems a very sensible man to me
    Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. Voltaire.

    "I've been in few famous last stands, lad, and they're butcher shops. That's what Blouse's leading you into, mark my words. What'll you lot do then? We've had a few scuffles, but that's not war. Think you'll be man enough to stand, when the metal meets the meat?"
    "You did, sarge", said Polly." You said you were in few last stands."
    "Yeah, lad. But I was holding the metal"
    Sergeant Major Jackrum 10th Light Foot Infantery Regiment "Inns-and-Out"

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    TexMec Senior Member Louis VI the Fat's Avatar
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    Default Re: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

    Quote Originally Posted by Brenus View Post
    "Every man has two countries, his own and France" T. Jefferson.
    Certainly all of this world's thieves, beggars and gypsies agree with Jefferson.
    Anything unrelated to elephants is irrelephant
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    Praefectus Fabrum Senior Member Anime BlackJack Champion, Flash Poker Champion, Word Up Champion, Shape Game Champion, Snake Shooter Champion, Fishwater Challenge Champion, Rocket Racer MX Champion, Jukebox Hero Champion, My House Is Bigger Than Your House Champion, Funky Pong Champion, Cutie Quake Champion, Fling The Cow Champion, Tiger Punch Champion, Virus Champion, Solitaire Champion, Worm Race Champion, Rope Walker Champion, Penguin Pass Champion, Skate Park Champion, Watch Out Champion, Lawn Pac Champion, Weapons Of Mass Destruction Champion, Skate Boarder Champion, Lane Bowling Champion, Bugz Champion, Makai Grand Prix 2 Champion, White Van Man Champion, Parachute Panic Champion, BlackJack Champion, Stans Ski Jumping Champion, Smaugs Treasure Champion, Sofa Longjump Champion Seamus Fermanagh's Avatar
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    Default Re: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

    Quote Originally Posted by Louis VI the Fat View Post
    Certainly all of this world's thieves, beggars and gypsies agree with Jefferson.
    Another Congressional junket visiting Paris eh?
    "The only way that has ever been discovered to have a lot of people cooperate together voluntarily is through the free market. And that's why it's so essential to preserving individual freedom.” -- Milton Friedman

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    Senior Member Senior Member Brenus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

    Certainly all of this world's thieves, beggars and gypsies agree with Jefferson Oooh... What are you saying about our President and his wife!!!!
    Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. Voltaire.

    "I've been in few famous last stands, lad, and they're butcher shops. That's what Blouse's leading you into, mark my words. What'll you lot do then? We've had a few scuffles, but that's not war. Think you'll be man enough to stand, when the metal meets the meat?"
    "You did, sarge", said Polly." You said you were in few last stands."
    "Yeah, lad. But I was holding the metal"
    Sergeant Major Jackrum 10th Light Foot Infantery Regiment "Inns-and-Out"

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    TexMec Senior Member Louis VI the Fat's Avatar
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    Default Re: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

    Quote Originally Posted by Brenus View Post
    Oooh... What are you saying about our President and his wife!!!!
    More filthy thieving immigrants. Who undermine our way of life. Who are responsible for what Finkielkraut has dubbed 'the decivilisation process of France'. ()


    They need to be repatriated to Italy and Hungary, and I don't care what new criticism by the EU and Fidel Castro it will cause.
    Anything unrelated to elephants is irrelephant
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    I would be the voice of your conscience if you had one - Brenus
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  28. #28
    Senior Member Senior Member Brenus's Avatar
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    Default Re: Was thomas jefferson an idiot?

    "Finkielkraut": Looks like a very Foreign name, this one... Can't be trusted, mon bon monsieur... A cré vains dieux, even our "intellectuals" are from them...
    Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. Voltaire.

    "I've been in few famous last stands, lad, and they're butcher shops. That's what Blouse's leading you into, mark my words. What'll you lot do then? We've had a few scuffles, but that's not war. Think you'll be man enough to stand, when the metal meets the meat?"
    "You did, sarge", said Polly." You said you were in few last stands."
    "Yeah, lad. But I was holding the metal"
    Sergeant Major Jackrum 10th Light Foot Infantery Regiment "Inns-and-Out"

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