Sunday, September 25, 2011

Progressives: Thomas Jefferson was not a great American

"A Calendar of Great Americans", by Woodrow Wilson, writes the following in his "Mere literature: and other essays". Starting on page 197:

Jefferson was not a thorough American because of the strain of French philosophy that permeated and weakened all his thought. Benton was altogether American so far as the natural strain of his blood was concerned, but he had encumbered his natural parts and inclinations with a mass of undigested and shapeless learning. Bred in the West, where everything was new, he had filled his head with the thought of books (evidently very poor books) which exhibited the ideals of communities in which everything was old. He thought of the Roman Senate when he sat in the Senate of the United States. He paraded classical figures whenever he spoke, upon a stage where both their costume and their action seemed grotesque. A pedantic frontiersman, he was a living and a pompous antinomy. Meant by nature to be an American, he spoiled the plan by applying a most unsuitable gloss of shallow and irrelevant learning. Jefferson was of course an almost immeasurably greater man than Benton, but he was un-American in somewhat the same way. He brought a foreign product of thought to a market where no natural or wholesome demand for it could exist. There were not two incompatible parts in him, as in Benton's case: he was a philosophical radical by nature as well as by acquirement; his reading and his temperament went suitably together. The man is homogeneous throughout. The American shows in him very plainly, too, notwithstanding the strong and inherent dash of what was foreign in his make-up. He was a natural leader and manager of men, not because he was imperative or masterful, but because of a native shrewdness, tact, and sagacity, an inborn art and aptness for combination, such as no Frenchman ever displayed in the management of common men. Jefferson had just a touch of rusticity about him, besides; and it was not pretense on his part or merely a love of power that made him democratic. His indiscriminate hospitality, his almost passionate love for the simple equality of country life, his steady devotion to what he deemed to be the cause of the people, all mark him a genuine democrat, a nature native to America. It is his speculative philosophy that is exotic, and that runs like a false and artificial note through all his thought. It was un-American in being abstract, sentimental, rationalistic, rather than practical. That he held it sincerely need not be doubted; but the more sincerely he accepted it so much the more thoroughly was he un-American. His writings lack hard and practical sense. Liberty, among us, is not a sentiment, but a product of experience; its derivation is not rationalistic, but practical. It is a hard-headed spirit of independence, not the conclusion of a syllogism. The very aerated quality of Jefferson's principles gives them an air of insincerity, which attaches to them rather because they do not suit the climate of the country and the practical aspect of affairs than because they do not suit the character of Jefferson's mind and the atmosphere of abstract philosophy. It is because both they and the philosophical system of which they form a part do seem suitable to his mind and character, that we must pronounce him, though a great man, not a great American.

This is all so venomous that it actually makes me laugh. And Wilson was not alone. Theodore Roosevelt also disliked Jefferson, thought he was an underhanded demagogue:(Beveridge's Life of Marshall)

Politically Marshall followed Washington, and steadily and earnestly supported and developed Washington's great policies. This inevitably threw him into sharp opposition to Jefferson, who was the underhanded but malignantly bitter leader of the anti-National forces which gradually rallied against the Washington policies. Virginia was then the leading State of the Union, and its attitude was of vital consequence. It was in a way proud of Washington, and his great character carried immense weight among Virginians as among all other Americans. There were certain Virginian leaders, among whom Marshall and "Lighthorse Harry" Lee were the most important, who were as strongly National in their beliefs and sympathies as Washington himself, and who were his consistent supporters; and there were other Virginian leaders who at one crisis or another supported Washington and the vital cause of National union—Madison at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, which Patrick Henry opposed, and Patrick Henry at the time of the nullification of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, which Madison fathered jointly with Jefferson, showing sheep-like submission to the abler, more crafty, and more unscrupulous man. Mr. Beveridge brings out clearly the way in which, partly owing to the adroit and successful demagogy of Jefferson, Virginia finally became so estranged from Washington that when his Administration was closing the Legislature actually refused to pass a formal resolution approving the wisdom of his course as President.

Bitter? Hmm. Was Jefferson a bitter clinger? Well, I didn't see it written here where he has antipathy. But as progressives would be quick to point out, Jefferson was a slave owner. So there it is. Bitter, and with antipathy towards others not like him.

And this hasn't changed. The hatred of Jefferson by progressives continues to this day.

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