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Paperback The Radical Politics of Thomas Jefferson Book

ISBN: 0700602933

ISBN13: 9780700602933

The Radical Politics of Thomas Jefferson

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Book Overview

Richard Matthews argues that despite scores of books and hundreds of articles, Thomas Jefferson remains the most seriously misrepresented and misunderstood Founding Father. Matthews's Jefferson emerges as America's first and foremost advocate of permanent revolution, a democratic communitarian, and an anti-market theorist. This interpretation has been suggested in the past, but seldom has it been argued so persuasively or so intensely.

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An explanation of how much of a political outlier Thomas Jefferson really was

The place of Thomas Jefferson as one of the founding fathers of the United States is unquestioned and he is quite properly revered for his role. However, what has been lost over the years is how truly radical and revolutionary the ideas embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution were for the times. The idea of a universal representative democracy and citizens having fundamental rights that the government could not take away was an anachronism in the era of strong monarchical rule. Inside this context, Jefferson was one of the most radical of this group. He believed that there should be a revolution with the shedding of blood approximately every twenty years. Jefferson was also philosophically opposed to slavery, although he could see no way it could be abolished. He was also opposed to inheritance, believing that the dead had no right to dictate to the living through wills and that property should not pass from generation to generation. Jefferson also considered farming to be the most noble of occupations and expressed distaste for bankers, merchants and manufacturing. In this book, Matthews puts forward the more radical ideas of Jefferson, which puts him in a better historical context, at least before he was elected President. In general, Jefferson's role on the political fringe is historically forgotten, largely due to his actions as President. To his credit, once he became President, Jefferson put aside his political beliefs to govern in a pragmatic manner. At times, he went against what he had argued earlier in order to act in what he considered the best interests of the United States. An idealist that became a pragmatist over the idealism, in modern parlance, Jefferson would be considered a "flip-flopper." In this book, you learn and understand Jefferson's most extreme positions.

Jefferson: a utopian democrat

In our liberal, hyper-capitalistic society, perhaps it is to be expected that not only mass opinion, but also historians, would view our founding period as being relevant to our current economic and political arrangements. Freedom and property rights were certainly part of the revolutionary lexicon. The founding giants, Franklin, Hamilton, Madison, and Jefferson, are all thought to be advocates for market society and limited government, with the exception of Hamilton who was an advocate for controlling gov. But not so fast, says this author. First, in the colonial era, capitalism existed in only a fledgling form. Citizens, especially elites, were seen to have an obligation for public concerns, not simply those of the marketplace. The underpinnings of democracy can be seen in Jefferson's words in the DOI concerning the equality of all men and government based on consent. In fact, those words are often seen as providing cover for the absence of democracy in modern America. Democracy is at heart a communitarian concept, but individualism, self-interest, and property rights trump collective social concerns in America. Jefferson, perhaps the foremost political theorist of the founding era, nowhere systematically laid out a complete political philosophy. However, in examining thousands of documents, the author shows that Jefferson had a political vision for democracy beyond the other founders, and not much realized today. Jefferson held that man is naturally sociable with an innate moral sense capable of adapting and learning with the capacity for self-government. Jefferson was enamored with New England townships and Indian tribal councils that were small enough for all residents to actually participate in self-governance. He proposed wards at the sub-county level as the primary political division, as well as the locus for general education and militia units. To avoid political dependence, he advocated for all men to own at least 50 acres of land, given by the state if need be. However, Jefferson was hardly a Lockean private property advocate. The pursuit of happiness should be the aim for mankind, not accumulations of property and goods in an unforgiving marketplace. In fact, he seriously proposed the rewriting of the Constitution every generation, or every 19 yrs, contending that the laws of the dead should not bind the living including property arrangements. In other words, community should constantly be renewed. Jefferson would be disdainful of current concerns with original intent. There is a great deal of room to nitpick these ideas of Jefferson in today's context. Most obvious is the urbanization of America. His reliance on farming as the backbone of America would have to be modified. Unfortunately, Jefferson never had the chance to adjust his views of democracy in the face of industrialization and the rise of the monolithic corporation. Furthermore, there is his faith in the common man to question. He was a highly educated social elite; h

Jefferson unplugged

Over the years, I have noticed that many people make pronouncements about Jefferson without really reading him. When I was in college studying political science, Jefferson and Madison were pigeonholed together as Lockean liberals, for the most part. While his thought seems largely derived from Locke, he takes it in totally new directions. One day, while doing research for a paper on the ideologies behind the Federalist-Antifederalist debates of the 1780s, I started reading the unabridged version of Jefferson's collected letters and papers. I was looking to get a better insight into how Jefferson viewed the Constitution, but for some reason, I started reading a letter to Madison in which Jefferson proposed his idea that no laws, constitutions, or public debt schemes should be valid more than 19 years after they were passed. Intrigued, I started reading more. The more of Jefferson I read, the more thunderstruck I was. I came to the conclusion that most of the historians I had read had completely misrepresented Jefferson. After I finished the paper I was working on, I took the next several months and read everything that survives of Jefferson's thought. And I came to the conclusion that while Jefferson and Madison were friends and political allies, Jefferson's views of democracy went far beyond anything that Madison (or any of the other leading American politicans of his time) ever dared to utter. In many respects, Jefferson was closer to the French revolutionaries who took power after the French Revolution of 1789 than he was to most of his fellow Founders. That's why Richard Matthews' book is essential. Matthews explores at length several of the pillars behind Jefferson's thought, including his idea that the earth belongs to the living, from which he derives such ideas as automatic sunset of laws and constitutions and his idea that large estates should be broken up upon the death of the landholder and the land given to the poor. He also delves into Jefferson's concept of the "ward republic." Jefferson, unlike Madison, was confident that average citizens could manage their own civic affairs. To that end, he suggested that counties should be split up into small "wards", akin to the New England town meeting, and that these "ward republics" should directly govern all public matters within their boundaries. Jefferson believed that the man (and in Jefferson's time, it was only men) who learned to manage the affairs of such a "ward republic" would also be a better citizen of his State, and the federal union. Now Jefferson was no head-in-the-clouds theorist. He was a successful practical politician, and, unlike many of the French Jacobins, knew that in the real world, one could only accomplish so much. So, unlike many other revolutionaries who have won political power, Jefferson was not interested in imposing his idea of the good society upon his countrymen at all costs. But he was quite serious about his ideas. Matt

Radical Jefferson

Richard Matthews "Radical Politics of Thomas Jefferson" is great interpretation on the radical nature of the philosophy of Thomas Jefferson. It is amazing to me how the first two reviewers show their how their own ideology ie: "lockean liberalism" is engrafted onto Jefferson. Matthews points out how Jefferson went farther than his fellow revolutionaries in creating a radical democratic philosophy. Jefferson was a true believer in not only a philosophy of liberty, but the best way to preserve that liberty through societal revolution, the "earth belongs to the living" concept, and his view of "ward republicanism".Jefferson saw the American Revolution as a fulfillment not only of Locke,and Sidney, but also saw it as a new begining for liberated man. This new begining would constantly renew the faith of the American Revolution through periodic change in laws and constitutions. Jefferson wanted to preserve liberty by extending democratic republicanism to virtually all white males through his granting of 50 acres of land to every man in Virginia in the belief that property ownership would secure the liberty fought for in the Revolution. Jefferson's proposals to abolish primogeniture and entail are radical attepts to equalize property relations by as he put it " to put all on an equal footing". This was to increase propery ownership by allowing estates to be given to more than just the eldest son.Next is Jefferson's "ward republics". This proposal Jefferson saw as his most important. The ward would be the basic unit on democratic government. Similar to New England Townships, these wards would allow for participation in the affairs of society right down to it closest level. Public schools, militia duty, opposition to tyranny from other branches of government could all be begun here. He also included the "care of the poor" and "care of the roads". This proposal I consider as one of his most profound of democratic ideals. Matthews books is fantastic it illuminates these ideals in the freat Mr Jefferson. A great buy.

Vital to any understanding of Jefferson

this book is worth the money just for the first chapter alone, entitled "the future of an illusion" Matthews reviews the literature on jefferson to date , describing the phases through which interpretations have past and the (seeming)contradictions which have confronted the historians. in the rest of the book matthews presents his reading of jeffersons vision which is , unlike the other writers , not trying to jam jeffersons ideas into a box theyve made for him ( i.e. the "lockean liberal" box, or the "civic republican box"). he liberates jefferson and presents a convincing picture of jefferson the radical. Light , well written , fun to read -over and over again.
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