[Thomas Jefferson]


The turn of this century heralded the evolution of the Jefferson image from a primarily political talisman into a seemingly ubiquitous cultural icon: with the passing of Monticello from private hands to public domain, he came to be appreciated as not only the Author of the Declaration of Independence, but as the Sage of Monticello and Father of American architecture; with the boom in public education during the latter part of the nineteenth century, Jefferson's genius came to be recognized not only in the physical Grounds, but in the curriculum of the University of Virginia; and with the dedication of his Monument by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 13, 1943, Jefferson officially graduated from Father of the Republican party to Father of Liberty.

The Jefferson image is no longer a strictly political force. According to Peterson, the New Deal under Roosevelt marked the end of the "historical Jefferson-Hamilton dialogue in history." As Lincoln so eloquently predicted, we remember Jefferson today as:

the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, and so to embalm it there, that to-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression. 14

It seems no accident of fate that Thomas Jefferson died on Independence Day, July 4, 1826. From that moment forward, with each reiteration and emanation, no matter how unprobably grounded, the Jefferson image has proven remarkably potent, setting the terms for 19th century political debate, leaving its mark on the public aesthetic, and emerging in our current struggle with racial equality--continuing to sink further and further into the historical, mythical consciousness of America.

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*Image was reproduced from the cover of Jeffersonian Legacies, edited by Peter S. Onuf. Charlottesville, 1992