The Corner

Our Jeffersonian Traditions?

As the biographer of a clutch of Federalists, I come at Thomas Jefferson from hostile territory.

“Contemptible hypocrite” (Alexander Hamilton). “A memory so pandering to his will that in deceiving others he began by deceiving himself” (John Quincy Adams — ex-Federalist, but he still bore the stigmata of his former party).

But our principles exist, in the first place, in the expression of our principles, and Jefferson gave the definitive expression of those in the Declaration. As he himself said, they were not his little thoughts, but an epitome of Americans’ convictions. All credit, though, to the epitomizer.

I love John Adams. He was a great character and a noble soul. He was also a bad president, and has been rather significantly overestimated in the current founders’ revival.

The man who showed how our political principles could be put into action was the commander-in-chief and president for sixteen and a half years, and king for zero years, George Washington.

And for anyone economically inclined it should be added that we would still be raising crops for the British and slaves for ourselves if it weren’t for Alexander Hamilton. 

Richard Brookhiser — Historian Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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