Thomas Jefferson gets more praise than he deserves. While I generally agree with his ideology, his importance to the country’s founding is overblown.
Jefferson is best known for writing the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson’s use of words is most impressive, possibly creating the greatest document in history. However, if a lesser hand had written the Declaration, the United States would still have been declaring its independence and history would largely be the same. Furthermore, Jefferson was merely expressing the sentiments that already existed across the colonies. [Jefferson, The Works of Thomas Jefferson Vol 12 408-409.]
After penning the Declaration, Jefferson acted as Governor of Virginia, where he fled from the invading British and his popularity declined. He also spent a number of year as Minister to France and was there during the Constitutional Convention and debate over whether to ratify the Constitution. He then became Secretary of State under George Washington, where he took the wrong side on many position. For example, he sided with the French even as that country descended into anarchy and tyranny.
Up until this time, Jefferson had only one accomplishment of national importance: the Declaration of Independence. He most certainly did less of import than Washington, Adams, Hamilton, or Franklin.
So why the reverence for Jefferson? Thomas Jefferson was the country’s first successful party politician. Hamilton had his Federalists, but he never made a true party out of it. It was just a loose collection of similar factions. In fact, Adams and Hamilton constantly disagreed and this caused the fall of the Federalists. On the other hand, Jefferson created a party system with him at the helm. Jefferson won the presidential election in 1800 and his Democratic-Republics owned the White House for the next 24 years. History is written by the victors and Jefferson’s party was victorious. Jefferson was lauded as a hero of the Revolution, though he didn’t fight and had only one major accomplishment, while Hamilton, who acted as Washington’s lieutenant, was a major author of the Constitution, and its staunchest defender in the Federalist Papers, became a villain.
I must add that I believe that Jefferson was a great President. This has also helped his popularity. However, his presidency occurred a quarter of a century after the Revolution began and 12 years after the country’s founding. In this respect, Jefferson may be considered great as some consider Andrew Jackson, but not in terms of the Founding alongside Washington, Franklin, Adams, and Hamilton, whose careers were all basically over when Jefferson became President.
I am interested to hear your thoughts on this interesting and perhaps controversial topic….