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A Founding Tale: “Let Friendship Redeem the Republic”

red and blue chairs at table“…You and I ought not to die until we have explained ourselves to each other.”

So began the late-life correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the founding fathers described in the HBO mini-series “John Adams” as “the north and south poles of our revolution.”

Once friends, differences in opinion and political competition had taken a toll.

They, like others in the founders’ generation, had deep philosophical disagreements. But as they went about the business of building a country, an endeavor that if unsuccessful would surely lead to their hanging, they hardly had the luxury to stop talking to each other.

Despite the differences between them and the odds against them, the founders managed to cobble together their opus – and ours – the Constitution, which despite all probability still guides this diverse group of people forward together.

But, alas, “politics ain’t beanbag” and two election cycles later, Jefferson and Adams had no tolerance for one another.

Fast-forward a couple of centuries and most of us are likely to relate to the fix Adams and Jefferson found themselves in. We, like they, have deep disagreement with – and sometimes little tolerance for – one another.

The two founders ultimately died friends, having given history the gift of their final correspondence. They died on the same day, July 4th, 50 years to the day after the nation they built was born.

“Whether you or I were right,” Adams had written to Jefferson, “posterity must judge. Yet I ask of you, who shall write the history of our revolution?”

The philosophical descendants of Jefferson and Adams are alive and well today in us, in this amazing American experiment “in the course of human events.”

And we are still writing the history of their revolution.

Like the founders, we hardly have the luxury to stop talking to each other.

________________

Liz Joyner is a co-founder and Executive Director of the Village Square. Please take a moment to read the piece that inspired this title, Dining with Jeff, by Patricia Nelson Limerick.



Happy Birthday Mr. Jefferson: A good excuse to re-run a great editorial

Jenkinson-outside The Village Square in Tallahassee hosted humanities scholar Clay Jenkinson on October 15th for a live audience taping of the nationally syndicated show The Thomas Jefferson Hour. To learn more about our program and listen to an audio of the program CLICK HERE. To look at pictures of the program CLICK HERE. The below piece by Mr. Jenkinson ran in ” Context Florida and the print edition of the Tallahassee Democrat.

As the 21st century finds its rhythm, and the 2016 presidential contest begins to take up most of our public space, it seems clear to me that we have two political parties in the United States, but they are both thoroughly Hamiltonian.We have what might be called the “greater Hamiltonian Party” and the “lesser Hamiltonian party.” The obscene dominance of money, political action committees, lobbyists, fundraisers, and unrestrained attack ads has essentially disenfranchised the vast majority of American citizens.

In a world where there is no longer any real accountability, our political discourse has spiraled down into the gutter. A citizen from Jupiter, or any rational American, forced to watch nothing but Fox and MSNBC 24 hours per day, would soon despair of the American experiment.

What is to be done?

My view is that we need a Jeffersonian party or (better yet) a Jeffersonian movement in America. Jefferson believed that a republic could not survive without a high level of civility. In his first inaugural address, after a hotly contested election, Jefferson wrote two passages that every American should stop to consider.

First he said, “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”

In other words, Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner, there are more things about which you agree than disagree. Stop exaggerating your differences – to raise money from your most virulent supporters, to appease the most extreme elements in your caucus, to erect a pedestal of righteousness in your name.

Jefferson’s second passage is even more important. “Let us,” he wrote, “restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things.”

Think about what Jefferson is saying here. The ideal of a republic is social “harmony and affection.” We live in the freest country in history, on what Jefferson called a “wide and fruitful land” with “room enough for our descendants to the thousandth and thousandth generation.” We have every reason to rejoice, almost no reason to lament.

Who would not agree that the rancorous partisanship and political paralysis of the past dozen years have made our public life (the res-publica, as the Romans put it) dreary, tedious, dispiriting, degrading, demoralizing, and exceedingly frustrating?

National renewal begins with a new commitment to civility. The style of our national debates should be serious, at times pointed, but always respectful and civil. The whole spirit of the Enlightenment can be summed up in a statement attributed to the French philosopher Voltaire:

“Madam, I disagree with what you say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it.

We need to bring down the temperature of our national debates. We need to listen more carefully to each other. We need to try to understand not only what the opposition is saying, but the set of American principles that underlie what they say. We need to refine our debates so that they begin again to be evidence-based, rational, sensible, and helpful. Demagoguery is telling people what you think they want to hear even if you know what you are saying could never be instituted in law.

Demagoguery is playing on the fears, the darker energies, the prejudices, and the uncivil desires of the people. Demagoguery is deliberately saying things that you know actually degrade the possibility of true resolution of our problems. By those definitions, the United States in 2015 is awash in demagoguery.

Jefferson believed we would only be a republic if we had a well-educated and well-informed public – a nation of people who could see beyond narrow self-interest to the health and happiness of the entire commonwealth. Jefferson famously said that in our system the will of the majority ought always to prevail, but “that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.”

Here’s what we desperately need. More civil public discourse. A willingness to compromise. The ability to see the virtue of the opposition, and to realize that they feel passionately about what is good for America. A willingness to read – books, articles, websites, the classics, the Founding Fathers – and to inform ourselves before trotting out the usual talking points (from Rush or Rachel or Sean or Glenn).

We need more Village Square events. I’m so excited to be coming to Tallahassee in the persona of the third U.S. president, Thomas Jefferson. I do the work that I do, portraying Jefferson (and other historical characters) across the country, and playing Jefferson 52 weeks per year on the Thomas Jefferson Hour, because I believe something vital is missing at the core of American life, and that Jefferson’s view of republican democracy is the answer to what has gone wrong in American life.

Not everything about Thomas Jefferson is admirable, but his understanding of how a republic works is as important today as it was when he first penned these thoughts two centuries ago.

If I can play a small role in restoring Jeffersonian values to our national discourse, I will say, to use one of Jefferson’s allusions, like the character in the Bible, nunc dimittis, now you may dismiss me, for my work is done.

______________

Clay S. Jenkinson is a humanities scholar, Rhodes Scholar, author and social commentator. He has lectured about and portrayed Thomas Jefferson in 49 states over a period of 15 years, before U.S. Supreme Court justices, presidents, 18 state legislatures, and countless public, corporate, student and television audiences. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

The Village Square will host Jenkinson for a special live audience taping of the The Thomas Jefferson Hour at 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Goodwood Museum & Gardens. “Founding Ideals: A Conversation with President Thomas Jefferson” is a fundraiser for The Village Square. You may purchase tickets by clicking here. Questions? Email christine@tothevillagesquare.org or call 850-590-6646.



Context Florida: Our special guest Clay Jenkinson on “Restoring the American republic, beginning in Tallahassee”

Jenkinson-outside The Village Square in Tallahassee hosted humanities scholar Clay Jenkinson on October 15th for a live audience taping of the nationally syndicated show The Thomas Jefferson Hour. To learn more about our program and listen to an audio of the program CLICK HERE. To look at pictures of the program CLICK HERE. The below piece by Mr. Jenkinson ran in ” Context Florida and the print edition of the Tallahassee Democrat.

As the 21st century finds its rhythm, and the 2016 presidential contest begins to take up most of our public space, it seems clear to me that we have two political parties in the United States, but they are both thoroughly Hamiltonian.We have what might be called the “greater Hamiltonian Party” and the “lesser Hamiltonian party.” The obscene dominance of money, political action committees, lobbyists, fundraisers, and unrestrained attack ads has essentially disenfranchised the vast majority of American citizens.

In a world where there is no longer any real accountability, our political discourse has spiraled down into the gutter. A citizen from Jupiter, or any rational American, forced to watch nothing but Fox and MSNBC 24 hours per day, would soon despair of the American experiment.

What is to be done?

My view is that we need a Jeffersonian party or (better yet) a Jeffersonian movement in America. Jefferson believed that a republic could not survive without a high level of civility. In his first inaugural address, after a hotly contested election, Jefferson wrote two passages that every American should stop to consider.

First he said, “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”

In other words, Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner, there are more things about which you agree than disagree. Stop exaggerating your differences – to raise money from your most virulent supporters, to appease the most extreme elements in your caucus, to erect a pedestal of righteousness in your name.

Jefferson’s second passage is even more important. “Let us,” he wrote, “restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things.”

Think about what Jefferson is saying here. The ideal of a republic is social “harmony and affection.” We live in the freest country in history, on what Jefferson called a “wide and fruitful land” with “room enough for our descendants to the thousandth and thousandth generation.” We have every reason to rejoice, almost no reason to lament.

Who would not agree that the rancorous partisanship and political paralysis of the past dozen years have made our public life (the res-publica, as the Romans put it) dreary, tedious, dispiriting, degrading, demoralizing, and exceedingly frustrating?

National renewal begins with a new commitment to civility. The style of our national debates should be serious, at times pointed, but always respectful and civil. The whole spirit of the Enlightenment can be summed up in a statement attributed to the French philosopher Voltaire:

“Madam, I disagree with what you say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it.

We need to bring down the temperature of our national debates. We need to listen more carefully to each other. We need to try to understand not only what the opposition is saying, but the set of American principles that underlie what they say. We need to refine our debates so that they begin again to be evidence-based, rational, sensible, and helpful. Demagoguery is telling people what you think they want to hear even if you know what you are saying could never be instituted in law.

Demagoguery is playing on the fears, the darker energies, the prejudices, and the uncivil desires of the people. Demagoguery is deliberately saying things that you know actually degrade the possibility of true resolution of our problems. By those definitions, the United States in 2015 is awash in demagoguery.

Jefferson believed we would only be a republic if we had a well-educated and well-informed public – a nation of people who could see beyond narrow self-interest to the health and happiness of the entire commonwealth. Jefferson famously said that in our system the will of the majority ought always to prevail, but “that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.”

Here’s what we desperately need. More civil public discourse. A willingness to compromise. The ability to see the virtue of the opposition, and to realize that they feel passionately about what is good for America. A willingness to read – books, articles, websites, the classics, the Founding Fathers – and to inform ourselves before trotting out the usual talking points (from Rush or Rachel or Sean or Glenn).

We need more Village Square events. I’m so excited to be coming to Tallahassee in the persona of the third U.S. president, Thomas Jefferson. I do the work that I do, portraying Jefferson (and other historical characters) across the country, and playing Jefferson 52 weeks per year on the Thomas Jefferson Hour, because I believe something vital is missing at the core of American life, and that Jefferson’s view of republican democracy is the answer to what has gone wrong in American life.

Not everything about Thomas Jefferson is admirable, but his understanding of how a republic works is as important today as it was when he first penned these thoughts two centuries ago.

If I can play a small role in restoring Jeffersonian values to our national discourse, I will say, to use one of Jefferson’s allusions, like the character in the Bible, nunc dimittis, now you may dismiss me, for my work is done.

______________

Clay S. Jenkinson is a humanities scholar, Rhodes Scholar, author and social commentator. He has lectured about and portrayed Thomas Jefferson in 49 states over a period of 15 years, before U.S. Supreme Court justices, presidents, 18 state legislatures, and countless public, corporate, student and television audiences. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

The Village Square will host Jenkinson for a special live audience taping of the The Thomas Jefferson Hour at 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Goodwood Museum & Gardens. “Founding Ideals: A Conversation with President Thomas Jefferson” is a fundraiser for The Village Square. You may purchase tickets by clicking here. Questions? Email christine@tothevillagesquare.org or call 850-590-6646.



Fruitful fields and healthful skies: Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day proclamation.

lincoln memorialBy the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State



Jon Meachem on a little secret we stumbled upon

“[President Thomas Jefferson] used the table – the art of cuisine, of entertaining… those Virginia rites of hospitality that he grew up with – to move opinion in his direction. It doesn’t mean that it created a bipartisan Valhalla. But life is lived on the margins in politics and every once in a while, when you need a vote – you’re more likely to get the benefit of the doubt from someone with whom you’ve broken bread and who knows what your eyes look like and what your voice sounds like than you are from some distant remote figure.” – Jon Meachem, author of “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power”



David McCollough: “We too will be judged by history”

Renowned historian David McCollough on Fareed Zakaria GPS Sunday:

In the old House of Representatives chamber in the Capitol, over the doorway there is a figure of Clio, the Goddess of History. And she’s riding in her chariot and on the side of the chariot is a clock, put there way back in the 1830’s. Still runs perfectly. She’s writing in her book of history and the idea was that the representatives would look up and see what time it is but they should be reminded that’s just present-day time. What really matters is what’s being written in the book of history. What looks down on Congress today? A television camera.



Bob Schieffer: “Ingenious compromises and courage”

Bob Schieffer’s weekly commentaries are usually the voice of reason – here, no exception:

Finally, today, well, it has taken a while, but we have finally done it. We have created a Congress incapable of doing what it was supposed to do… It is as if Detroit made a car with a fine radio and piercing headlights and comfortable, beautiful seats, but a car that couldn’t do what it was created to do and that is move forward. Here is how it happened. The cottage industry that has grown up around Congress, the consultants, the commercial makers, the pollsters, has made the cost of running for office prohibitive, so those who do Read all »



Authentic Patriotism: George Washington

Between Memorial Day and July 4th, we’ll be doing a series of posts on Authentic Patriotism, featuring vignettes from Stephen P. Kiernan’s book Authentic Patriotism as well as local stories of authentic patriotism (you can submit them HERE). Stephen will be our featured speaker at the June 21 Dinner at the Square (find details HERE).

Kiernan writes of the personal sacrifices made by patriots in the founding generation for their love of country. Here Kiernan tells President George Washington’s story Read all »



Authentic Patriotism: Thomas Jefferson

Between Memorial Day and July 4th, we’ll be doing a series of posts on Authentic Patriotism, featuring vignettes from Stephen P. Kiernan’s book Authentic Patriotism as well as local stories of authentic patriotism (you can submit them HERE). Stephen will be our featured speaker at the June 21 Dinner at the Square (find details HERE).

Kiernan writes of the personal sacrifices made by patriots in the founding generation for their love of country. Here Kiernan tells Jefferson’s story:

“Picture Thomas Jefferson in his Monticello home in 1782, mourning the death of his beloved young wife. He has left public life completely, calling his sorrow “a stupor of mind.” He destroys all of their letters. He climbs on his horse each ay for rambling rides, headlong, running from his grief. He shuts himself up in his library for hours of solitude. On her deathbed Martha begged him not to marry again, and the widower keeps that promise all his days. And yet, eventually Jefferson rouses himself, and in twenty years he is president. He buys the Louisiana territories from the French for a pittance, doubling the size of the new nation and thereby establishing the independent, pioneer spirit that characterizes Americans to this day…”

“…The men and women of that era risked their lives for these ideals because it was necessary. Today the imperatives are less elemental to the nation’s existence. But that does not mean that Americans can afford to risk nothing, contribute nothing. A democracy without an engaged populace is like a monarchy without a king.”



Authentic Patriotism: Restoring America’s Founding Ideals through selfless action

Between Memorial Day and July 4th, we’ll be doing a series of posts on the concept of authentic patriotism, featuring vignettes from Stephen P. Kiernan’s book Authentic Patriotism as well as local stories of authentic patriotism (you can submit them HERE). Stephen will be our featured speaker at the June 21 Dinner at the Square (find details HERE).

Kiernan writes of the personal sacrifices made by patriots in the founding generation for their love of country. Here he writes about John Adams:

“Picture John Adams in February 1778, climbing the gangplank of a ship bound for France. He is traveling as an envoy of the colonies, at that point not a nation but rebellious subjects of Great Britain. Adams’ task is to persuade Paris to loan millions of dollars so the rebellion can pay its army and begin to build a navy. The ship he boards is not outfitted for passengers. Between rough winter seas and King George III’s mighty naval patrols, crossing the Atlantic in that era is more dangerous than parachuting from a plane today. His only companion is his son, John Quincy Adams. John the elder will not see his wife for eighteen months, his personal finances are a mess, and he may die from British cannons on the sea. He goes anyway.”



Specks and logs

For the sake of truth in advertising, perhaps 2.5-ish centuries of one national motto is enough and we should switch to go with a motto that seems to (too often) be the real tone in modern America. So how’s this for a redo on E pluribus unum:

“I see the speck in your eye, but haven’t a clue about the log in mine.”

How’s that for helping to chart the future of America in the world?

Maybe you’ve got other ideas?



Our Crossroads, Mr. Franklin

I spent last night into the wee hours editing the video of The Big Sort from our February visit from Bill Bishop. It could have been exhaustion from the tedious process of video editing but I ended the evening with an even more onerous feeling about the importance of where we turn from here in our life as a country. I was struck with the heavy realization that what Bill describes and documents in his must-read book may be the beginnings of our form of government gone to seed.

“A Republic, if you can keep it” were Franklin’s haunting words. If we are half the patriots we like to say we are, times a wasting for the actions required to do so.

A “government by and for the people”, by definition, requires that we engage in the conversation of governance. “Us” doesn’t have to mean you and me literally, but at the very least it means the people we elected to govern for us. In case you haven’t noticed, they aren’t. They’re only partly to blame though because when they hold their fingers in the political wind – as they are apt to do – they know that we don’t exactly want them to. Read all »



David Brooks: It’s really about whether you believe in the founders’ vision of equilibrium or not

David Brooks channels Village Square in Monday New York Times op-ed:

“For centuries, American politicians did not run up huge peacetime debts. It wasn’t because they were unpartisan or smarter or more virtuous. It was because they were constrained by a mentality inherited from the founders. According to this mentality, a big successful nation exists in a state of equilibrium between its many factions. This equilibrium is fragile because we are flawed and fallen creatures and can’t quite trust ourselves. So all of us, but especially members of the leadership class, should practice self-restraint. Moral anxiety restrained hubris (don’t think your side possesses the whole truth) and self-indulgence (debt corrupts character). Read all »