Thomas Jefferson and Jeffersonian Democracy
Thomas Jefferson, one of the greatest Founders of America, believed in and advocated public education from first grade through university graduate school, because he knew that true Democracy cannot exist without an informed, educated citizenry.
Jefferson also believed and wrote that: "Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." For he understood that a good citizen must not only be educated regarding academic and historical subjects, they must also be made aware of past and current events by investigative journalists who will keep politicians honest.
Jefferson noted: "I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society, but the people themselves: and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power."
Unfortunately, today abuses of constitutional power are rampant. There are some Americans today who are ignorant not only of the letter of constitutional law and scriptural teachings, they are especially ignorant of the spirit of the law and teachings. But in spite of their ignorance, and being unaware that they have been misled by demagogues and false shepherds, they "thump" the Constitution as they thump their Bible, and they proudly and loudly claim to know the truth. And to make matters worse, they use aggressive theocratic political action to try to destroy freedom of religions and public education, believing they are doing “the right thing.”
Such issues, including Jeffersonian Democracy, are discussed in this article and others. But first it should be understood why there has been and is a lot of debate over Thomas Jefferson. There have been a lot of erroneous and unfair claims made about him, and perhaps the most erroneous claims are regarding the issues of government powers and slavery.
Therefore, we should consider the historic record, and perhaps we should begin with slavery because that's the hottest issue debated.
Jefferson Regarding Slavery
This issue is important today because some people who dislike Jefferson's fair, liberating and populist principles have been trying to denigrate him and tarnish his image because Jefferson inherited slaves from his father, and he was a slave holder all his life.
But there's much more to the story that Jefferson’s critics don’t know, or don't want you to know.
First, even as far back as 1769 Jefferson had proposed to emancipate slaves in Virginia, and in his first draft of the Declaration of Independence he condemned slavery. But, what he wrote about it was censored by Southern delegates.
In 1776, Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, but he was on a committee including four others that probably arrived at a consensus proposing the content of the first draft, and he was not the sole author of the final version. The final product was decided upon by delegates from colonies all around the country.
However, Jefferson wrote the first draft, and in it he stated that the British King "has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people [Africans] who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere."
Obviously Jefferson was condemning slavery, and he was referring to the fact that the British King's London Company and the wealthy British aristocrats who did its bidding had introduced slavery to the Jamestown Virginia Colony in 1619. But, unfortunately, Jefferson's words about that were unfortunately deleted from the Declaration by delegates from South Carolina and Georgia.
The fact is that Jefferson was quite aware of the evils of slavery and had been speaking out against it for a long time, but most Americans now are totally unaware of that, which makes it easy for false or misguided "historians" to fool a lot of Americans about it.
For example, some Americans have been misled to think that Jefferson a hypocrite because he himself owned slaves. In fact, there are now a lot of misguided critics of Jefferson who have been making ludicrous claims about him, for a variety of reasons. Therefore, it is very important that Americans today understand the truth.
Actually, Jefferson was not a hypocrite, and that is easy to see when you consider some very important facts.
Jefferson was fourteen years old when he inherited his land and his slaves from his father, and he followed the ways of his father even though his heart was not in it. That's why the historic record shows that he spoke out against slavery and developed a conscientious, democratic world view.
The record shows that Jefferson said slavery was immoral and it should be abolished. And even though Jefferson was a man of his times and his actions admittedly contradicted his words in that he still owned slaves like most of his peers, he was unusually kind to his slaves and gave them relative freedom. He treated them more like employees than slaves, and he gave them days off to go to town and shop and take care of their own business.
But Jefferson knew and said slavery was wrong, and he consistently expressed that. He even invoked the notion of divine justice in his opposition to slavery when he wrote: "Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?"
In addition, during Jefferson’s lengthy political career, he attempted many times to abolish or limit the advance of slavery. He sponsored and encouraged Free-State advocates like James Lemen. And he said he "believed that it was the responsibility of the state and society to free all slaves." (Read other quotes of Jefferson's thoughts about slavery from Monticello.org.)
Even though it is curious that Jefferson owned slaves and did not set them free even in his will, there are many other facts in the historic record that show all the things that Jefferson did, not only to condemn the institution of slavery but also to fight the expansion of slavery during his political career. And there is a lot of evidence that reveals how Jefferson thought and felt.
Critics of Jefferson ignore that evidence and the full historic record in context. Instead they refer to his Notes on the State of Virginia (1781-1783), because among other things Jefferson's "Notes" referred to "the real distinctions which nature has made" between whites and blacks. Critics claim that proves Jefferson was a racist. But, that was actually Jefferson's effort to bridge the huge gap between die hard slave owner-traders and Abolitionists.
Jefferson was worried that "Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks of the injuries they have sustained" could lead to terrible problems. That's why he suggested that deporting slaves to Africa might be a solution. However, that was because he felt that would at least free them from slavery in America, and he never took any political action to try to deport slaves to free them. Instead, he tried to abolish slavery in America.
In fact, in his "Notes" Jefferson also expressed his opposition to slavery, and that was one of the reasons why numerous northern states abolished slavery, and why the number of free blacks in Virginia rose to about 1,800 in 1782, and increased steadily.
The Young Jefferson and What He Became
In 1760 at the age of 16 Jefferson entered college and studied philosophy, mathematics and metaphysics. He particularly the work of John Locke, Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton. After graduating with highest honors, he studied law and became a lawyer in 1767.
In 1774, Jefferson wrote A Summary View of the Rights of British America, his first published work, in which he proposed the radical idea that the colonists had the natural right to govern themselves. He intended to influence the First Continental Congress, but his ideas were deemed too radical. But that work was actually what began to frame the idea for American independence, it led to Jefferson's being considered as a bright, patriotic spokesman.
That is why when Jefferson served as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress it considered declaring a resolution of independence in June 1776, and Jefferson was appointed to write the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. When he presented it including the language regarding slavery quoted above, it was unfortunately edited and that language was removed by delegates from Southern states. But Jefferson's eloquent preamble became an enduring statement of human rights anyway.
Then, on top of being the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, he became the second Governor of Virginia from 1779 to 1781; the United States Ambassador to France from 1785 to 1789; the first U.S. Secretary of State from 1789 to 1793; the second Vice President of the United States from 1797 to 1801; and the third President of the United States from 1801 to 1809.
During Jefferson's career he was the principal founder of Jeffersonian Democracy and chief proponent of freedom of religion and complete public education. He had truly democratic ideals and principles. He deeply believed that America should be a country where all people have equal opportunities. He wanted to create a level playing field, as it were, on which any person willing and able could succeed, flourish and prosper, regardless of the wealth or religion of their family or circumstances of birth.
Jefferson was very clearly against an aristocracy of the wealthy, and instead believed in giving all people the opportunity to rise to their full potential. That, in fact, is why he not only promoted public schools, but also wanted to establish free publicly funded higher education so that all good students could have the opportunity to fulfill their potential and be what they wanted to be.
“I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” --Thomas Jefferson
“Educate and inform the whole mass of the people... They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” – Thomas Jefferson
And, as quoted above: “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.” – Thomas Jefferson
Today it is important for Americans to understand that, and to understand that is why Republican President Abraham Lincoln later said: “The principles of Jefferson are the axioms of a free society.”
That is crucially important because there are some right-wing extremist Republicans in America today who have been led to believe in a distorted view of the intent of the Founding Fathers, especially Thomas Jefferson and his views and principles regarding both democracy and religion.
Extreme right wing Republicans, like those in the so-called "Tea Party," make such claims as if they are new. But they are very old. In fact, the John Birch Society, which in the 1950s began influencing right wing Republicans of that era (like Joseph McCarthy, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan), has been influencing people like the Randians and the Reaganites ever since with false, misleading propaganda -- such as claiming that America is not a Democracy, and that the Founders of the United States of America did not intend for it to be one.
The truth, however, is that the Founders did indeed want American to be a Democratic Republic, and a Democracy. In fact, Thomas Paine, a close friend of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, became well known for writing pamphlets to encourage the colonists to rise up against the King of England in the first place. He wrote Common Sense, The Rights of Man, and The Age of Reason, all of which were influential. Paine and Jefferson were also known quite well in France and helped to further the cause for the French Revolution as well.
Paine was perhaps even more succinct than Jefferson when he finally wrote: "It is on this system that the American Government is founded. It is representation ingrafted upon Democracy." And he also wrote that: "What Athens was in miniature, America will be in magnitude," knowing that in Athens Greece was the world's first democracy, and intending for America to be the greatest.
That is why Thomas Jefferson and James Madison formed the Democratic-Republican Party in 1800 in order to establish a Democratic Republic, and they were supported by the majority of the other Founding Fathers and opposed only by a minority of Hamiltonian Federalists.
The Hamiltonian Federalist Party was against Jefferson and Jeffersonian Democracy because they had a different point of view and interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. That was because they preferred the British traditions of aristocracy and the British banking and economic systems that catered to and enabled the wealthiest few.
The Jeffersonian Democratic Republican Party was against aristocracy and oligarchy based on wealth, and they wanted the people to be free and able to choose leadership that they deemed wise, virtuous, and educated. Fortunately, by 1800 Jefferson's and Madison's Democratic Republican Party defeated the Federalists. And by solidifying Jeffersonian ideas they achieved a huge step in human evolution.
Thomas Jefferson was also very much against religious bigotry and theocracy, and Americans need to realize how and why his views on both government and religion are very important today, more than ever.
Jefferson On Freedom of Religion
One of the most blatant examples of distorting the Founding Fathers’ views on religion, and particularly Jefferson’s, is in the claims of the “religious right” in America about what freedom of religion means.
For example, many years ago right-wing televangelist Pat Robertson claimed that “the idea that the Constitution established a wall of separation between church and state is a lie.” And many other leaders of the “religious right” in America have since agreed and parroted the same claim.
However, Robertson and other Theocratic leaders of the “religious right” simply ignore Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution, which prevents any sort of religious requirement or religious test for holding office, and they ignore the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prevents Congress from enacting any law regarding the establishment of religion.
They also conveniently ignore that Thomas Jefferson famously wrote that the First Amendment freedom of religion clause was intended specifically to “build a wall of separation between church and state,” and the U.S. Supreme Court later agreed with Jefferson so it is legally binding.
That is generally acknowledged by the vast majority of Americans. After all, we cannot have real religious freedom unless all religions are respected as equal by a government that is neutral regarding religion.
Unfortunately, the leaders of the “religious right” in America ignore all the facts because they want a Theocracy where only Christians have the political power in government. They think freedom of religion means the freedom for them to rule in the name of Christianity to make it the state religion.
They’ve been trying to do that for 30 years, which is why so many right-wing Republican presidential candidates have basically followed the same misguided “religious” political ideology to try to gain presidential power.
However, they ignore the obvious and clear intent of the Founding Fathers regarding religion and freedom of religion. That is why the articles on Ignored American History and The Founding Fathers Regarding Religion wert written, providing quotes of the Founding Fathers that show how and why they were very much against Theocracy and for real freedom of religion, intending to establish religious pluralism and government that would be neutral regarding religion and prevent any kind of theocratic imposition.
Jefferson on Democracy
The distortion by the “religious right” regarding the separation of church and state is much like the distortion by right-wing extremists calling themselves Republicans or Libertarians or Federalists regarding the Constitution and the intent of the Founding Fathers regarding Democracy.
The intent of right-wing extremists who believe that a "Republic" means government of by and for an aristocratic, plutocratic oligarchy, is to claim that the Founding Fathers, and even Thomas Jefferson, were against Democracy.
They claim the Founders wanted a Republic in which a “moral, virtuous, financially successful” wealthy elite aristocracy would naturally be entitled to rule. And they have not only distorted Jefferson’s views. They have actually fabricated false statements they attribute to Jefferson.
For example, they often attribute a false, fabricated quote to Thomas Jefferson, claiming that he said or wrote: “A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.”
However, according to those who created and maintain Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello web site, the earliest known appearances of that “quote” in print were in 2004, and there is no evidence to confirm that Thomas Jefferson ever said or wrote such a statement. In fact, they found that the source of that statement's attribution to Thomas Jefferson is unknown, after searching the following sources for its earliest appearance in print: Google Books, Google Scholar, Amazon.com, Internet Archive, America's Historical Newspapers, American Broadsides and Ephemera Series I, Early American Imprints Series I and II, Early English Books Online, Eighteenth Century Collections Online, 19th Century U.S. Newspapers, and American Periodicals Series Online.
Another false quote that's been spread around the Internet is this: “The Democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.”
That quotation has not been found in any of the writings of Thomas Jefferson. It was probably derived from a distortion of one of Jefferson's comments regarding Destutt de Tracy's Treatise on Political Economy, in which Jefferson essentially cited what he called “the first principle of association,” by which he essentially meant that as a man sows, so shall he reap. In other words, Jefferson was pointing out that we all should get what we deserve.
However, that does not mean, as some right-wing extremists claim, that Jefferson believed that the wealthy should not be charitable or willing to help the poor. In fact, Jefferson wrote: “I deem it the duty of every man to devote a certain portion of his income for charitable purposes; and that it is his further duty to see it so applied and to do the most good for which it is capable.” -- Thomas Jefferson
These facts are important now, because it is very clear that there has been a deliberate attempt to distort the intent of the Founding Fathers, and particularly Thomas Jefferson, since he was the most democratic Founder who, with James Madison, founded the Democratic Republican Party based on Jeffersonian Democracy.
After all, Jefferson wrote: “The end of Democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.”
He also wrote: “Information is the currency of Democracy,” and “A government afraid of its citizens is a Democracy. Citizens afraid of government is tyranny!”
Objective Scholars On Jeffersonian Democracy
Regarding Jeffersonian Democracy, most fair and objective scholars agree that Jefferson was a major if not the chief iconic figure in the emergence of democracy in the world, and was the Democrat who shaped the thinking of his nation and the world.
The historian Vernon Louis Parrington concluded that: "Far more completely than any other American of his generation, Jefferson embodied the idealisms of the great revolution – its faith in human nature, its economic individualism, its conviction that here in America, through the instrumentality of political democracy, the lot of the common man should somehow be made better." 
Jefferson's concepts of democracy were rooted in "The Enlightenment," which is also called the Age of Enlightenment or Age of Reason. It was a cultural movement of educated intellectuals in 18th century Europe and America seeking to advance the power of reason in order to reform society, advance knowledge, promote science and higher education, and counter the ignorance, superstition, intolerance and abuses of power by theocratic leaders of both church and state.
Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine, among many other Founding Fathers of the U.S.A., were Enlightenment thinkers and played a major role in the American Revolution. Their democratic political ideals influenced the American Declaration of Independence and the United States Bill of Rights, and Jefferson’s work inspired the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
Jefferson not only advocated Enlightenment ideals. He envisioned Democracy as an expression of society as a whole, and he called for national self-determination, cultural uniformity, and education of all the people.  In 1778, Jefferson's "Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge" called for public education so that all children could get an education regardless of ability to pay. 
And Jefferson believed that public education and a free press were essential to a democratic nation, saying: “The people cannot be safe without information. Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe". 
Speaking of an educated public, as Thomas Jefferson reminded John Adams (a Federalist) in a letter in 1813, Jefferson had actually tried to establish a law providing free higher education at public expense to all qualified students, regardless of their parentage or wealth. In fact, Jefferson wrote that he was against a "psuedo-aristocracy" consisting of a privileged wealthy few. He saw true aristocrats as people from all walks of life, who would succeed in a society which enables all people to have equal opportunity to live up to their God-given potential.
According to "Jefferson on Politics & Government: Publicly Supported Education," after leaving the Presidency, Jefferson wanted to found new institutions of higher learning as well, to also be publicly funded and free of church influences, where students could specialize in many new areas. Jefferson believed educating people was a good way to establish an organized and democratic society. He believed public schools and universities should be paid for by the general public, so the people could be educated regardless of their ability to pay. In his vision, any citizen of the state could attend school with the sole criterion being ability.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Government has totally ignored Jefferson’s vision regarding free higher education to qualified students at public expense.
In fact, during the last 30 years the Reaganites, including the so-called “religious right,” have done much to cause the cost of higher education to become beyond the reach of the majority and to become easily accessed only by a privileged wealthy few. Indeed, they have actually harmed higher education as well as public education, claiming most educators are "secular humanists" who are "against religion" (even though a good majority of educated people are not against actual religion and are merely against the theocratic bigotry of the "religious right"). 
Ultimately, it is clear that Jefferson wanted a true Democracy, in a Democratic Republic.
However, the fact that Americans must now face is that what we now know as Democracy is not Real Democracy.
Indicators of that were in the 2000 presidential election when only 60 percent of eligible voters in the U.S. voted, and far less than half of them voted for George W. Bush. (And it took the right-wing U.S. Supreme Court overruling the Florida Supreme Court to put Bush in the White House.) In 2004 only 64 percent of eligible voters voted and only 32 percent of them re-elected Bush for his second term. Both those elections were controversial and there has been much written about how and why Republicans resorted to unscrupulous tactics in order to win, and the consequence was that America was nearly as divided and polarized by bitter partisan conflict as it was prior to and during the Civil War.
Furthermore, even President Barack Obama was elected by only 52 percent of the popular vote in 2008, and only 57 percent of eligible voters voted — probably because nearly half of the eligible voters are totally disgusted with partisan politics. Even more voters are now, following the 2010 mid-term elections. And no wonder. Not only is Partisan Politics dirty and disgusting, it is divisive and unfair because elections are determined by a relatively small minority of people regardless of which party wins.
 Peterson, Merrill D. (1960) The Jefferson Image in the American Mind. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, p. 68.
 Rouhollah K. Ramazani, ed. The future of liberal democracy: Thomas Jefferson and the contemporary world (2004)
 Vernon Louis Parrington, Main Currents in American Thought: The colonial mind, 1620–1800 (1927) p. 343
 Peter Onuf, in John B. Boles, Randal L. Hall, eds. Seeing Jefferson Anew: In His Time and Ours (University of Virginia Press, 2010).
 1778, Jefferson's "Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge"
 Thomas Jefferson to Charles Yancey, 1816, Jefferson, The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia (1900) pp 605, 727