Thursday, May 24, 2007

A few thoughts on the Founding Fathers and Monticello

We’ve been in Virginia two weeks now. During our time at Colonial Williamsburg, and now being up in the Shenandoah Valley I am frequently reminded just how much the Founding Fathers sacrificed and what a good job they did.

I have great respect for George Washington. The Founding Fathers created the Constitution in an effort to have a more perfect government, and I think they did a remarkably good job. Even with all the efforts to turn the colonies into a republic, I think George Washington could have turned being the first president into being a king. The colonists had fought against the tyranny of a bad king, but many of them were still comfortable with the monocracy form of government.

A few years ago I read John Adams by David McCullough. I was greatly impressed by John Adams. Up until this book John Adams had been someone I knew little about. After reading about John Adams I felt he was in same league as George Washington.

In reading the book I was sad to learn that Thomas Jefferson in the 1800 campaign introduced dirty politics to the presidential campaign. Thomas Jefferson had his supporters spread lies about John Adams.

The means we use to accomplish an end are as important as the goal, and in many ways will determine the true success of a goal. Using evils means to try to accomplish a good goal will often corrupt the end goal. I lost a lot of respect for Thomas Jefferson.

Last Friday as we would be driving Charlottesville we thought about stopping to see Monticello. My first response was I didn’t want to go, and then I decided to go, largely because it was a good place to stop and let our daughters run around, and it might be interesting.

Monticello is interesting. It is worth a stop. It gave me a little insight into Thomas Jefferson. I still don’t have a good sense as to the overall character of the man, but from Monticello I learned that he was organized and was trying to do some good things.

Monticello is a scaled down colonial version of Hearst Castle. There was a garden, places for guests to stay, things for guests to do, a library, and many works of art.

We enjoyed the garden. Thomas Jefferson recorded in great detail many aspects of Monticello. As Monticello was being rebuilt the journals told where the fish pond was, where certain flowers had been planted, where the garden was, where the fruit trees had been, and so on. We had a better understanding of life in Virginia two hundred years ago.

The tour through the house was also enlightening. I liked the library, thousands of old books. I’m always amazed at how small the beds were back then. I would have trouble getting a good night’s sleep in those small beds.

I enjoyed Monticello. It was educational, but I don’t feel I got to know the character of Thomas Jefferson any better.

Update I - 21 Mar 08
A reader pointed out that my comparison to Hearst Castle was misleading. My wording implied that Monticello was patterned after Hearst Castle. Which would be hard to do since Hearst Castle was created over a hundred years after Monticello.
I was trying to say that Monticello was like an East Coast Hearst Castle, a large elaborate building for a wealthy man.

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Kerry said...

If you enjoyed "John Adams", you should read "1776" also by McCullogh. I learned so much about George Washington and some of the other Revolutionary War leaders. (boths sides!)

TheTutor said...

You are going to have a lot of reading! I came to recommend "Adams v. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800". I listened to it on audio book a few years ago and greatly enjoyed it. I used to be enthralled with the Civil War (in high school and college... I think it is a requirement when you go to college in Gettysburg, PA), but in the last few years I am becoming more and more interested in the American Revolution.

Glad that you are enjoying your trip and sharing your insights with us. Blessings!

Henry Cate said...

I have "1776." It sounds like I ought to move it up my reading stack. Thanks.

I hadn't heard of "Adams v. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800." I'll check it out also. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I felt the same way after reading McCullough's book. I'm in the process of reading through biographies of the President (I'm only on Monroe) and have been struck by the humanity of those we've almost deified. "American Sphinx" by Joseph Ellis is a character study of Jefferson and was enlightening. So far, I've come to the conclusion that the gifts that made Jefferson and Madison great revolutionaries and founders of our government didn't necessarily make them great presidents. (Heresy, I know!)

(And 1776 is a great book!)