Developing Freedom: Thomas Jefferson, the State, and Human Capability
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 02 April 2013
Thomas Jefferson is often invoked as an advocate of limited government and a defender of individual rights. This article argues that rights were Jefferson's starting place. Jefferson also believed that American citizens should have opportunities to develop the capabilities necessary to enjoy the full use of their rights. Rather than thinking about Jefferson as progovernment or antigovernment, this article concludes that we must understand the particular kind of government Jefferson desired, the ends he had in mind, and why and how those ends differed from his Federalist predecessors. A better understanding of Jefferson's statecraft not only offers a new perspective on the relationship between government and rights in Jefferson's thought but also how and why Jeffersonians in power used the state to promote individual freedom.
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20. Appleby and Duane quoted in Appleby, “Thomas Jefferson and the Psychology of Democracy,” 161. It might be added that Jefferson did not think that people were naturally capable of self-government even if they had a natural right to it. He believed that culture and history played vital roles. To Jefferson, therefore, it would not be enough to return to natural man; one then had to build up. He thus concluded during the French Revolution that “some preparation seems necessary to qualify the body of a nation for self-government” (TJ to Dr. Joseph Priestley, Nov. 29, 1802, in The Works of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Ford, Paul L., 12 vols. (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904–05)Google Scholar, 9: 404–6 [hereafter cited as TJF.]). Similarly, Jefferson concluded in 1803 that French Louisianans “are as yet as incapable of self government as children.” (TJ to DeWitt Clinton, Dec. 2, 1803, TJF 10:54–55). On these points see Steele, Brian Douglas, Thomas Jefferson and American Nationhood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
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22. Recently, there have been some efforts to invoke the populist Jefferson. See Katz, Claudio, “Thomas Jefferson's Liberal Anticapitalism,” American Journal of Political Science 47 (Jan. 2003): 1–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hardt, Michael, “Jefferson and Democracy,” American Quarterly (2007): 41–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Wilentz's, Sean recent Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (New York: Norton, 2005)Google Scholar; Huston, James L., Securing the Fruits of Labor: The American Concept of Wealth Distribution, 1765–1900 (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1998)Google Scholar. Matthews, Richard K., Radical Politics of Thomas Jefferson: A Revisionist View (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1984)Google Scholar, offers a sophisticated understanding of Jeffersonian populism because he recognizes that Jefferson's distributive schemes and his fight against interests were always to promote individual freedom and happiness. In addition, students of Jefferson's conception of executive power have noted that Jefferson helped lay the foundations for the imperial presidency by linking the president's exercise of his powers to the people themselves. In this view, expressed most recently by Bailey, Thomas Jefferson and Executive Power, and Yoo, Crisis and Command, 126–36, the president portrays himself as an agent of the people, creating a populist justification for a broad reading of executive power. On this point, see also Milkis, Sidney A. and Nelson, Michael, The American Presidency: Origins and Development, 1776–1990 (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 1990), 87–106Google Scholar; Ketcham, Ralph, Presidents above Party: The First American Presidency, 1789–1829 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984)Google Scholar; Ackerman, Failure of the Founding Fathers. Onuf, Peter S., Jefferson's Empire: The Language of American Nationhood (Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 2000)Google Scholar, moves beyond the populist perspective. Onuf explores why Jefferson believed that the common good would emerge naturally from the people's will. Onuf suggests that Jefferson's vision was ultimately cosmopolitan in scope. He imagined a world of self-governing republics held together by citizens' natural ties of affection. Onuf offers a sophisticated understanding of the intellectual foundations for Jefferson's faith in popular democracy.
23. Hurst, J. Willlard, Law and the Conditions of Freedom in the Nineteenth-Century United States (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1956)Google Scholar.
25. Edling, Max, “Political Economy,” in A Companion to Thomas Jefferson, ed. Cogliano, Francis D., chap. 27Google Scholar.
26. Yarbrough, American Virtues, 102–52; Matthews, Radical Politics.
27. Yarbrough, American Virtues, 55.
28. TJ, Query 19, Notes on the State of Virginia, TJW: 290–91; TJ to William Ludlow, Sept. 6, 1824, TJW: 1496–97. See Yarbrough, American Virtues, 55–101. See also Edling, “Political Economy”; Sloan, Herbert, Principle and Interest: Thomas Jefferson and the Problem of Debt (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995)Google Scholar; McCoy, The Elusive Republic; Huston, Securing the Fruits of Labor; Steele, Jefferson and American Nationhood.
29. The importance of generations in Jefferson's thought is emphasized in Onuf, Peter S., The Mind of Thomas Jefferson (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2007), 169–78Google Scholar; Hardt, “Jefferson and Democracy”; and Matthews, Radical Politics.
30. TJ to James Madison, Sept. 6, 1789, TJW: 959–64, at 959. See also TJ to John Wayles Eppes, June 24, 1813, TJW: 1280–86; TJ to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1816, TJW: 1395–1403. My understanding of Jeffersonian political economy depends on Huston, Securing the Fruits of Labor. See also Onuf, Mind of Thomas Jefferson, 110–17; Hardt, “Jefferson and Democracy”; Mayer, Constitutional Thought, 302–8; Katz, “Jefferson's Liberal Anticapitalism”; Bourgin, Great Challenge, chaps. 7–8; Sloan, Principle and Interest; Appleby, Capitalism and a New Social Order; McCoy, The Elusive Republic; Miller, Charles, Jefferson and Nature: An Interpretation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988), 199–216Google Scholar.
32. TJ to James Madison, Oct. 28, 1785, TJW: 840–43.
33. Ibid. See also TJ to George Washington, Nov. 14, 1786, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 34 vols. to date (Princeton, 1950- ), 10: 531–33 (hereafter cited as TJP).
34. On these points, see TJ to Joseph Milligan, April 6, 1816, in Lipscomb, Andrew A. and Bergh, Albert Ellery, eds., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (Washington, DC: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association of the United States, 1905), XIV: 466Google Scholar (herafter cited as Lipscomb). I thank Joyce Appleby for bringing this letter to my attention. For a discussion of Jefferson's theory of labor, see Huston, Securing the Fruits of Labor.
35. TJ to James Madison, Oct. 28, 1785, TJW: 840–43, at 841–42.
36. Jefferson, Query 19 in Notes on the State of Virginia, TJW: 290–91.
37. Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 22, TJW: 300. See Appleby, Capitalism and a New Social Order; Onuf and Sadosky, Jeffersonian America, 139–71.
38. For such a reading, see Mayer, Constitutional Thought, 74–83.
39. Jefferson, “Draft Constitution for Virginia” (June 1776), TJW: 343.
40. Discussion and quotes from Peterson, Merrill D., Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation: A Biography (New York, 1970), 121–22Google Scholar. See also “Editorial Note,” TJP 2: 133–38.
41. United States Department of the Treasury, Report of the Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin, on the subject of public roads & canals (reprint, New York: A. M. Kelley, 1968). See discussion in Bourgin, Great Challenge, chaps. 8–9; McCraw, Thomas K., The Founders and Finance: How Hamilton, Gallatin, and other Immigrants Fostered a New Economy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Most industrializing societies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries relied on an active state to promote economic growth, in contrast to the “libertarian” orthodoxy of many global economic institutions today. See Chang, Ha-Joon, Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective (London: Anthem, 2002)Google Scholar; Rodrik, Dani, The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy (New York: Norton 2011)Google Scholar.
42. TJ to Albert Gallatin, Oct. 13, 1802, TJF 9: 398–99. See also TJ to Thomas Digges, June 19, 1788, TJP 13: 260–61. For a discussion of Jeffersonian Republicans and internal improvements, in addition to Larson, Internal Improvement, see Larson, “Jefferson's Union and the Problem of Internal Improvement,” in Jeffersonian Legacies, ed. Onuf, Peter S. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993), 340–69Google Scholar, esp. 359–64; Bourgin, Great Challenge, chap. 8; Ellis, Richard E., “The Political Economy of Thomas Jefferson,” in Thomas Jefferson: The Man, His World, His Influence, ed. Weymouth, Lally (New York: G. P. Putnam, 1973), 81–95Google Scholar; Appleby, Joyce O., “The ‘Agrarian Myth’ in the Early Republic,” in Liberalism and Republicanism in the Historical Imagination (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), 253–76Google Scholar; Harrison, Joseph H. Jr., “Sic et Non: Thomas Jefferson and Internal Improvement,” Journal of the Early Republic 7 (Winter 1987): 335–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Onuf and Sadosky, Jeffersonian America, 131–70; and, most recently, Balogh, Government Out of Sight, 112–50.
43. TJ to Albert Gallatin, May 29, 1805, TJF 10: 146–47. See also TJ to Gallatin, Aug. 31, 1806, TJF 10: 284–86.
44. Jefferson, “Sixth Annual Message,” Dec. 2, 1806, TJW: 524–31, at 529–30.
45. Jefferson, “Eighth Annual Message,” Nov. 8, 1808, TJW: 543–49, at 549.
46. TJ to Joel Barlow, Dec. 10, 1807, TJF 10: 529–30.
47. TJ to Dupont de Nemours, Apr. 15, 1811, TJF 11: 196–206, quoted at 203–4. See also TJ to Baron F. H. Alexander von Humboldt, Mont. June 13, 1817, TJF 12: 68–70. The reference to “the rich alone” is a reminder that the federal government's main source of revenue was taxing imported luxuries—a consumption tax on the rich.
48. See Onuf, Jefferson's Empire, for Jefferson's evolving ideas about federalism. See Harrison, “Sic et Non” for a discussion of Jefferson's changing attitude in his later years.
49. TJ to George Ticknor, May 1817, TJF 12: 58–59. See also TJ to Albert Gallatin, Mont. June 16, 1817, TJF 12: 70–74.
50. See TJ to Robert J. Garnett, Feb. 14, 1824, TJF 12: 341–43; TJ to Edward Livingston, Apr 4, 1824, TJF 12: 348–51; TJ to James Madison, Dec. 24, 1825, TJF 12: 416–18; TJ to William B. Giles, Dec. 26, 1825, TJF 12: 424-; TJ to William F. Gordon, Jan. 1, 1826, TJF 12: 429–31; TJ to James Madison, Jan. 2, 1826, TJF 12: 431–32.
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53. It is important to note that Jefferson's portrayal of the New England clergy was not accurate and that, in fact, the clergy did much to contribute to the development of citizens' moral, intellectual, and civic capabilities. For education in particular, see Howe, Daniel Walker, “Church, State, and Education in the Young American Republic,” Journal of the Early Republic 22 (Spring 2002): 1–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
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58. TJ to John Tyler, May 26, 1810, TJW: 1225–27. For a discussion of Jefferson's curriculum, see Pangle and Pangle, Learning of Liberty, 114–24; Wagoner, Jennings L. Jr., “'That Knowledge Most Useful to Us': Thomas Jefferson's Conception of Utility in the Education of Republican Citizens,” in Thomas Jefferson and the Education of a Citizen, ed. Gilreath, James (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1999), 115–33Google Scholar.
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60. TJ, “Report of the Commissioners for the University of Virginia,” Aug. 4, 1818, TJW: 457–73, at 459.
61. TJ, “Report,” 459.
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63. TJ to John Adams, Oct. 28, 1813, TJ_JA: 387–92.
65. To Jefferson, the freedom of conscience was not just a political right but a religious precept. See Neem, Johann N., “A Republican Reformation: Thomas Jefferson's Civil Religion and the Separation of Church from State,” in A Companion to Thomas Jefferson, ed. Cogliano, Francis D., 91–109.Google Scholar
66. TJ, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 17, TJW: 283–85.
67. TJ, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 14, TJW: 273–74.
68. TJ to Jeremiah Moore, Aug. 14, 1800, TJP 32: 102–3.
69. TJ, Notes, Query 14, comments on slavery TJW: 264–70. For a discussion of the trans-Atlantic intellectual context in which Jefferson made his conclusions, see O'Brien, Michael, Conjectures of Order: Intellectual Life and the American South, 2 vols. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 1: 215–37Google Scholar. See also Jordan's, Winthrop classic examination, White over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550–1812 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1968), 429–81Google Scholar.
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71. TJ to Edward Bancroft, Jan 26, 1788, TJP 14:492–94.
72. TJ to Chastellux, June 7, 1785, TJW: 799–802, at 801. See also TJ to Edward Coles, Aug. 25, 1814, TJW: 1343–46.
73. TJ to Benjamin Banneker, Aug. 30, 1791, TJW 982–83.
74. TJ to Condorcet, Aug. 30, 1791, TJP 22: 98–99.
75. On this point, see Watson, Harry, “The Man with the Dirty Black Beard: Race, Class, and Schools in the Antebellum South,” Journal of the Early Republic 32 (Spring 2012): 1–26CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed; Egerton, Douglas, Death or Liberty: African Americans and Revolutionary America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 222–47Google Scholar.
76. TJ to Henri Gregoire, Wash. Feb. 25, 1809, TJW: 1202.
77. TJ to Joel Barlow, Mont., Oct. 8, 1809, TJF 11: 120–24. On this episode, see also Addis, Jefferson's Vision, 12. In an 1814 letter, TJ argues that while blacks' current degraded condition may be due to generations of deprivation, and that one might hope that in time blacks' capabilities will improve, their “amalgamation” with whites now would lead to “a degradation to which no lover of his country, no lover of excellence in the human character can innocently consent.” TJ to Coles, Aug. 25, 1814, TJW: 1343–46.
78. TJ to David Barrow, May 1, 1815, TJF 11: 470–71.
79. TJ to William Short, Jan 18, 1826, TJF 12:434.
80. McCoy, Elusive Republic, 13–47; Sheehan, Bernard W., Seeds of Extinction: Jeffersonian Philanthropy and the American Indian (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1973)Google Scholar; Becker, Marvin B., The Emergence of Civil Society in the Eighteenth Century: A Privileged Moment in the History of England, Scotland, and France (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1994)Google Scholar. See also Ferguson, Adam, An Essay on the History of Civil Society (1767), ed. Oz-Salzberger, Fania (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995)Google Scholar.
81. TJ to William Ludlow, Sept. 6, 1824, TJW: 1496–97. My understanding of Jefferson's attitudes toward Native Americans relies heavily on Onuf, Jefferson's Empire, 23–52.
82. TJ to Capt. Hendrick, the Delawares, Mohicans, and Munries, Wash. Dec. 21, 1808, Lipscomb 16: 450–54, at 452.
84. TJ to the Brothers Miamis, Powtewatamies, and Weeauks, Jan. 7, 1802, Lipscomb 16: 390–91. See also TJ to Brothers Miamis and Delawares, Jan. 8, 1803, Lipscomb 16: 396–400; TJ, Confidential Message on Expedition to the Pacific (to the Senate and HoR), Jan. 18, 1803, TJF 9: 421–34; TJ to Chiefs of the Chickasaw Nation, Minghey, Mataha, and Tishohotana, Mar. 7, 1805, Lipscomb 16: 410–12; TJ to the Wolf and people of the Mandar nation, Dec. 30, 1806, Lipscomb 16: 412–17; TJ to the Chiefs of the Ottawas, Chippewas, Powtewatamies, Wyandots, and Senecas of Sandusky, Apr. 22, 1808, Lipscomb 16: 428–32; TJ to Little Turtle, Chief of the Miamis, Dec. 21, 1808, Lipscomb 16: 440–43; TJ to Captain Hendrick, the Delawares, Mohicans, and Munries, Dec. 21, 1808, Lipscomb 16: 450–54. See also TJ to Brothers of the Choctaw Nation, Dec. 17, 1803, Lipscomb 16: 400–05, at 403. See also TJ to the Chiefs of the Shawnee Nation, Feb. 19, 1807, Lipscomb 16: 421–25, esp. 423–24; TJ to the Chiefs of the Upper Cherokees, May 4, 1808, Lipscomb 16: 432–35; TJ to the Deputies of the Cherokee Upper Towns, Jan. 9, 1809, Lipscomb 16: 455–58. For a discussion of the gendered implications of Jefferson's ideas, in addition to Onuf, Jefferson's Empire, 23–52, see Steele, Brian, “Thomas Jefferson's Gender Frontier,” Journal of American History 95 (June 2008): 17–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
85. For a critical perspective on modernization and development, see Latham, Michael, Modernization as Ideology: American Social Science and “Nation Building” in the Kennedy Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000)Google Scholar. For a discussion of how the American political development framework can learn from this critique and move beyond it, see Orren and Skowronek, Search for American Political Development.
86. Steele, Jefferson and American Nationhood.
87. Secretary of State to the President, Apr. 17, 1791, TJP: 144–46; TJ to James Monroe, Apr 17, 1791, TJP 20: 234–36; TJ to Gouverneur Morris, Oct. 15, 1792, TJP 24: 484–85; TJ to David Humphreys, Nov 6, 1792, TJP 24: 587–88.
88. TJ to Henry Knox, Aug. 10, 1791, TJP 22: 27–28; TJ to William Blount, Aug 12, 1791, TJP: 29; TJ to William Blount, June 6, 1792, TJP 24: 35–36; TJ to Alexander Martin, June 6, 1792, TJP 24: 39.
89. TJ to Governor William H. Harrison, Feb. 27, 1803, TJW: 1117–1120.
90. TJ to Benjamin Hawkins, Feb. 18, 1803, TJW: 1113–16.
91. On Jefferson's state activism in relation to Native Americans, see Pasley, Jeffrey, “Midget on Horseback: American Indians and the History of the American State,” Common-place 9 (Oct. 2008)Google Scholar; Balogh, A Government Out of Sight, 151–218, esp. 194–200, 205–11. See also Griffin, Patrick, American Leviathan: Empire, Nation, and Revolutionary Frontier (New York: Hill & Wang, 2007), 212–71Google Scholar; Katznelson, Ira, “Flexible Capacity: The Military and Early American Statebuilding,” in Shaped by War and Trade: International Influences on American Political Development, ed. Katznelson, Ira and Shefter, Martin (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 82–110Google Scholar.
92. Steele, “Jefferson's Gender Frontier”; Onuf and Sadosky, Jeffersonian America, 82–102; Lewis, Jan, “'The Blessings of Domestic Society': Thomas Jefferson's Family and the Transformation of American Politics,” in Jeffersonian Legacies, ed. Onuf, Peter S. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993), 109–46Google Scholar.
93. Lewis, “Blessings,” 134.
95. TJ to John Banister, Jr., Oct. 15, 1785, TJW: 839.
96. TJ to Marquis Barbe-Barbois, Dec. 5, 1783, as quoted in Steele, “Jefferson's Gender Frontier,” 27.
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