Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Great American Communicators: Thomas Jefferson

In the middle school English class which I taught for a large home school co-op, I used to do a series on Great American Communicators the years we studied American literature.  I featured about a dozen men and women who had made significant contributions to American communications either by what they spoke or wrote themselves, or what they did to improve communication for others.  Some of them included John Winthrop (Puritan pastor), Jonathan Edwards (preacher in the Great Awakening), Benjamin Franklin (statesman, newspaperman, inventor, library and college founder, etc.), Noah Webster (creator of the American dictionary and spelling books), Alexander Graham Bell (inventor of the telephone and teacher of the deaf), Sequoyah (inventor of the Cherokee syllabary for written language), and Phillis Wheatley (slave poet).  Here is what I gave my students in their handouts for Thomas Jefferson.

Great American Communicators: Thomas Jefferson

President John F. Kennedy welcomed forty-nine Nobel Prize winners of the Western Hemisphere to the White House in 1962, saying, "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."

Thomas Jefferson was a VERY talented man. He was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, second Governor of Virginia, second U.S. Vice President, third U.S. president, lawyer, inventor, architect, agriculturalist, archaeologist, and the founder of the University of Virginia. He also must have been quite a reader. After the Library of Congress was burned during the War of 1812, Thomas Jefferson sold Congress 6,487 books from his collection to start a new one.

However, for all of his intellectual gifts, Thomas Jefferson was not an evangelical Christian. He was probably a deist. He made up his own condensed version of the Gospels which left in the moral teachings of Jesus, but none of the miracles. So from an eternal perspective, he was not a wise man. 1 Corinthians 1:18-20 & 25 says:

"For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? . . . . For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men."

Oddly enough, Jefferson is said to have been a poor public speaker and gave only two public speeches as president. He even refused to give his State of the Union speeches in person, and instead sent them to Congress in writing. His other communication skills more than compensated for this lack. You don’t have to be good at everything to be good at something.

Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. John Adams, who had been the 2nd president, died the same day.

Jefferson’s epitaph said:



He didn’t even mention that he had been President of the United States!

At the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., these words of Thomas Jefferson are inscribed: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

Jefferson is also one of the four presidents (along with George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt) carved into Mount Rushmore. His portrait appears on the nickel and the rare $2 bill.

Can you find it on these pages?

□ Find the ellipsis in the Bible passage. Why is it there? (It is a kind of punctuation.)
□ Find an example of humor in the form of a compliment.
□ Who died the same day as Thomas Jefferson?

Think About It!

Thomas Jefferson worked with other men to write the Declaration of Independence. They each contributed their ideas, but he was the one to put it all together. What kind of skills does it take to get a group to agree on what to say?

Can you imagine being the person responsible for writing a document like this that would change world history? Thomas Jefferson’s words didn’t just affect the people right around him in his own time period. They affect us every day, because we live in this country, and they affect people all around the world because so many governments are based on ours.

You may not write anything as earth shattering as the Declaration of Independence, but your words – both written and spoken – do have an effect on people around you. Do you know what a ripple effect is? That’s when you have an effect on someone else, and then they in turn have an effect on someone else, and so on. So, if you take the time to encourage someone, they might treat someone else kinder, and then that person may pass the favor on to the next person, etc. But if you are nasty to someone, they might be nasty to everyone else around them, and so on.

My challenge to you is to stay faithful to Christ in all that you do, so that you won’t just be known for being smart or talented, but you will have an impact on others for eternity.

Read It Aloud!Preamble to The Declaration of Independence

I have included part of the Declaration of Independence below. Of course, they didn’t have TV or the Internet back then, so it was sent out by courier to all the colonies. Imagine, like nine year old Andrew Jackson (who later became president) that you have been chosen to read it to the townspeople. Recite it out loud as clearly as you can and think about what it says. See if you can memorize several lines of it.

In Congress, July 4, 1776

The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America

When, in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers form the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

(There is much more! This is just the start of it!)

P.S. Our family visited Jefferson's beautiful estate, Monticello, on our summer vacation.  You can see pictures here: Monticello.

Virginia Knowles

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