Jefferson and Rousseau – On Democracy

Those who have followed me for any amount of time are aware that one of my academic interests is the comparison between Thomas Jefferson and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  It was one of the themes of my dissertation, and I maintain that it’s an important point to consider.  Jefferson is often paired with Locke, especially by the likes of Louis Hartz, whose The Liberal Tradition in America has had a great influence on the way we view Jefferson and the founding era.  Others have noted the similarity between Jefferson and the Scottish Enlightenment writers.  But few have really seen the connection to Rousseau, a connection that I deem to be very important, because this Jefferson-Rousseau strand of thought is one that continues to be a dominant influence on America. Over the next few posts I plan on taking a closer look at this connection, as well as a broader examination of Thomas Jefferson’s political thought in general.  Considering my series of posts on the Federalists Papers, I believe it is useful to compare Jefferson’s thought to that of the Framers of the Constitution.

The first point of commonality between Jefferson and Rousseau is their views on democracy.  Both men are proponents of mass democracy to a far greater extent than a majority of the Founding Fathers.  This is based in large part by a shared positive appraisal of human nature.  Jefferson in particular had a very high opinion of man’s ability to reason well and positively shape society. (more…)

Published in: on January 7, 2010 at 2:59 pm  Comments (7)  

Edward Coles and Free Illinois


Edward Coles, the second governor of Illinois, is largely forgotten today, which is a pity.  His actions in 1824 helped lead to Union victory in the Civil War.  

Illinois came into the Union as a free state in 1818.  However, a majority of settlers in Illinois initially came from the South and some of them brought slaves, illegally, into the Sucker State.  In 1822 Edward Coles, a 36 year old native of Virginia who had settled in Illinois in 1818, was elected Governor.  Coles came from a slave-holding family, but he had long been convinced that slavery was morally wrong.  When he arrived in Illinois he freed his ten slaves and deeded to each head of a family 160 acres of land to help give them a new start in a free state.  He ran for governor because he was alarmed with the growing strength of pro-slavery forces in his new home state.  In a tight four way race he won. (more…)

Published in: on January 7, 2010 at 6:11 am  Comments (5)  
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