Thomas Jefferson's Last Letter
"May it [the
Declaration of Independence] be to the world, what I believe
it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally
to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under
which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them
to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security
Thomas Jefferson, so uniquely American in both his awesome talents
and serious shortcomings, makes a most interesting historical figure.
Passionate visionary democrat and slaveholder at the same time, I would
give nearly anything to spend one hour's conversation with Jefferson!
He is one of those Enlightenment intellects - so rare today! - that
can move from politics to art and architecture or science; he might
write excellent political philosophy one moment, and then wax eloquent
about love and loss or the nature of friendship the next. I believe
one of the most important explanations for why the United States has
enjoyed such relative prosperity and good fortune so far is that geniuses
like Jefferson helped build the initial national edifice which has
stood strongly against the inclement winds of change and test of time.
The written correspondence of Thomas Jefferson across his lifetime
comes to fill several volumes and contain many gems of human insight
and political prophecy. The below letter to Roger C. Weightman was
Jefferson's last, declining an invitation to travel to Washington,
D.C., to attend a celebration commemorating the fiftieth anniversary
of American independence. Jefferson was too ill to attend, but he
found the right words, as usual, to express the significance of the
occasion. Fifty years after writing the Declaration
of Independence, Jefferson could say:"All eyes are opened,
or opening, to the rights of man."
Thomas Jefferson to Roger C. Weightman
Monticello, June 24, 1826
Respected Sir, --
The kind invitation I receive from you, on the part
of the citizens of the city of Washington, to be present with them
at their celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of American Independence,
as one of the surviving signers of an instrument pregnant with our
own, and the fate of the world, is most flattering to myself, and heightened
by the honorable accompaniment proposed for the comfort of such a journey.
It adds sensibly to the sufferings of sickness, to be deprived by it
of a personal participation in the rejoicings of that day. But acquiescence
is a duty, under circumstances not placed among those we are permitted
to control. I should, indeed, with peculiar delight, have met and exchanged
there congratulations personally with the small band, the remnant of
that host of worthies, who joined with us on that day, in the bold
and doubtful election we were to make for our country, between submission
or the sword; and to have enjoyed with them the consolatory fact, that
our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity,
continue to approve the choice we made. May it be to the world, what
I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally
to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which
monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves,
and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form
which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded
exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or
opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science
has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass
of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored
few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace
of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the
annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these
rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.
I will ask permission here to express
the pleasure with which I should have met my ancient neighbors of
the city of Washington and its vicinities, with whom I passed so
many years of a pleasing social intercourse; an intercourse which
so much relieved the anxieties of the public cares, and left impressions
so deeply engraved in my affections, as never to be forgotten. With
my regret that ill health forbids me the gratification of an acceptance,
be pleased to receive for yourself, and those for whom you write,
the assurance of my highest respect and friendly attachments.
ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW...
"Why do so many among us continue in
words and deeds to ignore, insult and challenge the unforgettable
words of Thomas Jefferson...?"