1784 statute showed disdain for inherited wealth

“With Thomas Jefferson taking the lead in the Virginia legislature in 1777, every Revolutionary state government abolished the laws of primogeniture and entail that had served to perpetuate the concentration of inherited property….
“The states left no doubt that in taking this step they were giving expression to a basic and widely shared philosophical belief that equality of citizenship was impossible in a nation where inequality of wealth remained the rule.
“North Carolina’s 1784 statute explained that by keeping large estates together for succeeding generations, the old system had served ‘only to raise the wealth and importance of particular families and individuals, giving them an unequal and undue influence in a republic’ and promoting ‘contention and injustice.’ Abolishing aristocratic forms of inheritance would by contrast ‘tend to promote that equality of property which is of the spirit and principle of a genuine republic.’ “

— From “Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, and other fellow travelers” by at Sophrosyne (Oct. 14, 2010)


Jefferson loved free press (papers, not so much)

In 1819 Thomas Jefferson, retired at Monticello, wrote Sen. Nathaniel Macon of North Carolina that “I read no newspaper now but Ritchie’s, and in that chiefly the advertisements, for they contain the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper. I feel a much greater interest in knowing what has passed two or three thousand years ago, than in what is now passing.” (from “The Writings of Thomas Jefferson,” Volume 15)

For 41 years Thomas Ritchie was the influential editor and publisher of the thrice-weekly Richmond Enquirer. On another occasion Jefferson referred to the Enquirer as “the best that is published or ever has been published in America.”

Despite his disappointment with newspapers and his preference for books, Jefferson was an unwavering advocate of journalistic freedom. “The only security of all is in a free press,” he wrote Lafayette in 1823. “The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.”

Praise the Lord and pass the oatmeal

“The language of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence clearly depended on the Mecklenburg Declaration, which was the work of 27 oatmeal-eating Calvinists, a third of whom were ruling elders in the Presbyterian church.

“One Hessian officer, writing home during the war, said, ‘…. Call it not an American rebellion; it is nothing more or less than a Scotch Irish Presbyterian rebellion.’ ”

— From “Five Cities That Ruled the World” (2009) by Douglas Wilson

(Listeners to “A Prairie Home Companion” may recall sponsor Mournful Oatmeal, billed as “Calvinism in a box.”)

Pictured: “Hornets nest” pinback button, probably worn on Meck Dec Day.

Did Jefferson put ‘miniskirt’ on Washington?

On this day in 1816: Responding to a letter from Sen. Nathaniel Macon of North Carolina, Thomas Jefferson offers his opinion “On the subject of the statue of George Washington, which the legislature of North Carolina has ordered to be procured, and set up in their Capitol.”

Jefferson, retired at Monticello at age 73, proposes the state use an Italian sculptor, Antonio Canova, and Italian stone, Carrara marble. Washington, he adds, should be depicted in Roman costume: “I am sure the artist, and every person of taste in Europe would be for the Roman. . . Our boots and regimentals have a very puny effect.”

North Carolina follows Jefferson’s advice, and the Canova statue will be a source of state pride until it is crushed in the Capitol fire of 1831.

In 1970, following heated debate in the General Assembly over the appropriateness of Washington’s “miniskirt,” a privately financed copy of the statue is installed in the Capitol.