the imaginative conservative logo

88-Mr. JeffersonRecommended essays regarding Mr. Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826) on The Imaginative Conservative:

Looking for Mr. Jefferson by Clyde Wilson
Thomas Jefferson’s Birthday by Clyde Wilson
Thomas Jefferson & the American Declaration of Independence by Ross Lence
Thomas Jefferson, Conservative by Clyde Wilson
Jefferson Was Right by Joseph Sobran
Calhoun, Jefferson, and Popular Rule by Lee Cheek
The Jeffersonian Conservative Tradition by Clyde Wilson

More on “Thomas Jefferson” on The Imaginative Conservative (including quotes from Mr. Jefferson)

Temperate, sound in morals, sound in taste, learned in more than one discipline, open-handed, ready to fill great offices at personal sacrifice and then to retire modestly to Monticello—this was the genuine Jefferson, no doctrinaire egalitarian, no abstract intellectual…Jefferson indeed was a Whig through and through, with the virtues and the defects of the breed. Joined with this Whiggery was another facet of his character…a bitter partisanship, not overly scrupulous…Jefferson could be ferociously emotional in politics.—Russell Kirk (pg. xvii, introduction to Mr. Jefferson by Albert J. Nock)

Jefferson and his friends came to power (the “Revolution of 1800”) in opposition to the economic and moral imperialism of Hamilton and his friends—a program of taxes, manipulation of the economy for the inevitable benefit of the few and the burden of the many, moral dragooning of the population, and involvement in foreign power politics. It was this threat that Jefferson and his friends put down, and kept down, for half a century—the happiest era of the Union.—Clyde Wilson (Thomas Jefferson’s Birthday)

Jefferson, despite the show of French ideas which he made from time to time, founded his idea of liberty and justice upon the writings of Coke and Kames and the other English juridical writers, and upon the tradition of English freedom from the Anglo-Saxons down to the 18th century.—Russell Kirk, Program for Conservatives

Among the agrarian and democratic Republicans looms the angular figure of Jefferson, whose doctrines always were more radical than his practice and far less extreme than French notions of liberty…as his talents were immensely varied, so did his character display odd and sometimes inconsistent facets…Yet for all this, and for all his acquaintance with the philosophes and his affection for France, Jefferson had Coke, Locke, and Kames for his real political mentors; and, like them, he had half a mind to be a conservative—and sometimes more than half a mind for it.—Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind, p. 73

Books by Dr. Kirk may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. Essays on or by Dr. Kirk may be found here

Print Friendly
"All comments are subject to moderation. We welcome the comments of those who disagree, but not those who are disagreeable."
4 replies to this post
  1. Note the ambivalence in Kirk's descriptions of Jefferson. Kirk himself, as he repeatedly said, was "a disciple of the Federalists." In this anthology of conservative writing — the Portable Conservative Reader — he includes precisely zero writtings by Jefferson, but several by Adams, Fisher Ames and even Alexander Hamilton. Jefferson, both in terms of his personality and his politics, is no model for conservatives to follow. While he had brief moments of conservative thought and action, for the most part he was not a conservative.

  2. I have read Wilson's essay before, and it is an admirable and well-argued defense of Jefferson as a conservative. However, at the end of the day is it unpersuasive because of Jefferson's embrace of revolutionary France. That was no mere infatuation by Jefferson — it was a deep and abiding passion of his, one that distorted his policy toward England and eventually lead his disciple & successor Madison into the disastrous War of 1812. Jefferson's disregard for proper constitutional reasoning, his expansion of executive power during his presidency, his extreme partisanship (to the point of denying the legitimacy of opposition to his own political party) cause concern not only among the Federalists (whom Russell Kirk correctly identified as the actual conservatives in the early Republic) but among Republicans who were of a conservative temperament (Randolph of Roanoke and the rest of the TQs). Jefferson was that rarest of birds: an actual totalitarian among the Founders. A man who exercised dominion over human property, a man who saw any opposition to himself as opposition to the principles of America, a man who was intent on carrying out an expansionist executive policy in defense of the propagation of a slave empire from sea to shining sea. He was no conservative.

Leave a Reply