Modern history



BY 1792 THOMAS PAINE already sensed that the world might not give him as much credit for his endeavors on behalf of the American Revolution as he thought he deserved, and thus he thought he ought to set the world straight. “With all the inconveniences of early life against me,” he wrote in The Rights of Man: Part the Second, “I am proud to say that with a perseverance undismayed by difficulties, a disinterestedness that compelled respect, I have not only contributed to raise a new empire in the world, founded on a new system of government, but I have arrived at an eminence in political literature, the most difficult of all lines to succeed and excel in, which aristocracy with all its aids, has not been able to reach or to rival.” Paine sensed the future correctly. By 1800 there were few Americans left who were willing to recognize Paine’s contribution to their Revolution. Thomas Jefferson was the great exception. Paine, he said in 1801, had “steadily labored” on behalf of liberty and the American Revolution “with as much effect as any man living.”1

Naturally, it was Jefferson who celebrated Paine when everyone else was scorning him, for he and Paine thought alike. Indeed, no two prominent American Revolutionaries shared so many ideas as did Jefferson and Paine. Yet no two Revolutionaries were more different in background and temperament.

Jefferson was a wealthy slaveholding aristocrat from Virginia who was as well connected socially as anyone in America. His mother was a Randolph, perhaps the most prestigious family in all of Virginia, and positions in his society came easy to him. Personally, he was cool, reserved, and self-possessed. He disliked personal controversy and was always charming in face-to-face relations with both friends and enemies. Although he played at being casual, he was utterly civilized and genteel. He mastered several languages, including those of antiquity, and he spent his life trying to discover (and acquire) what was the best and most enlightened in the world of the eighteenth century. He prided himself on his manners and taste; indeed, he became an impresario for his countrymen, advising them on what was proper in everything from the arts to wine. There was almost nothing he did not know about. “Without having quitted his own country,” this earnest autodidact with a voracious appetite for learning had become, as the French visitor Chevalier de Chastellux noted in the early 1780s, “an American who . . . is at once a Musician, a Draftsman, Surveyor, Astronomer, Natural Philosopher, Jurist, and Statesman.”2

By contrast, Paine was a free-floating individual who, as critics said, lacked social connections of any kind. He came from the ranks of the middling sorts, and unlike, say, Benjamin Franklin, he never really shed his obscure and lowly origins. He had some education but did not attend college, and he knew no languages except English. He spent the first half of his life jumping from one job to another, first a stay maker like his father, then a teacher, next a failed businessman, then back to stay making, followed by two failed attempts as an excise collector; he also tried running a tobacco shop. He was slovenly and lazy and was described as “coarse and uncouth in his manners.”3 His temperament was fiery and passionate, and he loved his liquor and confrontations of all sorts. He came to America at age thirty-seven full of anger at a world that had not recognized his talents.

Yet as dissimilar as Jefferson and Paine were from one another, they shared a common outlook on the world. As a British dinner partner observed in 1792, Jefferson in conversation was “a vigorous stickler for revolutions and for the downfall of an aristocracy. . .. In fact, like his friend T. Payne, he cannot live but in a revolution, and all events in Europe are only considered by him in the relation they bear to the probability of a revolution to be produced by them.”4

Jefferson and Paine were good republicans who believed in the rights of man. They thought that all government should be derived from the people and that no one should hold office by hereditary right. No American trusted the people at large or outside of government more than did these two radicals, Jefferson and Paine.

This confidence flowed from their magnanimous view of human nature. Both men had an extraordinary faith in the moral capacity of ordinary people. Being one of the ordinary people, Paine had a natural tendency to trust them. But even Jefferson, the natural aristocrat, on most things trusted ordinary people far more than he trusted his aristocratic colleagues, who, he believed, were very apt to become wolves if they could. Unlike the elite, common people were not deceptive or deceitful; they wore their hearts on their sleeves and were sincere. An American republican world dominated by common folk would end the deceit and dissembling so characteristic of courtiers and monarchies. “Let those flatter who fear: it is not an American art,” said Jefferson.5

Paine agreed that everyone shared a similar social or moral sense. Appeals to common sense, he said, were “appeals to those feelings without which we should be incapable of discharging the duties of life or enjoying the felicities of it.”6 Reason might be unevenly distributed throughout society, but everyone, even the most lowly of persons, had senses and could feel. In all of his writings, Paine said, his “principal design is to form the disposition of the people to the measures which I am fully persuaded it is their interest and duty to adopt, and which need no other force to accomplish them than the force of being felt.”7

But Paine and Jefferson went further in their trust in common people. By assuming that ordinary people had personal realities equal to their own, Paine and Jefferson helped to give birth to what perhaps is best described as the modern humanitarian sensibility—a powerful force that we of the twenty-first century have inherited and further expanded. They, like most other Revolutionary leaders, shared the liberal premises of Lockean sensationalism: that all men were born equal and that only the environment working on their senses made them different. These premises were essential to the growing sense of sympathy for other human creatures felt by enlightened people in the eighteenth century. Once the liberally educated came to believe that they could control their environment and educate the vulgar and lowly to become something other than what the traditional society had presumed they were destined to be, then the enlightened few began to expand their sense of moral responsibility for the vice and ignorance they saw in others and to experience feelings of common humanity with them.

Thus, despite their acceptance of differences among people, both Jefferson and Paine concluded that all men were basically alike, that they all partook of the same common nature. It was this commonality that linked people together in natural affection and made it possible for them to share each other’s feelings. There was something in each human being—some sort of moral sense or sympathetic instinct—that made possible natural compassion and affection. Indeed, wrote Paine, “[i]nstinct in animals does not act with stronger impulse, than the principles of society and civilization operate in man.” Even the lowliest of persons, even black slaves, Jefferson believed, had this sense of sympathy or moral feeling for others. All human beings, said Jefferson, rich and poor, white and black, had “implanted in their breasts” this “moral instinct,” this “love of others.” Everyone, whatever their differences of education, instinctively knew right from wrong. “State a moral case to a ploughman and a professor,” said Jefferson; the ploughman will decide it as well, and often better, than the professor, “because he has not been led astray by artificial rules.”8

This belief in the equal moral worth and equal moral authority of every individual was the real source of both Jefferson’s and Paine’s democratic equality, an equality that was far more potent than merely the Lockean idea that everyone started at birth with the same blank sheet.

Jefferson’s and Paine’s assumption that people possessed an innate moral or social sense had important implications. It lay behind their belief in the natural harmony of society and their advocacy of minimal government. People, they claimed, had an inherent need to socialize with one another and were naturally benevolent and affable. This benevolence and sociability became a modern substitute for the ascetic and Spartan virtue of the ancient republics. This new modern virtue, as David Hume pointed out, was much more in accord with the growing commercialization and refinement of the enlightened and civilized eighteenth century than the austere and severe virtue of the ancients.

The classical virtue of antiquity had flowed from the citizen’s participation in politics; government had been the source of the citizen’s civic consciousness and public-spiritedness. But the modern virtue of Jefferson, Paine, and other eighteenth-century liberals flowed from the citizen’s participation in society, not in government. Society to eighteenth-century liberals was harmonious and compassionate. We today may believe that society—with its class antagonisms, business and capitalist exploitation, and racial prejudices—by itself breeds the ills and cruelties that plague us. But for eighteenth-century radicals, society was benign; it created sympathy, affability, and the new domesticated virtue. By mingling in drawing rooms, clubs, and coffeehouses, by partaking in the innumerable interchanges of the daily comings and goings of modern life, people developed affection and fellow feeling, which were all the adhesives really necessary to hold an enlightened people together. Some even argued that commerce, that traditional enemy of classical virtue, was in fact a source of modern virtue. Because it encouraged intercourse and confidence among people and nations, commerce actually contributed to benevolence and fellow feeling.

The opening paragraph of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense articulated brilliantly this distinction between society and government. Society and government were different things, said Paine, and they have different origins. “Society is produced by our wants and government by our wickedness.” Society “promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections”; government affects us “negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. . .. Society in every state was a blessing; but government even in its best state was but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one.”9 The most devout republicans like Paine and Jefferson believed that if only the natural tendencies of people to love and care for one another were allowed to flow freely, unclogged by the artificial interference of government, particularly monarchical government, society would prosper and hold itself together.

These liberal ideas that society was naturally autonomous and selfregulating and that everyone possessed a common moral and social sense were no utopian fantasies but the conclusions of what many enlightened thinkers took to be the modern science of society. While most clergymen continued to urge Christian love and charity upon their ordinary parishioners, many other educated and enlightened people sought to secularize Christian love and find in human nature itself a scientific imperative for loving one’s neighbor as oneself. There seemed to be a natural principle of attraction that pulled people together, a moral principle that was no different from the principles that operated in the physical world. “Just as the regular motions and harmony of the heavenly bodies depend upon their mutual gravitation towards each other,” said the liberal Massachusetts preacher Jonathan Mayhew, so too did love and benevolence among people preserve “order and harmony” in the society.10 Love between humans was the gravity of the moral world, and it could be studied and perhaps even manipulated more easily than the gravity of the physical world. Enlightened thinkers like Lord Shaftesbury, Francis Hutcheson, and Adam Smith thus sought to discover these hidden forces that moved and held people together in the moral world—forces, they believed, that could match the great eighteenth-century scientific discoveries of the hidden physical forces (gravity, magnetism, electricity, and energy) that operated in the physical world. Out of such dreams was born modern social science.

Their complete reliance on “a system of social affections” is what made Paine and Jefferson such natural republicans.11 Republics demanded far more morally from their citizens than monarchies did of their subjects. In monarchies each man’s desire to do what was right in his own eyes could be restrained by fear or force, by patronage or honor, by the distribution of offices and distinctions, and by professional standing armies. By contrast, republics could not use the traditional instruments of government to hold the society together; instead, they had to hold themselves together from the bottom up, ultimately, from their citizens’ willingness to sacrifice their private desires for the sake of the public good—their virtue. This reliance on the moral virtue of their citizens, on their capacity for self-sacrifice and their innate sociability, was what made republican governments historically so fragile.

Jefferson and Paine had so much confidence in the natural harmony of society that they sometimes came close to denying any role for government at all in holding the society together. To believe that government contributed to social cohesion was a great mistake, said Paine. “Society performs for itself almost every thing which is ascribed to government.” Government had little or nothing to do with civilized life. Instead of ordering society, government “divided it; it deprived it of its natural cohesion, and engendered discontents and disorder, which otherwise would not have existed.”12Both Paine and Jefferson believed that all social abuses and deprivations—social distinctions, business contracts, monopolies and privileges of all sorts, even excessive property and wealth, anything and everything that interfered with people’s natural social dispositions—seemed to flow from connections to government, in the end from connections to monarchical government. Everywhere in the Old World, said Paine, we “find the greedy hand of government thrusting itself into every corner and crevice of industry, and grasping the spoil of the multitude.”13

Both Jefferson and Paine believed deeply in minimal government—not as nineteenth-century laissez-faire liberals trying to promote capitalism, but as eighteenth-century radicals who hated monarchy, which was the only kind of government they had known. Calling them believers in minimal government is perhaps too tame a way of describing their deep disdain for hereditary monarchical government. Monarchy for Paine was “a silly contemptible thing” whose fuss and formality, when once exposed, became laughable. Jefferson felt the same; when he was president he went out of his way to mock the formalities and ceremonies of the court life of the European kings. His scorn of the European monarchs knew no bounds. They were, he said, all fools or idiots. “They passed their lives in hunting, and dispatched two couriers a week, one thousand miles, to let each other know what game they had killed the preceding days.”14

But what really made Jefferson and Paine hate monarchy was its habitual promotion of war. As far as they were concerned, as Paine put it, “all the monarchical governments are military. War is their trade, plunder and revenue their objects.”15 Angry liberals everywhere in the Western world thought that monarchy and war were intimately related. Indeed, as the son of the Revolutionary War general Benjamin Lincoln declared, “Kings owe their origin to war.”16 This recent Harvard graduate, like Jefferson and Paine, spoke out of a widespread eighteenth-century liberal protest against developments that had been taking place in Europe over the previous three centuries.

From the sixteenth century through the eighteenth century, the European monarchies had been busy consolidating their power and marking out their authority within clearly designated boundaries while at the same time protecting themselves from rival claimants to their power and territories. They erected ever-larger bureaucracies and military forces in order to wage war, which is what they did through most decades of these three centuries. This meant the building of more centralized governments and the creation of more elaborate means for extracting money and men from their subjects. These efforts in turn led to the growth of armies, the increase in public debts, the raising of taxes, and the strengthening of executive power.

Such monarchical state building was bound to provoke opposition, especially among the English who had a long tradition of valuing their liberties and resisting crown power. The country-Whig-opposition ideology that arose in England in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries was directed against these kinds of monarchical state-building efforts taking place rather belatedly in England. When later eighteenth-century British radicals, including Thomas Paine, warned that the lamps of liberty were going out all over Europe and were being dimmed in Britain itself, it was these efforts at modern state formation that they were talking about.

Liberals and republicans like Jefferson and Paine assumed that kings brought their countries into war so frequently because wars sustained monarchical power. The internal needs of monarchies—the requirements of their bloated bureaucracies, their standing armies, their marriage alliances, their restless dynastic ambitions—lay behind the prevalence of war. Eliminate monarchy and all its accoutrements, many Americans believed, and war itself would be eliminated. A world of republican states would encourage a different kind of diplomacy, a peace-loving diplomacy—one based not on the brutal struggle for power of conventional diplomacy but on the natural concert of the commercial interests of the people of the various nations. “If commerce were permitted to act to the universal extent it is capable,” said Paine, “it would extirpate the system of war, and produce a revolution in the uncivilized state of governments.”17 In other words, if the people of the various nations were left alone to exchange goods freely among themselves—without the corrupting interference of selfish monarchical courts, irrational dynastic rivalries, and the secret double-dealing diplomacy of the past—then, as Jefferson, Paine, and other radical liberals hoped, international politics would become republicanized, pacified, and ruled by commerce alone, and a universal peace might emerge. Old-fashioned political diplomats might not even be necessary in this new commercially linked world.

Both men naturally and enthusiastically supported the French Revolution; indeed, both of them were close to Lafayette and his liberal circle and participated in the early stages of that Revolution. They had no doubt that the republican ideals of the American Revolution were simply spreading eastward and would eventually republicanize all of Europe. Although Paine became a member of the French National Convention and participated in its affairs, he turned out to be somewhat less fanatical than Jefferson. Paine never said anything comparable to Jefferson’s comment of January 1793, in which the American secretary of state declared that he “would have seen half the earth desolated” rather than have the Revolution in France fail. “Were there but an Adam and an Eve left in every country, and left free, it would be better than as it is now.” Indeed, while Paine bravely argued in the National Convention that the life of King Louis XVI ought to be spared, Jefferson viewed the king’s execution as “punishment like other criminals.” He hoped that France’s eventual triumph would “bring at length kings, nobles and priests to the scaffolds which they have been so long deluging with human blood.”18

For hardheaded realists like Alexander Hamilton, these radical ideas of Jefferson and Paine were nothing but “pernicious dreams.” By abandoning the main instruments by which eighteenth-century monarchical governments held their turbulent societies together and ruled—patronage, ceremonies and rituals, aristocratic titles, and force—dreamers like Jefferson and Paine, said a disgruntled Hamilton, were offering “the bewitching tenets of the illuminated doctrine, which promises men, ere long, an emancipation from the burdens and restraints of government.” By the early 1790s Hamilton was alarmed by the extraordinarily utopian idea coming out of the French Revolution “that but a small portion of power is requisite to Government.” And some radicals like William Godwin believed that “even this is only temporarily necessary” and could be done away with once “the bad habits” of the ancien régime were eliminated. Unfortunately, said Hamilton, there were wishful thinkers in both France and America who assumed that, “as human nature shall refine and ameliorate by the operation of a more enlightened plan” based on a common moral sense and the spread of affection and benevolence, “government itself will become useless, and Society will subsist and flourish free from its shackles.”19

With all the “mischiefs . . . inherent in so wild and fatal a scheme,” Hamilton had hoped that “votaries of this new philosophy” would not push it to its fullest. But the new Jefferson administration that took over the federal government in 1801 was trying to do just that. “No army, no navy, no active commerce—national defence, not by arms but by embargoes, prohibition of trade &c.—as little government as possible.” These all added up, said Hamilton in 1802, to “a most visionary theory.”20 Consequently, Hamilton and the other opponents of the Jefferson administration never tired of ridiculing the president and his supporters as utopians who walked with their heads in the clouds trying to extract sunbeams from cucumbers. Jefferson, the quixotic president, may have been ideally suited to be a college professor, they declared, but he was not suited to be the leader of a great nation.

But like many college professors, both Jefferson and Paine were optimists, believing in the promise of the future rather than in the dead hand of the past. Both loved inventions, like Paine’s iron bridge, that made life and commerce easier. Both detested primogeniture and other aristocratic inheritance laws that treated new generations of children unequally. They hated charters and corporations that gave the few monopoly privileges that were not shared by the many. They were, said Paine, “charters, not of rights, but of exclusion.”21 The idea that corporate charters were vested rights that were unalterable by subsequent popular legislatures was, said Jefferson, a doctrine inculcated by “our lawyers and priests” that supposed “that preceding generations held the earth more freely than we do; had a right to impose laws on us, unalterable by ourselves, and that we, in like manner, can make laws and impose burdens on future generations, which they will have no right to alter; in fine, that the earth belongs to the dead and not the living.”22 Neither Jefferson nor Paine, in other words, had any patience with the sophisticated defense of prescription set forth by Edmund Burke.

Even the two men’s religious views were similar—as radical as the enlightened eighteenth century allowed. Although Jefferson never publicly attacked orthodox religion in the extreme way Paine did in his Age of Reason (1794)—“Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented,” Paine declared, “there is none more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory in itself than this thing called Christianity”—Jefferson privately shared Paine’s scorn for traditional Christianity. Members of the “priestcraft,” he wrote to friends he could trust, had turned Christianity “into mystery and jargon unintelligible to all mankind and therefore the safer engine for their purposes.” The Trinity was nothing but “Abracadabra” and “hocus-pocus . . . so incomprehensible to the human mind that no candid man can say he has any idea of it.” Ridicule, he said, was the only weapon to be used against it. But because he had been badly burned by some indiscreet remarks about religion in his Notes on the State of Virginia, he had learned to share his religious thoughts with only those he could rely on. “I not only write nothing on religion,” he told a friend in 1815, “but rarely permit myself to speak on it, and never but in a reasonable society.”23

Paine’s outrageous statements about Christianity in his Age of Reason helped to destroy his reputation in America. These views, coupled with his vicious attack on George Washington, meant that when he returned from Europe to America in 1802, he had few friends left in the country, but Thomas Jefferson was one of them.

Jefferson was the president and a political figure and that made all the difference between the two men. On nearly every point of political and religious beliefs the two enlightened radicals were in agreement. Where they differed was in Paine’s need to voice his ideas publicly and in Jefferson’s need to confine them to private drawing rooms composed of reasonable people. Paine was America’s first modern public intellectual, an unconnected social critic, who knew, he said, “but one kind of life I am fit for, and that is a thinking one, and of course, a writing one.”24 By aggressively publishing his ideas, Paine aimed to turn the contemplative life into an active one. Jefferson could not do this. Since he had a political career that depended on popular elections, he could not afford to spell out his radical ideas in pamphlets and books in the forceful way Paine could. Yet if he had written out in any systematic manner what he believed about politics, it would have resembled Paine’s The Rights of Man: Part the Second. As a politician, Jefferson continually had to compromise his beliefs—on minimal government, on banks, on the debt, on patronage, and perhaps on slavery. When he was speaking with his liberal friends abroad, he certainly took the correct line in opposition to slavery, but he was unable to become the kind of outspoken opponent of slavery that Paine became. Yet the intensity with which Jefferson enforced his embargo—his grand experiment in “peaceful coercion” as an alternative to war—reveals just how dedicated a radical he could be on some issues.

Although Jefferson was certainly cosmopolitan in an enlightened eighteenth-century manner, he was at heart a Virginian and an American deeply attached to his country. Paine was different. By the time he left America to return to the Old World in 1787, he had emotionally cut loose from his adopted home and had turned into an intellectual progenitor of revolutions. “It was neither the place nor the people [of America], but the Cause itself that irresistibly engages me in its support,” he told the president of the Continental Congress as early as 1779, “for I should have acted the same part in any other country could the same circumstance have arisen there which have happened here.” He had come to see himself as little better than “a refugee, and that of the most extraordinary kind, a refugee from the Country I have befriended.” In the end he became a man without a home, without a country, and literally, as he said, “a citizen of the world.”25

Because Paine after 1787 became as eager to reform the Old World as he had the New, his writings eventually took on issues that he had not dealt with earlier. Thinking of England and its huge numbers of landless people and its extremes of wealth and poverty, he proposed systems of public welfare and social insurance financed by progressive taxation in his Rights of Man: Part the Second and in his Agrarian Justice. Jefferson, as the patriot who believed that agrarian America was already an egalitarian paradise, felt no need to express such radical views publicly. Yet as early as 1785 he privately suggested various measures to ensure that property in a state not become too unequally divided. Indeed, he declared, so harmful was gross inequality of wealth that “legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property.” In addition to proposing that all children inherit property equally, he, like Paine, advocated the progressive taxation of the rich and the exemption of the poor from taxes. Even in America, he said, “it is not too soon to provide by every possible means that as few as possible shall be without a little portion of land. The small landholders are the most precious part of a state.”26 In the end, Americans treated the two men who shared so many ideas very differently. Although Americans have erected a huge memorial to Jefferson in Washington, D.C., and celebrated him as the premier spokesman for democracy, they have scarcely noticed Thomas Paine. He died in obscurity in the United States in 1809 and ten years later William Cobbett took his bones away to England. Although Jefferson declared in 1801 that Paine had labored on behalf of liberty and the American Revolution “with as much effort as any man living,” Paine still remains a much-neglected Founder.27 Perhaps it is time for that to change.


This was a paper presented at a conference in London in 2009 celebrating the bicentennial of Thomas Paine’s death. Although not written with that intent, the paper may help refurbish the reputation of Jefferson in some small way. It is not easy, since Jefferson has come in for some very brutal and often deserved bashing by historians over the past half century. Although he has traditionally been seen as America’s premier spokesman for democracy, he was an aristocratic slaveholder, and the irony of that conjunction has been too much for many historians to bear, especially as historians have made slavery the central fact in the founding of the nation. Jefferson seems to be the ultimate hypocrite, and because he has been such a symbol of America, his hypocrisy has tainted the nation’s reputation as well.

Although it took courage for young Jefferson, raised in a slave society, to speak out against the institution, there is ultimately no defending Jefferson on slavery or race. He did indeed oppose slavery as a young man, and he even tried to do something about limiting it, but his suspicions of black inferiority and racial distinctiveness expressed in his Notes on the State of Virginia are so abhorrent that his moral credentials appear to be fatally compromised. Yet despite his repugnant views on race, Jefferson still has something to say to us Americans today. Indeed, I think that he deserves his traditional reputation as America’s supreme apostle of democracy.

Paine may be able to help redeem Jefferson. Since it is clear that Jefferson and Paine thought alike on virtually every issue, Paine’s radical and democratic credentials may allow historians, especially those of the left, to see Jefferson in a somewhat more favorable light, or at least see him in light of the eighteenth century, and not in today’s light.

So taken with Jefferson’s hypocrisy are recent historians that some of them have even suggested that Jefferson’s advocacy of minimal government was merely a device for defending slavery. Since a small government presumably would have less opportunity to interfere with the institution of slavery, some Southern Jeffersonian Republicans certainly found minimal government appealing. But that was not Jefferson’s motive or the motive of his many Northern followers. Jefferson’s ideas of minimal government were widely shared by eighteenth-century radicals such as Paine, William Godwin, and others who certainly had no brief for slavery. The fact of the matter is that late eighteenth-century Anglo-American radicalism demanded a belief in minimal government, and historians who do not appreciate that fact reveal their ignorance of the period.

Jefferson’s standing as the spokesman for democracy rests on his belief in equality. It is why Lincoln paid “all honor to Jefferson.” He and others subsequently have drawn inspiration from the Declaration of Independence and its claim that all men are created equal. But Jefferson went much further than simply claiming that all men were created equal—that was a cliché among the enlightened in the late eighteenth century. As I try to point out in this article, both he and Paine believed that people were not just created equal but were actually equal to everyone else throughout their lives. Not that Jefferson and Paine denied the obvious differences among individuals that exist—how some individuals are taller, smarter, more handsome than others—but rather both radicals posited that at bottom, every single individual, men and women, black and white, had a common moral or social sense that tied him or her to other individuals. None of the other leading Founders believed that—not Washington, not Hamilton, not Adams. And since no democracy can intelligibly exist without some such magnanimous belief that at heart everyone is the same, Jefferson’s position as the apostle of American democracy seems not only legitimate but necessary to the well-being of the nation.

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