The New Jeffersonian is a personal website whose principal topics are history, politics, and photography. It offers an independent meta-analysis of American politics, exploring how the nation’s political traditions relate to the political discourse and realities of the day. Artifacts and old photographs furnish excuses for posts on subjects as diverse as Ferris wheels, ice-skating, inaugurations, corruption, and ladies’ clothing. In its early years, this blog was published under the title Our Polity.
The site’s new title derives from the idea that Thomas Jefferson’s political legacy remains an indispensable touchstone for our time. As a public figure, Jefferson promulgated a revolutionary ideal of equality and self-determination when he penned the Declaration of Independence. As a creature of the Enlightenment, he embraced scientific inquiry and believed that knowledge was a precious common good essential to the betterment of society. As a politician, he inspired and encouraged a broader range of Americans to become involved politics. He sought to quell partisan rancor with the balm of patriotism when he famously declared “We are all democrats; we are all republicans.”
Jefferson labored throughout his life to expand the nation’s investment in the economic well-being and character of ordinary Americans, a project he saw as essential to the success and character of the American republic. Citizens needed economic independence and education in order to fulfill their political role capably. Jefferson was an architect of the system of land distribution adopted around the time of the Founding that ensured the US would become a nation of small property-holders. He championed the cause of civic education. He loved big projects such as the Lewis and Clark expedition and the Louisiana Purchase because they promised to confer general benefits on all Americans; in that respect, he pioneered a notion of a smart active government (not a welfare state) that we would do well to harken back to.
A unique web of loyalties and associations defines our political identity while binding us together, sometimes uncomfortably. The emotional elements of our political life sustain our attachment to this place and its politics when we might otherwise feel only cynicism or outright dislike. The New Jeffersonian includes posts about travel, the arts, music, and the countryside in the hope of refreshing and strengthening the essence of these bonds.
Susan Barsy is a child of the Midwest who has lived for periods in Boston, Austin, and Washington DC. She holds a PhD with distinction from the University of Chicago, is a specialist in 19th-century American political history, and lives with her husband on Chicago’s North Side. For more on her motives, read the post Lay It on the Fire or the early post Why.
She is the co-editor, with Albert J. Beveridge III, of The Chronicle of Catherine Eddy Beveridge: An American Girl Travels into the Twentieth Century (2005; credited as Susan Radomsky).
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