Founding Fathers Quote Friday: Virtue

Favorite Founding Father's Quote Day

“Liberty… is the great parent of science and of virtue; and… a nation will be great in both always in proportion as it is free.” –Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Willard, 1789. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (Memorial Edition), Lipscomb and Bergh, editors; 7:329.

The principle here is that people naturally seek to find truth around them and to bring out the good within themselves, and that government should allow and encourage this.

However, this is not precisely true. It is true that people seek to know enough about the material world to be able to manipulate it for their own ends, and this may be called science. It is also true that people seek to meet their own standard of goodness, and they might call this virtue. To that extent, government should recognize these tendencies and allow them to flourish unimpeded.

However, It is our responsibility as parents, teachers, and members of the community to help define the objectives of science and the standards of virtue.


One thought on “Founding Fathers Quote Friday: Virtue

  1. Hi Dave. This is an interesting quote, and your reflections on it are absolutely correct. They peel back the glossy layer of what we would LIKE to think about human nature, and expose what human nature is really like.

    I think that in this case, Jefferson got it backwards, like you said. Virtue is not necessarily the offspring of liberty. On the contrary, history reveals that liberty is the offspring of virtue. If you start with liberty, and have no authority for virtue, you get licentiousness. But Jefferson, after his stay in France (surprise, surprise), seemed to have more faith in the inherent goodness of man (especially the common laborer) than reality would justify.

    People need to be politically free to an extent, in order to exercise their virtue, but you cannot give man total freedom if he has no virtue to remain free. Virtuous people will always know how to deal with tyrants. And that is the reason why our Revolution was so successful.

    I’ve been dwelling on that subject a bit, lately, and am writing a series of posts about it. The first installment is up, if you want to check it out and give me your thoughts.

    Thanks for participating today, and Happy FFQF!

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