Beauty or brains? Wealth or wisdom?
You surprise me with the account you give of the strength of family distinction still existing in Massachusetts … Here [Virginia] youth, beauty, mind and manners, are more valued than a pedigree.
Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1814, 481
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Talent (ability, intellect) and integrity were the two foundation stones upon which Jefferson thought all people should be measured. Other attributes, wealth and genealogy chief among them, meant little to him. They counted even less if talent and integrity were lacking.
John Adams must have made the point that one’s family background still held great sway in Massachusetts. Jefferson would have none of it.
Jefferson was 71 and Adams around 77 at this time. Note that even in Virginia, Jefferson had to concede that youth and beauty came before mind (intellect) and manners (integrity) as valued possessions.
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