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Thomas Jefferson on the value of history

I want to make history interesting and relevant to you. Am I succeeding?
History, by apprising the people of the past, will enable them to judge of the future; it will avail them of the experience of other times and other nations; it will qualify them as judges of the actions and designs of men; it will enable them to know ambition under every disguise it may assume; and knowing it, to defeat its views.

Notes on Virginia
, 1782, 3736

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
These words are part of the closing challenge in every presentation I make as Thomas Jefferson. He recognized that human nature does not change. Lessons learned from the past can not only guide the present, they can protect the future.
He was particularly averse to human ambition, the desire of a few to gain authority over the many. He hated the idea that the few … the wealthy, well-born, or those already entrenched in power … were somehow superior to the masses. Reading history would help one recognize ambition, no matter how it presented itself. Once recognized, it could be defeated.
As part of that closing challenge, I pair this thought with another written decades later in 1816 to Charles Yancey, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

 

 

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One Response to Thomas Jefferson on the value of history

  1. Powerful words. Too many Americans, especially young folks, don’t know history. Shucks, they don’t even know the present. They are ignorant of important discussions going on in Washington and state capitals. Too many of them will remain ignorant right up to the time they walk into the voting booth next November (or earlier in the primaries).

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