I always hear with pleasure of institutions for the promotion of knowledge among my countrymen. The people of every country are the only safe guardians of their own rights, and … they should be instructed to a certain degree. I have often thought that nothing would do more extensive good at small expense than the establishment of a small circulating library in every county, to consist of a few well-chosen books, to be lent to the people of the county … such as would give them a general view of other history, and particular view of that of their own country, a tolerable knowledge of Geography, the elements of Natural Philosophy, of Agriculture and Mechanics.
To John Wyche, May 9, 1809
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Secure leaders want their followers to be very well-informed!
Jefferson was responding to Wyche’s letter two months earlier, when he wrote about the establishment of a local library society. Jefferson couldn’t have been more pleased!
A well-informed citizenry was essential for the preservation of America’s still young republican (small r) government. Outside of a general system of universal public education, for which he had lobbied unsuccessfully in Virginia for over 30 years, what better way to achieve that end than a lending library in every county! The minimal offerings should be:
– History in general
– America’s history in particular
– Geography, a sense of place
– Natural philosophy (science)
– Agriculture, how we feed ourselves
– Mechanics, how things work
Just two months before, Jefferson had retired from the Presidency. Among the pleasures he enjoyed as a private man was daily access to his own library of some 6,500 books, the largest collection in America.
“You are not the traditional conference speaker! That’s why we hired you! …
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President, Excellence in Missouri Foundation
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