Thomas Jefferson is a hard figure to pin down. His writings and thoughts are so prolific that it is close to impossible to read an excerpt of any of his works and pretend to have a grasp of his thought process. Add his famous contradictions and hypocritical posturings, and you get a very, very complex and conflicted individual. But, no matter an individual's political affiliation or opinion of Jefferson, as a man, one must recognize the sheer genius of the Founding Father.
Jefferson is a lover and true believer in liberty. He believes in the power of rationality to overcome questions of prejudice and injustice. He eloquently attacks the notion of state-sponsored religion, not to mention religous extremism or sectarian strife, as irrational and counter to the goals of a free society. He gives numerous examples of the fallibility of governments and individuals to show that government has no reason to judge or legislate what people should believe. This is a pertinent and controversial even today. The strife, not only in far-away lands like Iraq but, in America also. The rise of the Christian Right over the past decade has explicitly shown the dangers of mixing government and religion too closely.
It saddens me to imagine Jefferson, arisen from the grave, walking around America, observing all that we have and cherish, and yet, seeing the anti-intellectual, ignorant country that we have become. We have come far in our journey as a country, but we are now plagued by a populace that does not care about learning or justice. We allow our government to run roughshod over the rights and liberties that men like Jefferson fought long and hard for. I am not simply referring to the soldiers who died on the battlefields for our sake. But I am also referring to the politicians, lawyers, and learned men who debated long and hard on how our government should be set-up. Jefferson and other delegates, especially from Virginia, fought long and hard for the inclusion of a bill of rights within our constitution because, they knew that without certain rights explicitly stated, the government would find ways to circumvent them. These individuals would be horrified to see the overstepping of executive power, the capitulation of the congress, all combined with the quiet, accepting apathy of the people. Truly, they would have to wonder whether this great experiment had already died.