The Wisdom of Thomas Jefferson

Never miss a glorious update - click here!

I know that I have been being less on-point, of late; at least, if you consider writing about things aside from fitness to be off point.

In any case, I know that I’ve been talking a bit less about fitness lately, and a bit more about, well…everything else.

I know also that you come here for great fitness; and so I apologize and promise that we will get back to that very soon.

Before I do, though, I though that given the date, this would be a good opportunity for me to discuss one of my heroes, for there is no better time to discuss Thomas Jefferson than July 4th, and on July 4th, there is no better man to discuss than Thomas Jefferson.

Now, I want to preface this by saying that I’m a bit of a Jeffersonian nerd, although in that regard I would be ranked quite low. I’ve studied Jefferson in both the academic setting and independently; more so the latter, reading at least 15 or so books that I can recall (my favorites will be posted below). And although the research into a man such as he is like staring into the Void, I will say that I’ve always come out feeling that I’m a better man with a slightly better understanding of the world.

I know that for many people, TJ is a bit of a lightening rod—everything about him screams paradox; and the inability to reconcile a man with the idea of him is, for some, too much to bear. But his paradoxical nature is what make Jefferson appealing to me. I have always been drawn to flawed, reluctant heroes. Jefferson is a man of inconsistencies—the idealistic equalitarian contrasted with the slave owner. The slave owner who loved his slaves. The conviction of his writing contrasted with his unwillingness to commit to ideas.

These things are what make Jefferson so appealing to me as a man—because in him I see not only flaws, but a man desperate not to have any. Jefferson’s idealism appealed to men, and himself, and I think in his writing it is often reflected that he would like to have been more than he was. More than that, I find Jefferson to be a superb example of the paradoxical nature of both America and humanity.

But then again, I have always been drawn to flawed heroes.

For these reasons and others, Jefferson has always been my favorite president—at least in his personality, if not necessarily his policies—and later became one of my favorite historical figures. I initially related to him because of his Idealism, in all of his writing, Jefferson expresses hope for the most beautiful version of the future imaginable.

Getting a bit more into it, like most Americans, my initial exposure to Jefferson’s writing was the Declaration, and this is where Jefferson first made his mark on me.

I stumbled through the Declaration for the first time when I was 9 years old. I do not recall what I thought at that time, beyond the fact that I was equally overwhelmed and impressed. When I read it again at 12 years old, I understood more of it, and recognized the importance of it with regard to History. At 15, I realized it’s true significance as a declaration of war; as my then History teacher put it, “words of steel couched in pretty phrases.” At 19, reading it again in the second semester of my Freshman history class, I was finally struck by the enormity of what I was reading. By that time I had grasped it’s significance – but it wasn’t until then that I fully understood the mastery with which it was written.

As you might be able to guess, what I have always loved most about Jefferson is his writing.

Of all of the Founding Fathers, Jefferson was, by far, the best with a pen. Certainly, others had amazing ideas—Madison in particular, who wrote most of the constitution—and some could be rousing writers…but none had what Jefferson did. None had his style, his panache, his unfailing and unrelenting command of the language. A number of Jeffersonian scholars have commented that reading Jefferson ruins the rest for you—there’s simply no reading anyone else from that time period. I don’t think TJ would feel comfortable with that, but there remains a grain of truth there.

In fact, looking just at the Declaration itself, you can pick out something truly magnificent–one of the most famous sentences of all time:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This has been called “one of the best-known sentences in the English language,” containing “the most potent and consequential words in American history.” This phrase summarizes the entire spirit of the American Experiment. It captures our ideology and our idealism, our humility and our hope, and above all, the goal for which many would die; a cause worth dying for.

The passage came to represent a moral standard to which the United States should strive. It is what Thomas Jefferson believed, and so it was what believed, what we still believe. Jefferson wrote it, and we believe it. It shapes us, has shaped us. For centuries now.

Even if you’re not an American, you have been influenced by those words—his words—, as there are very few countries in the world that have not been affected by the ripples made by the stone that is the American Experiment.

And if it was just his words, or his idealism, we could leave it there. But it’s not. TJ also inspires me for a number of other reasons, not the least of which is that he had an ability to form lasting and important friendships, a quality I find to be severely lacking in most humans.

The most well-known example of this is his relationship with John Adams. Mr. J and Mr. A, as they were wont to call one another, were friends, then rivals, then friends again. The period of estrangement was due to political issues, and eventually resolved itself. One of the most fascinating testaments to their friendship is that Jefferson and Adams died on the same day–this day. On July 4, 1826, at the age of 90, Adams lay on his deathbed while the country celebrated Independence Day. His last words were Thomas Jefferson still survives. He was mistaken: Jefferson had died five hours earlier at Monticello at the age of 82.

As someone who finds friendships more inspiring, in general, than romance, the friendship between two former presidents is one of the best things I’ve ever heard. (There is an urban legend that they each sent a final missive to one another, and that the couriers passed one another on the road. To my knowledge, this is false, but it’s a beautiful story.)

In any event, I could wax poetic about Jefferson all night, but in order to give you a truly full picture of why he inspires me so much, I thought it best to hear from the man himself. To that end, I have assembled a list of my favorite quotes. Some of these represent his idealism, some his work ethic…and some, believe it or not, seem to predict a lot of the trouble this nation is in. If we’d all just listened to TJ, perhaps things wouldn’t be so fucked up.

Without further delay…


The Wisdom of Thomas Jefferson

  • Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing.
  • I believe that every human mind feels pleasure in doing good to another.
  • The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.
  • I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.
  • An injured friend is the bitterest of foes.
  • A strong body makes the mind strong.
  • In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.
  • Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.
  • It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.
  • I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.
  • My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.
  • There is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents.
  • I am a great believer in luck, and find that the harder I work, the more of it I have.
  • I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property – until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.


I’ll give you a final quote, as well; not from Jefferson, but about Jefferson.

On April 29,1962, then-President John F. Kennedy hosted a group of Nobel Prize winners to a dinner in their honor at The White House. In his welcoming address, he said:

“I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House — with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

As you can undoubtedly tell, I love Jefferson. I understand him, and through understanding him, have come to understand myself.

Thomas Jefferson, as I see him, is a hero very much in the tradition of Horatio Hornblower, or Hamlet, or even James T. Kirk: a hero with the best of intentions, trying like mad to make the best decisions and to lead, despite being wracked with self-doubt.

In many ways, Jefferson is the perfect representation of this nation: flawed, but always set with the best of intentions. Jefferson had so much faith in this country, so saw so much potential for what we could become.

And in honor of Jefferson, on the 4th of July—on the day he died a mere half century after giving birth to a nation, or the idea of a nation—instead of celebrating only with beer and burgers and fireworks, we should celebrate that hope.

Let us briefly take time away from revelry for it’s own sake, and instead look to ourselves, and realize that we should revel in our freedom, in our ambition. We should revel in the hope that led Jefferson to pen some of the most impactful sentences in the history of the world–the sentences that birthed this very nation, the sentences that would breathe life into the Experiment itself.. We should revel in what Jefferson saw in us, in the promise of what we could—and still can—become.

I would like to think that we can achieve the greatness that Jefferson would say escaped him personally.

I would like to think that we can do this in our own lives, and that despite it’s flaws, this nation can achieve it also.

I would like to think that, even now—even with how lost we occasionally find ourselves—Jefferson would look at us and, with more than a little hope, bestow a final quote: “they’ll get there.”  

And, of course, he would. The eternal optimist, Mr. J.



Here’s a list of my favorite books on TJ. I think you’ll enjoy.

Thomas Jefferson: Author of America by Christopher Hitchens
American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson by Joseph J. Ellis
Thomas Jefferson, Travels: Selected Writings 1784-1789 edited by Anthony Brandt
Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson by Alan Pell Crawford



About the Author

John Romaniello is a level 70 orc wizard who spends his days lifting heavy shit and his nights fighting crime. When not doing that, he serves as the Chief Bro King of the Roman Empire and Executive Editor here on RFS. You can read his articles here, and rants on Facebook.

Comments for This Entry

  • Tom

    Not especially related to this article (awesome article by the way), but have you ever read any of David Gemmell's novels? Pretty much all his heroes are flawed in some way, if not, give a couple of them a try, they may appeal to you.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:24 am

  • ConfabulateSkepsis

    July 11, 2012 at 9:27 pm

  • Diane Lopez

    Nice post! Very informative..just what I needed...and great wisdom. :)

    July 10, 2012 at 5:50 am

  • Chris Schreiber

    Nice post, though I do think you're underestimating Madison and Hamilton a bit. Here's a great Madison quote: "A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive, will not long be safe companions to liberty." BTW, you might enjoy this piece of historical fiction by William Safire, which is both interesting and well crafted:

    July 7, 2012 at 5:29 pm

  • Jonathan Harris

    Great Post Roman, I have always enjoyed reading about Jefferson because I share many of the same opinions on both government and religion as he did. Below are two of my favorite quotes from Jefferson. "A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both, and deserve neither". "Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear".

    July 5, 2012 at 5:30 pm

  • Dukeye

    From one Jefferson fan to another (just finished the Albert Jay Nock biography) - nice post, and happy 4th!

    July 5, 2012 at 12:19 am

  • Troy Dequaine

    Awesome post. My favorite President was Teddy Roosevelt for sheer iron will and badassedness (I think I just made up a word) alone. His dad challenged him to essentially not be a pussy at an early age and I don't think he disappointed. I train a lot of kids from middle school and up and have gotten many blank stares when I ask them who their favorite president is. Disappointing times we live in...

    July 4, 2012 at 11:45 pm

  • Roxy Red

    Interesting blog. Jefferson like the nation he helped begin, was not perfect but always struggled to be. I feel one of the most important things to remember is that the principals of individual liberty and the freedom to pursue one's own happiness, contribute to the overall betterment of society, and hightens the quality of life for all. People don't need to be told by a government or a collective what to do with their own lives. Remember that America changed the world. In less than 200 years we went from horse drawn carriages and wooden sailing ships to cars, airplanes, and humans walking on the moon. Compare that with the thousands of years of human history preceding the beginning of the United States. I don't believe this could have happened without individual freedom as defined in the Declaration of Independence. Happy 4th Roman!

    July 4, 2012 at 10:19 pm

  • Matt

    Nice post to reflect on. Men and women of principle do not seem to exist anymore!! I think most people do not understand history, because they had to take it in school at an early age. I started reading about the Civil War later in life and began to appreciate how fortunate we are that things resulted as they did. Same goes for the Revolution. Nobody said The Experiment or anybody involved was perfect, but I can't think of any better!!!

    July 4, 2012 at 6:21 pm

  • Margo Ragan

    Roman - there are many quotes attributed to Jefferson that are in fact false. The banking one is one of them...

    July 4, 2012 at 5:22 pm

  • Ryan

    Great post, Roman! And Happy Holidays!

    July 4, 2012 at 5:00 pm

  • Jeannie Chamberlain Landis

    Please don't apologize for the lack of fitness writing. I think the things you write that are "off point" are some of the most poignant when it comes to inspiring fitness. Hugs :)

    July 4, 2012 at 4:11 pm

  • Phillip Hales

    Since you're one of my personal heroes, it disturbs me a bit that you'd choose Thomas Jefferson to celebrate on Independence Day. I couldn't really get beyond "The slave owner who loved his slaves."

    July 4, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    • Roman Fitness Systems

      Hey Phillip, Sorry you feel that way. The important thing, the main thing that I'd want you to walk away with - is how much Jefferson struggled. Not only with the question of slavery, but with the general feelings of responsibility that came with his position. It's impossible to talk about Jefferson without touching on "the Sally question" and I think, no matter what, that any strong research into his character reveals that he abhorred slavery as much has he loved liberty; and that his perception of slavery as "necessary" for the growth and prosperity of the nation cut him. All of that said, your opinions are your own. However, I would encourage you to read not only the post, but also a number of books on Jefferson. Education can never hurt.

      July 4, 2012 at 4:15 pm

  • Johnny Loggins

    Excellent post. I personally feel that our nation is at a make or break point, and if more people upheld these ideals, we will make it. Only time will tell...

    July 4, 2012 at 2:25 pm

  • Jon Hancock

    TJ and John Adams both died on the same day. They were the last 2 survivors of those that signed the Declaration of Independence. Have you read 1776 by David McCullough? It's a great read. Happy 4th Roman.

    July 4, 2012 at 4:04 am

Leave a Comment