Thursday, January 30, 2014

"The Holy Charge Which We Are Cherishing To Deliver": A Neglected Aspect Of Our Education

Thomas Jefferson thought about many things that few men have considered.  In my morning reading this week I came across two of his statements that are seldom considered in today’s discussion of the purpose of education which I think merit further consideration and elaboration. 

Both come from early in 1821 when he was in his mature reflective years.  Profound learning and experience produced not only great political and social wisdom, but seemed to lend to him an almost prophetic prescience.  In a letter to James Breckenridge he observed that the boys of their age would become the men of the next and “they should be prepared to receive the holy charge which we are cherishing to deliver over to them.”

Jefferson understood two things about the incredible legacy of liberty and government his generation was bequeathing to the next one.  First, it would be perhaps the greatest political gift one society ever passed on to the future.  He spoke of the “political blessings,” and “holy charge” they were “cherishing to deliver.” Jefferson’s awareness of the sacred and solemn heritage the future was receiving was surpassed by few if any of his generation.  He also knew that the following generation–and I would make that plural, generations–must be “prepared to receive the holy charge.”

Inferred here is a purpose of education that is all but forgotten in today’s almost single minded rush by students, parents, educators, administrators, commencement speakers, pundits, and government officials to prepare today’s youth to “get a good, well paying job.” We are simply not giving just do to preparing the present generation in understanding the importance and fragility of the governmental system they are inheriting, or the incomparable beauty and power of its founding principles.

Jefferson it seems, could foresee and therefore warned of such a situation.  In March of 1821 he wrote to Spencer Roane of his “hope that the [generation] now on stage will preserve for their sons the political blessings delivered into their hands by their fathers.” “But,” he warned, “time produces also corruption of principles, and against this it is the duty of good citizens to be ever on the watch....”

“Corruption of principles” indeed!  For many Americans our founding principles are not only corrupted, they are nearly forgotten.  This generational loss of memory is due in large measure to the neglect of one age to prepare the subsequent one through education. Jefferson’s vision of the uniqueness, beauty, and holiness of the inheritance the Founders were passing down has grown dim. It is at our peril that it has done so.

Quotations source: John P. Kaminski, ed., The Quotable Jefferson, (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006), p. 216.

Let's think together again, soon.


  1. Thank you for the invitation! I love this man and hope to be able to be called his friend someday (I know that he is a friend to me and all men). I have much the same feelings about him as King Benjamin's people had for him, and I believe that many Americans in Jefferson's day had this same appreciation for him as well. I did want to share a few more of his warnings and 'prophecies' since that is the subject:
    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 them will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their Fathers conquered...I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies... The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs
    If we can but prevent the government from wasting the labours of the people, under the pretence of taking care of them, they must become happy.
    The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.
    When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become as corrupt as Europe.
    None but an armed nation can dispense with a standing army. To keep ours armed and disciplined is therefore at all times important.
    Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.
    Educate and inform the whole mass of the people... They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.

    1. Jefferson's prophetic foresight is really only a sub-theme in this essay. It's purpose is to discuss the implications of two of his statements regarding the heirs of the Founders being prepared to receive and perpetuate the legacy given to them. I agree with you, however, that this topic is one of many that demonstrate his "prophetic prescience." I will have occasion around the 4th of July to write about yet one more.