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The Jeffersonian cyclopedia;

a comprehensive collection of the views of Thomas Jefferson classified and arranged in alphabetical order under nine thousand titles relating to government, politics, law, education, political economy, finance, science, art, literature, religious freedom, morals, etc.;
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2400. EDUCATION, Jefferson's Explanation of.—
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3 occurrences of jefferson cyclopedia
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2400. EDUCATION, Jefferson's Explanation of.—

The general objects of this
law are to provide an education adapted to
the years, to the capacity, and the condition
of every one, and directed to their freedom
and happiness. Specific details were not
proper for the law. These must be the business
of the visitors entrusted with its execution.
The first stage of this education being
the schools of the hundreds, wherein the great
mass of the people will receive their instruction,
the principal foundations of future order
will be laid here. Instead, therefore, of
putting the Bible and the Testament into the
hands of the children at an age when their
judgments are not sufficiently matured for
religious inquiries, their memories may here
be stored with the most useful facts from
Grecian, Roman, European and American
history. The first elements of morality, too,
may be instilled into their minds: such as,
when further developed as their judgments
advance in strength, may teach them how to
work out their own greatest happiness, by
showing them that it does not depend on
the condition of life in which chance has
placed them, but is always the result of
a good conscience, good health, occupation,
and freedom in all just pursuits. Those whom
either the wealth of their parents or the adoption
of the State shall destine to higher degrees
of learning, will go on to the grammar
schools, which constitute the next stage,
there to be instructed in the languages. The
learning Greek and Latin, I am told, is going
into disuse in Europe. I know not what their
manners and occupations may call for; but
it would be very ill-judged in us to follow
their example in this instance. There is a
certain period of life, say from eight to fifteen
or sixteen years of age, when the mind, like
the body is not yet firm enough for laborious
and close operations. If applied to such, it
falls an early victim to premature exertion;
exhibiting, indeed, at first, in these young
and tender subjects, the flattering appearance
of their being men while they are yet children,
but ending in reducing them to be children
when they should be men. The memory is
then most susceptible and tenacious of impressions;
and the learning of languages being
chiefly a work of memory, it seems precisely
fitted to the powers of this period,
which is long enough, too, for acquiring the
most useful languages, ancient and modern.
I do not pretend that language is science. It
is only an instrument for the attainment of
science. But that time is not lost which is
employed in providing tools for future operation;
more especially, as in this case, the
books put into the hands of the youth for this
purpose may be such as will, at the same time,
impress their minds with useful facts and
good principles. If this period be suffered
to pass in idleness, the mind becomes lethargic
and impotent, as would the body it inhabits,
if unexercised during the same time.
The sympathy between body and mind during
their rise, progress, and decline, is too
strict and obvious to endanger our being
misled, while we reason from the one to the

As soon as they are of sufficient age, it is
supposed they will be sent from the grammar
schools to the university, which constitutes
our third and last stage, there to study those
sciences which may be adapted to their views.
By that part of our plan which prescribes
the selection of the youths of genius from
among the classes of the poor, we hope to
avail the State of those talents which nature
has sown as liberally among the poor as the
rich, but which perish without use, if not
sought for and cultivated. But of all the
views of this law none is more important,
none more legitimate, than that of rendering
the people the safe, as they are the ultimate,
guardians of their own liberty. For this purpose
the reading in the first stage, where
they will receive their whole education, is
proposed, as has been said, to be chiefly historical.
History, by apprising them 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. In every
government on earth is some trace of human
weakness, some germ of corruption and degeneracy,
which cunning will discover, and
wickedness insensibly open, cultivate and improve.
Every government degenerates when
trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The
people themselves, therefore, are its only safe
depositories. And to render even them safe,
their minds must be improved to a certain
degree. This indeed is not all that is necessary,
though it be essentially necessary. An
amendment of our Constitution must have
come in aid of the public education. The influence
over government must be shared
among all the people. If every individual
which composes their mass participates of
the ultimate authority, the government will
be safe; because the corrupting the whole
mass will exceed any private resources of
wealth; and public ones cannot be provided
but by levies on the people. In this case every
man would have to pay his own price. The
government of Great Britain has been corrupted,
because but one man in ten has a
right to vote for members of parliament. The
sellers of the government, therefore, get nine-tenths
of their price clear. It has been
thought that corruption is restrained by confining
the right of suffrage to a few of the
wealthier of the people; but it would be more
effectually restrained, by an extension of that
right, to such members as would bid defiance
to the means of corruption.—
Notes on Virginia. Washington ed. viii, 388. Ford ed., iii, 252.


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