Thomas Jefferson’s Enlightenment Idea of Federalism

Authored by: Peter McNamara

The Ashgate Research Companion to Federalism

Print publication date:  August  2009
Online publication date:  April  2016

Print ISBN: 9780754671312
eBook ISBN: 9781315612966
Adobe ISBN: 9781317043454


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It is not surprising that federalism loomed large in the mind of Thomas Jefferson. From the beginning Jefferson was accustomed to multiple identities and citizenships. The tensions between part and whole and between center and periphery pervaded his life. Born at the edge of an empire that embodied for many, Jefferson included, the Enlightenment’s promises of liberty and progress and himself receiving a classical and cosmopolitan education, Jefferson nevertheless had a deep affection for his native Virginia, a high opinion of its inhabitants, and an unbounded confidence in their future prospects. The mature Jefferson would be a Virginian, an American, a distinguished member of the Republic of Letters, and a zealous advocate for mankind. Jefferson’s Enlightenment idea of federalism was the critical element in his attempt to come to terms with these multiple allegiances. His successes and his failures in this attempt contain significant lessons for today.

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