For Jefferson, the ideal that the Roman and Palladian villas embodied was one of synthesis between opposing yet mutually necessary paradigms – between construction and landscape, artifice and nature, labor and leisure, sophistication and virtue, contemplation and action, self-sufficiency and interaction, autonomy and integration, pragmatism and idealism, function and image, historicism and modernism, past and present. All of these issues, filtered through Jefferson’s unique perspective, manifested themselves in his design for the Lawn. That is because these concerns, far from being archaic or “merely” academic, were the very forces in tension within early American democracy. The Academical Village may be seen as a demonstration of the overall synthetic project of Jefferson’s political ideology, whereby seemingly opposing elements were to supplement each other and even reinforce the unity of the whole. Jefferson’s ambition was “to accommodate seemingly disparate elements within an original and remarkably coherent worldview to provide a more sophisticated understanding of the ideological foundations of our republic.”1

Thomas Jefferson’s political ideology was essentially a balance of Lockean liberalism and classical republicanism, modified by other influences such as Scottish moral sense philosophy, Christian ethics, and modern economic theory.2 The relative dominance of each component varied over the course of his life, although one may divide it into three general phases. During the revolutionary period, when the American colonies were attempting to assert their independence from the paternalism of the British Empire, the Lockean liberal philosophy understandably rose to the forefront in Jefferson’s writings. Post-Revolution, when the newly-formed nation was attempting to stabilize itself as coherent political entity, Jefferson’s classical republican tendencies grew proportionally stronger. Later, when the Hamiltonian Federalist threat rose to challenge Jefferson’s social vision, he responded once again with Lockean rhetoric against what he perceived to be an imminent authoritarianism overtaking the nation. Nevertheless, both elements are always present in how Jefferson conceptualized American society: only by asserting the Lockean independence of the individual can the populace freely take part in a republican government, and only the classical republican system of participatory democracy can protect individual freedoms from abuse of power. “For Jefferson, liberty and union were inextricable: the destruction of one necessarily entailed the destruction of the other.”3

< home | next >