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Summer Jefferson Symposium

Jefferson and the Legal Word: Summary View of the Rights of British America

Thomas Jefferson spoke in many voices – as a poet, a father, a philosopher, a politician. In his first written work for public consumption – Summary View of the Rights of British America – he wrote as a lawyer. Reading Summary View as a legal document assists us in understanding Jefferson’s anger at Britain and support for the Revolution. Recognizing the influence of Jefferson’s legal training on much of his political career gives us a deeper appreciation of his actions and legacy.

Jefferson and the Religious Word: The Virginia Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom

In personal notes found after Jefferson’s death, he asked that any memorial erected to him state “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson[,] Author of the Declaration of American Independence[,] of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom[,] & Father of the University of Virginia” “& not a word more.” Omitting any reference to political office or his dedication to his family, Jefferson wanted to be remembered for his attacks on tyranny, a monument to political freedom, religious freedom, and freedom of the mind. Yet, Jefferson also made clear that religious freedom was the most important of the three for, without it, a combination of church and state would impair both political freedom and freedom of the mind. Reading his beloved Statute carefully, one can see not only Jefferson’s passion for this topic, but his deep concern for maintaining freedom.


John Ragosta
Faculty Director,
Summer Jefferson Symposium

Mr. Ragosta, a visiting assistant professor at Hamilton College for the 2012-13 academic year, is a historian and lawyer who has published extensively in both legal and historical journals in the areas of early American history, constitutional law, and international relations. He has held fellowships at both the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello.

John practiced international trade law and litigation for 20 years in Washington, D.C. and has taught at the University of Virginia History Department and Law School, George Washington University School of Law, and Randolph College.

His first book, Wellspring of Liberty, was released by Oxford University Press in 2010. Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed, his second, is forthcoming from the University of Virginia Press.

John is also a beekeeper.

"I cannot live without books."
- Thomas Jefferson