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Southern Heritage <br>News and Views: Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society presents: "Thomas Jefferson: The Man Behind the Myths”

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society presents: "Thomas Jefferson: The Man Behind the Myths”

The Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society will present a forum on April 11, 2015, at the University of Virginia’s Jefferson Scholars Foundation titled, “Thomas Jefferson:  The Man Behind the Myths.”  In the past few decades, historical scholarship has obscured the true character and thought of Thomas Jefferson.  This forum will address misconceptions and misunderstandings concerning the historical Jefferson.  Thomas Jefferson was a man of profound dimensionality.  He was a statesman, politician, philosopher, architect, meteorologist, farmer, philologist, paleontologist, biologist, and inventor, among other things.  Nonetheless, he is generally known to the public today only as the writer of the Declaration of Independence and an owner of slaves.  This conference will explore beyond this narrow perception of America’s third president.

Because Jefferson wore so many hats, he is enshrouded in myths.  The Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society has invited scholars of excellent reputation to explore the person behind those myths.  Topics to be discussed include Jefferson’s learning process, his conception of history,  his notion of the relation between the mind and body,  his importance as an architect, the influence on him of the Christian religion,  and the centrality of morality in his political philosophy.

The seminar will be held on Saturday, April 11, 2015,  in Charlottesville, Virginia at the University of Virginia’s Jefferson Scholars Foundation, located at 112 Clarke Court; Charlottesville, Virginia, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:40 p.m.  Admission to this special event is free and open to the public. 

The program will begin at 8:30 a.m., with morning welcome, conviviality and refreshments for all participants; and will include periodic breaks with a 12:00 Noon lunch hour for dining and fellowship at several popular local restaurants within a few minutes’ walk of the Jefferson Scholars Foundation facility.   A public question-and-answer discussion will be held by each of the speakers following their address.

The Morning Session will be moderated by Dr. White M. Wallenborn, M.D., Past-President of the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society and former Monticello Guide.

9:15 a.m. – Mark Beliles, “Doubting Thomas?   The Distorted Religious Legacy of Thomas Jefferson”

Currently, most people regard Jefferson as a Deist or life-long skeptic who thought religion and government should have nothing to do with each other; however, recent evidence shows that this is not true. This lecture will draw from about 1100 religious letters and papers of Thomas Jefferson and provide a more accurate context of the vast majority of his religious statements and actions.  Beliles has recently put in print over 50 Jefferson letters that have never been previously published.  In the setting of the unique religious culture of Central Virginia, a more nuanced picture of Jefferson’s religious life emerges that challenges both secular and religious scholars to reassess Jefferson’s modern image that is a distortion of reality.  Reasons will presented for the modern distorted image and a description of that image dealing with his relationship with clergy and churches, his views of the Bible and the doctrine of the Trinity, and his views of separation of church and state.  A more accurate religious life of Jefferson will be presented that shows five distinct stages of development.  A true religious legacy is discussed as well that has blessed America and the world.

Mark Beliles is author or co-author of several scholarly books including Doubting Thomas? The Religious Life and Legacy of Thomas Jefferson (2014, Morgan James Publishers with Jerry Newcombe), and the Selected Religious Letters and Papers of Thomas Jefferson (2013, America Publications).   His Ph.D. dissertation is Free as the Air:  Churches and Politics in Jefferson’s Virginia (2000, America Publications).  Beliles founded the Providence Foundation in 1983 and has convened several scholarly symposiums about Jefferson and religion at the University of Virginia co-sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.  Residing in Charlottesville, he served a dozen years as the Chairman of the Historic Resources Committee for the city of Charlottesville and co-chairman of its 250th anniversary held in 2012.  Beliles has also worked 36 years as a pastor.  He presently serves as president of the Global Transformation Network as a lecturer, writer and leadership coach.  In this capacity he has traveled and spoken in over 40 countries and many cities in the United States.

10:15 a.m. – J. David Gowdy, “Thomas Jefferson and the Pursuit of Virtue”

In stark contrast to contemporary portrayals of him as a radical individualist and libertine, Thomas Jefferson’s life and writings evidence a steadfast conviction to precepts of virtue and morality.  Sources of his virtuous habits and moral reasoning may be traced to: (a) his Anglican upbringing and church attendance (tied to Anglican preaching in the Colonial Era); (b) his private study and public endorsement of classical texts such as Aristotle, Cicero, and Sidney, as well as Washington’s Farewell Address (for use at the University of Virginia);  and (c) his own teachings woven into his letters to family and friends (not to mention his selections of poems, literature and anecdotes chosen to be shared and remembered in his personal scrapbook).  Jefferson’s lifelong pursuit may be defined by his statement that, “Happiness is the aim of life.  Virtue is the foundation of happiness.”

J. David Gowdy received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Kansas State University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, and received his Juris Doctorate degree from the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University, graduating Cum Laude.  He has practiced law and founded several businesses and is a member of the Texas and California Bar Associations.  He is the founder and President of the Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute in Charlottesville, Virginia.  The Institute provides continuing education courses to secondary school government and history teachers, and civic groups, on the principles of the Constitution and the lives and writings of the Founding Fathers.  He is the author of “Seven Principles of Liberty” and “Jefferson & Madison’s Guide to the Constitution.”  He also serves on the Advisory Board of the Center for American Studies at Christopher Newport University.  He and his wife live in Crozet, Virginia, and they have seven children and thirteen grandchildren.

11:15 a.m. – Richard Guy Wilson, “Thomas Jefferson Architect:  Myth and Reality”

Thomas Jefferson is arguably one of the greatest if not the greatest American architect.  He helped to give the United States a public image in architecture that relied upon the classicism of Europe. But what was his intention and did the buildings contain political meanings? Although he designed or was involved in many projects, he was assisted by others who are frequently ignored. This talk will examine some of his architecture works, some of the meanings behind them, and his collaboration with other architects.

Richard Guy Wilson holds the Commonwealth Professor's Chair in Architectural History at the University of Virginia.  His specialty is the architecture, design and art of the 18th to the 21st century both in America and abroad.  He was a visiting fellow at Cambridge University (England) in 2007.   He was born in Los Angeles- the home of everything new-and grew up in a house designed for his parents by the leading modernist Rudolph Schindler.  He received his undergraduate training at the University of Colorado and MA and Ph.D.  at the University of Michigan.  Wilson has received a number of academic honors, among them a Guggenheim Fellow, prizes for distinguished writing, and in 1986 he was made an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).  He received the outstanding professor award at the University of Virginia in 2001. He has directed the Victorian Society’s Nineteenth Century Summer School since 1979 that has been located in Boston, Philadelphia and currently Newport, Rhode Island.  He has served as an advisor and commentator for a number of television programs on PBS, A&E, and sixty-seven segments of America's Castles. A frequent lecturer for universities, museums and professional groups, he has also published widely with many articles and reviews to his credit.  Wilson has been the curator and author for major museum exhibitions such as The American Renaissance, 1876-1917; The Art that is Life: The Arts and Crafts Movement in America; The Machine Age in America, 1918-1941; The Making of Virginia ArchitectureHe is the author or joint author of 16 books that deal with American and modern architecture which include studies of McKim, Mead & White; the Prairie School in Iowa; Monument Avenue in Richmond; and the AIA Gold Medal principle author and editor of the Society of Architectural Historians book, Buildings of Virginia: Tidewater and Piedmont (2002). He has published extensively on Thomas Jefferson and The University of Virginia.  His book on Edith Wharton and her architectural interests was published in 2012.

12:151:30  Lunch Break and Conviviality

The Afternoon Session will be moderated by John Works, former President of the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society and former President of the Monticello Association.

1:40 p.m. – M. Andrew Holowchak, “An ‘Honest Heart’ versus a ‘Knowing Head’:  The Myth of the Preeminence of Rationality in Jefferson’s Conceptions of Man and Society”

It is common today for scholars to note both Jefferson’s belief in a moral sense and the great regard that he, as a disciple of the Enlightenment, held for reason. Yet there is very little written on Jefferson’s view of the moral sense, and astonishingly, even less on his conception of rationality. What exists flippantly assumes that Jefferson was a keen and politically savvy rationalist and that his moral sense was a faculty subservient to reason. In this essay, Holowchak shows the opposite is the case.  Jefferson consistently held that “an honest heart,” given to all, was a blessing much greater than “a knowing head,” given to few. Holowchak shows also how Jefferson’s notion of a schema for republican governing is built upon the notion of moral superiority. Finally, Holowchak fleshes out some other of the unexpected implications of reason’s subservience.
M. Andrew Holowchak teaches Philosophy at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey. He has published over 90 peer-reviewed papers in areas such as ethics, psychoanalysis, ancient philosophy and science, philosophy of sport, and social and political philosophy and has authored/edited 26 books including six books on Thomas Jefferson. Of his most recent book, Taking Things by their Smooth Handle: Jefferson on Morality, the Moral Sense, and Good Living, an anonymous reviewer writes, “This is yet another genuinely remarkable achievement in the field of Jefferson studies offered by Doctor Holowchak, who has fast established himself as the world’s foremost expert in Jefferson’s philosophical thought.” He has also recently received acceptance of his entry, 'Thomas Jefferson,' for the prestigious Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. When not teaching or writing, Holowchak enjoys strength training (former super-heavyweight powerlifting champion), biking, gardening, travel, cooking, brewing and consuming beer, and polite conversation. He lives in Lindenwold, New Jersey.

2:40 p.m. –Brien Steele, Thomas Jefferson’s Embodied Mind:  Bodily Decay, a                       Material God, and Human Immortality”

In his bill for religious freedom, Jefferson boldly asserted that “Almighty God hath created the mind free” and later declared his own eternal hostility to every form of tyranny over the mind of man.  But, as he aged, he understood through experience what he had long known to be true:  that the mind’s freedom was intimately connected to the health of the body.  This paper explores the intersection of Jefferson's later thinking about the body-mind problem with his somewhat unconventional materialism, which insisted upon the existence of God and the afterlife. 
Brian Steele specializes in American intellectual and political history with a particular emphasis on the American Revolution and Early American Republic.  His book Thomas Jefferson and American Nationhood (Cambridge, 2012) was a finalist for the George Washington Book Prize and was named a 2012 notable title by the Society for US Intellectual History.  He received the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in the College of Arts and Sciences in 2010 and was named “Outstanding Teacher” by the graduating class of 2014 in the University Honors Program.  He is currently working on two book-length projects, one on the significance of the public memory of George Washington- and the uses to which his decidedly non-partisan image was put by decided partisans- in the years immediately surrounding his retirement and death; and another that will re-consider religious thought and practice during the “American Enlightenment,” reading the work of America’s most prominent philosophes in that larger transnational context, restoring to a narrative that has been preoccupied with the twentieth-century debate over church-state relations in the U.S., a clearer sense of the religious striving that characterized the thought and practice of Jefferson, Adams,  Rush, and even Paine.  Both of these projects are interested, as is his first book, in the relationship between the production of historical narratives and national memory.

3:40 p.m. – James Thompson, “Thomas Jefferson Today and Thomas Jefferson
Since Professor Annette Gordon-Reed published her controversial book about Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings in 1997, Thomas Jefferson has existed as two contradictory people.  The first is Professor Peter Onuf’s iconic father of human rights.  In this persona, as Professor Onuf suggests, Jefferson, is a timeless and god-like beacon that guides us toward a more perfect society.  The second is Professor Gordon-Reed’s self-indulgent father of his slave’s children.  In this persona, as Professor Gordon-Reed asserts, Jefferson is a racist who symbolizes what is wrong in American society.  Thompson contends that this schizophrenic character is a manufactured bore.  Who is interested to know or follow a deified social reformer who discriminates against people according to their race?  This rendition of Thomas Jefferson has become irrelevant.  Thompson traces how the false persona of the Jeffersonian deity formed and identifies a disqualifying error in Professor Gordon-Reed’s portrait of Jefferson the racist.  Thompson’s purpose for doing these things is to clear the way for a new, coherent, and relevant Thomas Jefferson.  In his closing comments, he describes the characteristics of the new Thomas Jefferson.  The time has come to get back to the real man.

James Thompson studied Philosophy as an undergraduate and graduate student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia.  As a graduate student, he lived across the Rivanna River from Monticello on the farm of Jefferson's eldest daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph.  During his four years there, he began what has been a continuing investigation into "the philosophy" of Thomas Jefferson.  Mr. Thompson cultivated his interest in the History of Ideas teaching courses in Philosophy, Religion, and Ethics and in Western Civilization at Strayer University in Alexandria, Virginia.   He has written six books, including The Birth of Virginia’s Aristocracy (2009); The Dubious Achievement of the First Continental Congress (2011); Thomas Jefferson’s Enlightenment – Paris 1785 (2014); Thomas Jefferson’s Enlightenment – Background Notes (2015); The First Revolutions in the Minds of the People (2105); and George Washington’s Mulatto Man – Who was Billy Lee? (2015).  He completed the research for his first book, Beyond the Veil of Reason - Thomas Jefferson's Early Political Initiatives, as a Batten Fellow at the Jefferson Center for International Studies at Monticello.  Mr. Thompson is the publisher of Commonwealth Books of Virginia and lectures on the topics he discusses in his books.  He has spoken at the Naval Academy, the Virginia Historical Society, Stratford Hall, Gunston Hall, and Wilton House.  He has presented lecture series for the continuing education programs at the University of Virginia, William & Mary, George Mason University, and the University of Delaware.

4:40 p.m. – Closing and Conviviality

About the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society:

The Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society (
) is a Charlottesville, Virginia-based nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization which has a four-fold purpose:   to further the honor and integrity of Thomas Jefferson, and to promote his vision and ideas, and their application in our times and in the future; to pursue truth in all matters that touch upon the legacy of Thomas Jefferson; to promote the principles of freedom, patriotism and truth, which were hallmarks of Thomas Jefferson's life; and to sponsor and perform research in matters pertaining to the private and public life of Thomas Jefferson.  Additional detailed facts documenting the work of the independent Scholars Commission and other distinguished scholars can be referenced at the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society web site.  

Directions to the Jefferson Scholars Foundation, 112 Clarke Court, Charlottesville, VA  22903:

From Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport:
• Exit the airport and proceed approximately ¾ mile on Airport Road towards US Route 29.
Turn right onto US Route 29 towards Charlottesville.
Proceed 6.0 miles. At the intersection with the US 29/250 Bypass, go straight, following the signs for Emmet Street.
Proceed another 1.9 miles on Emmet Street.
When the road splits, bear right onto Stadium Road, passing Scott Stadium.
Turn left at the stop sign onto Maury Avenue.
Take the first left onto Clarke Court.  Destination will be on the left.  Visitor parking is provided in the main lot, and passes can be obtained at the front desk.
Total distance from Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport to the Jefferson Fellows Center is approximately 9.8 miles.

From points east and west via I-64:
• From I-64, take Exit 118-B (US Route 29 North).
Proceed north on US Route 29. Take the first exit and turn right at the bottom of the ramp onto Fontaine Avenue.
Make a left turn at the first light onto Maury Avenue.
Take the first right onto Clarke Court.  Destination will be on the left.  Visitor parking is provided in the main lot, and passes can be obtained at the front desk.

From Washington, D.C. and points north:
• Take US Route 29 to Charlottesville. At the intersection with the US 29/250 Bypass, go straight, following the signs for Emmet Street. Proceed another 1.9 miles on Emmet Street.
When the road splits, bear right onto Stadium Road, passing Scott Stadium.
Turn left at the stop sign onto Maury Avenue.
Take the first left onto Clarke Court.  Destination will be on the left.  Visitor parking is provided in the main lot, and passes can be obtained at the front desk.

From Lynchburg and points south:
• Take US Route 29 to Charlottesville. After crossing under I-64, take the first exit and turn right at the bottom of the ramp onto Fontaine Avenue
Make a left turn at the first light onto Maury Avenue.
Take the first right onto Clarke Court.  Destination will be on the left.  Visitor parking is provided in the main lot, and passes can be obtained at the front desk.


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