Cover image for Light and liberty : reflections on the persuit of happiness
Light and liberty : reflections on the persuit of happiness
Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826.
Modern Library edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Modern Library, 2004.
Physical Description:
xiii, 154 pages ; 21 cm
General Note:
"Collection of essays pieced together from 700 individual phrases found in Jefferson's writings"--CIP data sheet.
Added Author:
Format :


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E302 .J442 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E302 .J442 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
E302 .J442 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E302 .J442 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Were Thomas Jefferson alive to read this book, he would recognize every sentence, every elegant turn of phrase, every lofty, beautifully expressed idea. Indeed, every word in the book is his. In an astonishing feat of editing, Eric S. Petersen has culled the entirety of Thomas Jefferson's published works to fashion thirty-four original essays on themes ranging from patriotism and liberty to hope, humility, and gratitude. The result is a lucid, inspiring distillation of the wisdom of one of America's greatest political thinkers. From his personal motto--"Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God"--to his resounding discourse on "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson defined the essential truth of the American spirit. In the essays that Petersen has crafted from letters, speeches, and public documents, Jefferson's unique moral philosophy and vision shine through. Among the hundreds of magnificent sentences gathered in this volume, here are Jefferson's pronouncements on Gratitude: "I have but one system of ethics for men and for nations-- to be grateful, to be faithful to all engagements and under all circumstances, to be open and generous." Religion: "A concern purely between our God and our consciences." America's national character: "It is part of the American character to consider nothing as desperate; to surmount every difficulty with resolution and contrivance." Public debt: "We shall all consider ourselves unauthorized to saddle posterity with our debts, and morally bound to pay them ourselves." War: "I abhor war and view it as the greatest scourge of mankind." In stately measured cadences, these thirty-four essays provide timeless guidance on leading a spiritually fulfilling life. Light and Liberty is a triumphant work of supreme eloquence, as uplifting today as when Jefferson first set these immortal sentences on paper.

Author Notes

Politician, philosopher, farmer, architect, and author, Jefferson was born to Peter and Jane Randolph Jefferson on April 13, 1743, in Tuckahoe, Virginia. As Jefferson observed in his autobiography, his parents could "trace their pedigree far back in England and Scotland." At the age of 16, Thomas Jefferson entered William and Mary College; at age 24, Jefferson was admitted to the bar; at 25, he was elected to the Virginia Assembly.

Renowned for his political contributions to the American colonies, and later, to the embryonic Republic, Jefferson published in 1774 A Summary View of the Rights of British America, celebrating the inalienable natural rights claimed by the colonialists. In 1775 Jefferson was elected to the Continental Congress; in 1776 he joined the five-person committee responsible for drafting the Declaration of Independence---a document that is widely regarded as being largely Jefferson's own work. In 1779 Jefferson was elected governor of the state of Virginia, and in subsequent years he distinguished himself both as a cosmopolitan international politician and as a man committed to the future of Virginia. In 1789 he was appointed U.S. secretary of state, in 1797 he served as vice president under President John Adams, and in 1801 he was elected third president of the United States.

Jefferson's literary career was no less stellar than his political accomplishments. He authored tracts and books on such diverse subjects as gardening, the life of Jesus, the history of Virginia, and the practices of farming. The precise descriptions of nature that inform his Notes on the State of Virginia (1787) are frequently credited with foreshadowing the Hudson River school of aesthetics.

Thomas Jefferson died on the fourth of July. His grave marker, engraved with words of his own choosing, states, "Here lies Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom and Father of the University of Virginia."

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Except for a few items from public papers, such as Jefferson's first inaugural address, the excerpts in Peterson's arrangement of Jeffersonian precepts come from the third president's lifetime output of thousands of letters. The source endows each selection a level of one-to-one intimacy (Peterson's notes identify the recipient of each letter) while retaining a generality Jefferson intended to the credos he was enunciating to his correspondent. Peterson categorizes Jefferson's wisdom into virtues (e.g., patience ) or attitudes (e.g., living in the present ) and is forthright in his introduction about his enthusiasm for Jefferson's philosophical musings about the conduct of life, religion, and government. His readers will be confreres sharing this interest; those more drawn to Jefferson's biography will be consulting the wrong book, for the selections are not given historical context. They stand on their own, as Jefferson hoped an enlightened, self-governing people would, and his belief in what the American Revolution represented to the world is adequately indicated by Peterson's choices. A collection to pique browsers of the Jefferson shelf. --Gilbert Taylor Copyright 2004 Booklist

Library Journal Review

In the vein of The Jefferson Bible, lawyer Petersen (Hawkins, Delafield & Wood) has attempted to distill the best of Jefferson's copious personal correspondence and public writings into one thin volume of philosophical and practical essays. In this "attempt to bring the light of Thomas Jefferson back into the American sky," Petersen has painstakingly chosen exemplary quotations and arranged them into a series of short paragraphs that highlight Jefferson's thinking and advice on diverse topics, including faith, fitness, sincerity, seeing the good, Jesus, nature's beauty, living in the present, enthusiasm, patriotism, oneness, hope, and truth-seeking. While the text is naturally somewhat disjointed, Petersen has done a remarkable job of tying the quotations together into unified essays. One criticism is that the essays are not arranged by category (such as healthy living, political advice, spiritual advice). The book includes a brief chronology of Jefferson's life, as well as copious notes on the sources used. Recommended for Jefferson aficionados.-Robert Flatley, Kutztown Univ., PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Faith . . . Adore God . . . I have ever thought religion a concern purely between our God and our consciences, for which we were accountable to Him, and not to the priests. I never told my own religion, nor scrutinized that of another. I never attempted to make a convert, nor wished to change another's creed. I have ever judged of the religion of others by their lives, for it is in our lives, and not from our words, that our religion must be read. By the same test the world must judge me. Hitherto I have been under the guidance of that portion of reason which He has thought proper to deal out to me. I have followed it faithfully in all important cases, to such a degree at least as leaves me without uneasiness; and if on minor occasions I have erred from its dictates, I have trust in Him who made us what we are, and know it was not His plan to make us always unerring. Faith and works will show their worth by their weight in the scales of eternal justice before God's tribunal. If no action is to be deemed virtuous for which malice can imagine a sinister motive, then there never was a virtuous action; no, not even in the life of our Saviour himself. But He has taught us to judge the tree by its fruit and to leave motives to Him who can alone see into them. There is only one God and He is all perfect. There is a future state of rewards and punishments. To love God with all thy heart and thy neighbor as thyself, is the sum of religion. I hold (without appeal to revelation) that when we take a view of the universe, in all its parts, general or particular, it is impossible for the human mind not to perceive and feel a conviction of design, consummate skill, and indefinite power in every atom of its composition. The movements of the heavenly bodies, so exactly held in their course by the balance of centrifugal and centripetal forces; the structure of our earth itself, with its distribution of lands, waters, and atmosphere; animal and vegetable bodies, examined in all their minutest particles; insects, mere atoms of life, yet as perfectly organized as man or mammoth; the mineral substances, their generation and uses; it is impossible, I say, for the human mind not to believe, that there is in all this, design, cause, and effect, up to an ultimate cause, a fabricator of all things from matter and motion, their preserver and regulator while permitted to exist in their present forms, and their regeneration into new and other forms. When great evils happen, I am in the habit of looking out for what good may arise from them as consolations to us, and Providence has in fact so established the order of things, as that most evils are the means of producing some good. We are not in a world ungoverned by the laws and the power of a Superior Agent. Our efforts are in His hand, and directed by it; and He will give them their effect in His own time. Our next meeting must be in a country for us not now very distant. For this journey we shall need neither gold nor silver in our purse, nor scrip, nor coats, nor staves. Nor is the provision for it more easy than the preparation has been kind. Nothing proves more than this, that the Being who presides over the world is essentially benevolent. Adore God; reverence and cherish your parents; love your neighbor as yourself, and your country more than life. Be just; be true; murmur not at the ways of Providence--and the life into which you have entered will be one of eternal and ineffable bliss. Excerpted from Light and Liberty: Reflections on the Pursuit of Happiness by Thomas Jefferson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.