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image features many people below a drawing of the Capitol Dome one is Benjamin Franklin another possibly John Adams
Detail from a mural in the Science & Business Reading Room, John Adams Building, Library of Congress. Copyright Peggy Clifton.

Pic of the Week: “Educate and inform the mass of the people.”

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Today’s Pic of the Week is a detail from the Thomas Jefferson Murals by Ezra Winter on the walls of the South Reading Room (AKA Science & Business Reading Room).  It is the last scene in the mural dedicated to Education and Democracy and features the Capitol dome with a group of people, one of whom may be Benjamin Franklin (and a few others that may look familiar), reading newspapers.

The title of today’s post, “Educate and inform the mass of the people,” is featured in the mural and has been attributed to a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison on December 20, 1787.  However, when I went to link to the letter, I discovered all was not as it seemed.

I discovered that in the letter while there was a quote that expressed the sentiment (on the very last page of the letter before Jefferson’s signature), the quote,  “Educate and inform the mass of the people,” doesn’t exist in that letter in exactly that way.  This quote actually reads:

Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to; convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty.

There has been a lot of confusion* about this letter and what it says because, it seems that Jefferson wrote a letter to Uriah Forrest on December 31, 1787 with an enclosure that references the Madison letter but rewords his original quote.  And it is in this enclosure (on the second to last page on the last two lines) where I found the following quote:

Educate and inform the whole mass of the people enable them to see that it is their interest to preserve peace and order, and they will preserve it, and it requires no very high degree of education to convince them of this. [1]

* For more information about the confusion surrounding the letter, see the editors’ notes from  The Papers of Thomas Jefferson Digital Edition available (subscription required).

[1] The Papers of Thomas Jefferson Digital Edition, ed. Barbara B. Oberg and J. Jefferson Looney. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2008.


Comments (2)

  1. Not sure how or why the second, clearer, statement, would not be just as valid as the first. People write differently to different people, but more important here, people refine their views over time. Jefferson has other similar statements in other letters. Basic point: what better ensures our safety, the 2nd amendment or “educating the whole mass of the people?” Jefferson thought education was more effective. Now that the far left has rejected everything Jefferson has said as hypocritical, the far right–if they ever read these letters!–would reject him too. So sad.

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