England has their William Shakespeare, Greece has Plato, and Italy has Leonardo da Vinci.
In the United States of America we have Thomas Jefferson, born today, April 13, 1743.
Most nations arrive from history with a basic identity created in tribal origins. Our nation is distinct because it comes from a great accent. An accent to certain ideas. No one really knows where Germany comes from, it simply arose through time. We know the exact birthday of our nation -- July 4th, 1776. Jefferson was a man of that time, a time he played a hand in creating. A time of enlightenment which provided society the freedom to enjoy ourselves, to argue and discuss, to express our views, to find things out, to read and write, and the science and technologies that make these things possible. With the foundations that Isaac Newton and John Locke provided from 17th century Europe, people, with the help of reason and science, could come together and arrive at certain truths. A notion that the individual can make a better world for themselves. Given that belief, you examine everything, by the light of reason. Is there a king? You question him. Is there a government making laws? You question that. Is there a Bible? You re-read that again. None of this happened by accident. These freedoms were won with courage and distinct vision in an extraordinary period of human history. The spearhead of such times for us Americans was our very own, Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson is unique because at 33 years old, he wrote, in imperishable language, some of the most important truths about culture and civilization which have been used against growing and restrictive governments throughout time. Alone in a small rented room in Philadelphia, Jefferson went to work on the Declaration of Independence just two weeks before presenting it to the Continental Congress in early July, 1776. Thinking through what he had learned during his time at William & Mary and the many ideas of the Enlightenment, a terribly radical document was produced.
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation... When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
In the form similar to a civil lawsuit, the document quite simply states that if you do not like your government, you can trade it in and get a new one that more suits your needs. Jefferson is American scripture. If Jefferson was wrong, America was wrong. If Jefferson was right, America was right.
Even on matters of religion, Jefferson was revolutionary. He once said, "Say nothing of my religion. It is known to my God and myself alone. Its evidence before the world is to be sought in my life; if that has been honest and dutiful to society, the religion which has regulated it cannot be a bad one." Though he despised established churches, he acknowledged the positive attributes that a church could provide a small community. His religion was strictly his own private affair, and he asked the same be said for anyone else's religion. He disdained even to discuss religious matters publicly and recommended to others to carry the same independence and quietness of spirit. This is the definition of religious enlightenment.
Jefferson was perhaps the first to see the strength, the progress, even the happiness of our newly born nation. Not from the vastness of a governing power, but from the release of its myriad of individual talents and energies. A Jeffersonian society uproots privilege, degrades government, empowers the individual, and diffuses establishments throughout civilization. In these ideas, lays America's claim to greatness.