When it came time to write his epitaph, Thomas Jefferson wanted to be remembered for three accomplishments, and modern visitors to the gravesite at Monticello are routinely surprised to find that his service as President of the United States did not make the list. It has, after all, become the quintessential achievement of the American Dream to be elected president of the United States. But unlike the visitor to Monticello, Jefferson did not measure his life against the legacy of the modern American Dream. He was a product of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment and wanted posterity to remember him as (1) the author of the Declaration of American Independence and (2) the author of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom and (3) as the Father of the University of Virginia. Properly understood through the filter of the Enlightenment, these three achievements not only relegate service as president to a secondary level but go far toward explaining the essential legacy of Jefferson to the making of the American Dream.



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