August 25, 2017 11:10AM

David McCullough, “The Spirit of Jefferson,” Charlottesville VA Jul 4, 1994

From The American Spirit, Simon & Shuster, 2017:

Why do some men reach for the stars and so many others never even look up? Thomas Jefferson reached for the stars.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness, –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . ."

Never, never anywhere, had there been a government instituted on the consent of the governed.

Was Jefferson including women with the words “men” and “mankind”?  Possibly he was.  Nobody knows.  Was he thinking of black Americans when he declared all men are created equal?  Ideally, yes, I think.  Practically, no.  He was an eighteenth-century Virginia planter, it must be remembered, as the slave quarters along Mulberry Row. . . attest. He was an exceedingly gifted and very great man, but like the others of that exceptional handful of politicians we call the Founding Fathers, he could also be inconsistent, contradictory, human.

And more important than how he interpreted his ringing words, is their sustaining power to inspire, beyond influences of time and place.

“All honor to Jefferson,” wrote Abraham Lincoln on the eve of the Civil War, “[all honor]to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times.”

All honor to Jefferson in our own world now. . . Indeed, we may judge our own performance in how seriously and what effect we take his teachings to heart.