America's first principles

America's first principles


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Thomas Jefferson

In the run up to the US Presidential Election Allan Little presents an appraisal of the man described as America's "Apostle of Freedom": Thomas Jefferson.

This programme is set entirely at Jefferson's estate at Monticello, with its vineyards and plantation "street" where slaves once lived and worked and will consider some of the key "Jeffersonian principles".

It highlights the contradictions of Jefferson the man and shows how his vision continues to define the continent of America and its relationship with the world today.

Thomas Jefferson was the author of the founding document of the American Republic.

He was also symbolically the author of America itself.

However, Jefferson has also been America's man for all seasons.

"Southern secessionists cited him on behalf of states' rights; northern abolitionists quoted his words in the Declaration of Independence against slavery."

Conservatives echo his warnings against the monarchical and aristocratic potential of strong federal government; liberal reformers claim him in the battle for government intervention to promote equality.

Why has he come to mean so much to so many?

What was the America to which Jefferson aspired?

The programme will focus on the contradiction that emerged within Jefferson's own life time:

  • The man who was hostile to the growth of federal power but who, as president, vastly extended the role of his own office;
  • The man who "held these truths to be self-evident" that all men are created equal and yet who owned a slave plantation and believed that blacks and whites could not live together in America;
  • The man who believed that America as the alternative to Europe should turn its back on foreign entanglements who, nonetheless, as president started the process by which America would become the greatest of all players on the world stage.

The programme reflects on America today, from the view of Monticello and will examine these three key areas of Jefferson's gift to the world: the role and nature of the federal government in American democracy; the place of race in American society; and the character and idea of America in world.

First broadcast Monday 27th October 2008.

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