Thomas Jefferson

Author of the Declaration of Independence

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The image above is a spiritual portrait, or Groja.[1] It depicts the personality of Thomas Jefferson, one of America's Founding Fathers.

Thomas Jefferson was the 1st Secretary of State, the 2nd Vice President, and the 3rd President of the United States. After having worked out the Compromise of 1790 with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, on March 4, 1801 Jefferson became the 1st president to be inaugurated in Washington, D.C.

Ideally: Liberty Without Anarchy

The vast amount of Blue in Jefferson's profile represents his strong preference for being idealistic.

In 1777 Jefferson drafted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which granted religious freedom to people of all faiths. The statute paved the way for clauses in the 1st Ammendment to the Constitution that grants religious freedom to all Americans, and is an excellent example of his idealism.

As this quote shows, Jefferson's idealism also enabled him to delineate the fine yet crucial distinction between too much liberty — total anarchy — and just enough:

Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.  [Emphasis added.]
 — Thomas Jefferson, in a Letter to Isaac H. Tiffany, April 4, 1819.

Without the qualifier calling for limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others, the American Revolution may have wound up just trading one form of tyranny for another.

Jefferson's idealism helped make the transition to the United States' new and unique system of government, once independence from Britain was attained, relatively peaceful. In contrast, the transitions of some other countries since then — from France's Reign of Terror to more recent conflicts such as the Arab Spring — have been quite the opposite.

Americans are fortunate to have individuals such as Jefferson who are willing to express their ideals and do the work required to see them brought to reality.

Balancing Head and Heart

Thomas Jefferson's tendency to be more logical than passionate is visible in the image as Green.

It is important to note this preference is very slight, but because his preference for being open-minded is so much stronger than his preference for being decisive, it is difficult to see this in the image. In other words, because there is so much more Blue and Yellow in his portrait than there is Green and Red, it is difficult to see the Red and Green appear in roughly the same amounts.[2]

Jefferson's ability to balance rational with emotional decision-making is most apparent in a letter he wrote to Maria Cosway in the spring of 1786. The letter articulates — in an extremely personal and revealing manner — the battle being fought in his mind between his head and his heart:

Seated by my fireside, solitary & sad, the following dialogue took place between my Head & my Heart:
Head: Well, friend, you seem to be in a pretty trim.
Heart: I am indeed the most wretched of all earthly beings. Overwhelmed with grief, every fibre of my frame distended beyond its natural powers to bear, I would willingly meet whatever catastrophe should leave me no more to feel or to fear.
Head: These are the eternal consequences of your warmth & precipitation. This is one of the scrapes into which you are ever leading us....
Heart: Oh, my friend! This is no moment to upbraid my foibles. I am rent into fragments by the force of my grief! ....
Head: On the contrary I never found that the moment of triumph with you was the moment of attention to my admonitions.... Harsh therefore as the medicine may be, it is my office to administer it....
Heart: Accordingly, Sir, this acquaintance was not the consequence of my doings. It was one of your projects which threw us in the way of it....
 — Excerpts from My Head and My Heart, a letter from Thomas Jefferson to Maria Cosway, October 12, 1786.[3]

In this short passage, Thomas Jefferson shows he took advantage of both decision-making techniques. This explains why some consider him an enigma — in that he could declare all men are created equal,  while owning slaves and even loving[4] at least one of them.

At Odds With Hamilton

The image of Thomas Jefferson's open and idealistic personality stands in stark constrast to the image of Alexander Hamilton's decisive, pragmatic persona. Although both had high hopes for their new nation, their backgrounds were as different as their personalities, and they disagreed about many things.

Thomas Jefferson
Alexander Hamilton
  • Where Jefferson, who lived in the Virginia countryside, envisioned a rural, agrarian society, Hamilton, who lived on the island of Manhattan in New York City, foresaw large, bustling cities
  • While the idealistic Jefferson thought the United States could remain neutral and did not need a standing military, the pragmatic Hamilton knew this idea was dangerously unrealistic
  • Jefferson thought France's revolution against their monarchy was the right course, but Hamilton admired the solid structure of the British government — France's enemy in so many wars throughout history

Some people claim that Jefferson and Hamilton hated each other.[5] These spiritual portraits show that these two Founding Fathers were better than that.

Hate is an emotion, and if Jefferson and Hamilton harbored contempt for each other, their portraits would have more Red.

America's First Political Parties

Having won the Revolutionary War, the stoic George Washington was immensely popular. He was elected unanimously to two terms as the 1st President of the United States, and Washington remains the only president who was not a member of a political party.

In 1797, when Washington's second term came to an end and he refused to serve for a third, the politicians in the new country gradually began wanting to play a greater role in the new nation. Political rivalry and a touch of ambition — which the Founding Fathers were careful to keep under wraps, because humilty was very in  back then — soon enhanced Hamilton's and Jefferson's personal differences, bringing them to the fore.

In the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton succinctly observes how differences in background and opinion can ultimately lead to a stubbornness that can preclude rational decisionmaking:

Men often oppose a thing, merely because they have had no agency in planning it, or because it may have been planned by those whom they dislike.
 — Alexander Hamilton, as Publius in Federalist No. 70, The Executive Department Further Considered, March 18, 1788.

Some of the differences between Jefferson and Hamilton are visible only in the spiritual portraits of them here and on SeeOurMinds.com. Eventually these previously invisible differences combined with the more superficial, demographic differences of background, occupation, age, place of residence, etc. and led to the formation of America's first political parties.

Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and other Founding Fathers may have been political rivals, but they were also predominantly logical people.[6] Significantly, they may have disagreed over many things but they were all strongly united in their disdain for the sort of uncontrolled emotions that could fuel mob violence.

Having taken the time to analyze and draw their personalities, I am convinced the idea that any of the Founding Fathers hated each other[5] is hyperbole — fake news meant to sell rather than inform.

See More at SeeOurMinds.com

This story is adapted from the original posting of Jefferson's spiritual portrait on SeeOurMinds.com.

In addition to the image of Alexander Hamilton on this site, SeeOurMinds.com has the original posting of Hamilton's image and spiritual portraits of the following other Founding Fathers in the American Presidents – 1789–1899 and the Founding Fathers galleries:

  • Benjamin Franklin — America's oldest Founding Father
  • George Washington — America's 1st president, and the only president who did not belong to a political party
  • John Adams — America's 1st vice president and 2nd president
  • Patrick Henry — Virginia's 1st governor who rallied the patriots with his Liberty or Death speech

At some point I plan to post an article on this site about how the Founding Fathers formed a psychologically diverse team. The only way to learn when that article goes live is to subscribe to the Artsy Visions Monthly Newsletter!

Resources and Recommendations

This portrait is based on the following resources:

  • The TV Mini-Series documentary about Thomas Jefferson  by Ken Burns, 1997
  • The book Jefferson Himself:  The Personal Narrative of a Many-Sided American, by Bernard Mayo, 1970
  • The biography of Alexander Hamilton  by Ron Chernow, 2004 — which actually discusses Jefferson quite a bit!

Like all of Ken Burns' films, Thomas Jefferson  is informative and delightful. The Jefferson Himself  book, on the other hand, is more for die-hard Jefferson fans, who have likely already read other books about him.

For more about Ron Chernow's book, see the article about Alexander Hamilton on this site.

For a longer, more personal review of Chernow's biography of Hamilton and other contemporary books and videos about America's Founding Fathers see the article Hamilton and Jefferson Were Both Awesome on tomhartung.com.

I highly recommend the Ken Burns video Thomas Jefferson  to everyone!

Tom W. Hartung

 Buy It Now! 

I highly recommend the book Jefferson Himself: The Personal Narrative of a Many-Sided American  to die-hard fans of Jefferson!

Tom W. Hartung

 Buy It Now! 

Notes

  • 1  A spiritual portrait or Groja — for Graphical Representation of Jungian Archetypes — is an image representing the personality of a person. These images are based on the work of psychologists such as Carl Jung, Isabel Briggs-Myers, and David Keirsey. Find essential information about these images on the About page at Groja.com.

  • 2  You can see just how moderate this preference is by looking at Jefferson's profile score for his image at SeeOurMinds.com.

  • 3  You can find the entire letter online at www.tjheritage.org,

  • 4  A very interesting article at www.pbs.org discusses the DNA evidence presented in 1998 linking Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. Also interesting is the fact that Martha Jefferson — his first and only wife who died when she was just 33 — and Sally Hemings are half-sisters. Thomas promised Martha that he would never re-marry. It's apparent that with Sally he found a way to compromise the pull between his Head and his Heart.

  • 5  A recent search for Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson hated each other yielded over 4,000,000 results.

  • 6  One exception to this statement is Patrick Henry — whose spiritual portrait interestingly looks a lot like Donald Trump's.