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The Chairman
Victor Niederhoffer


12/07/04
Reflections on Jefferson, by Victor Niederhoffer

The book "Light and Liberty, Reflections on the Pursuit of Happiness" by Thomas Jefferson, edited by Eric Petersen, is a most enlightening and uplifting read highly recommended for all. Jefferson believed that the purpose of life is the achievement of happiness, and that there were four main methods of securing it: good humor, integrity, industry, and science. In thinking about great personages I have known, I find that all of them have shared these virtues. Jefferson's take on industry I find particularly resonant. "A mind always employed is always happy," he says. And he never went to bed without reading a good book for at least a half hour. He got up in the morning and took a nice half-hour walk without a book in his hand. In talking to a bereaved friend (who could have been me after a severe loss), he said, "Find solace in the vigor of mind, health of body, talents, habits of business, and a consideration that you have time yet to retrieve everything and a knowledge that the very activity necessary for this is a state of greater happiness than the unoccupied one."

Jefferson's political methods were so contrary to what we do now and so much more enduring. So that his every act would be in the open, he never ran a campaign in which he met privately with advisers. He was always sincere, and he never considered any act of personal gain. He never got together with a hundred others to do anything that would not be honest if he did it acting alone. He felt that if that if it's not right to rob your neighbor, it's not right to get together with your fellow neighbors to do it, or indeed with a population of voters. He resolved when he first entered public life "never to engage while in public office in any kind of enterprise for the improvement of my fortune." Thus, he had nothing to hide. And like the other great personages we know who follow these precepts, he died a happy man and his memory ennobles us.

Jefferson's greatest idea of politics was that governments were the main impediment to paradise on earth, which would be achieved "were it not for misgovernment, and a diversion of all his energies from their proper object, the happiness of man, to the selfish interests of kings, nobles, and priests. If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretense of taking care of them, they must become happy." He clearly delineated the differences between the republican and democratic party at that time as the former being concerned about the power of governments to do harm to individuals, and the latter being concerned about the inadequacies of the people to make decisions for themselves. He was thus able to befriend people like Adams and Hamilton despite their love of the English.

It was good to find his discussion of how the senators and representatives wanted to call George Washington "His Highness, G W, President of the US, and Protector of their Liberties." Washington refused and insisted on "president of the US " only. And Jefferson wished that the title Mr. would disappear as well.

A market application: The grander the honorifics applied to a CEO, chairman or government employee, the closer to the dangers of royalist worship of lordly activities and servile acceptance. This is exactly what the humble Jefferson wanted to avoid. "I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage, with my books, my family, and few old friends, dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post which any human power can give."

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