by Paul Eidelberg
30ShareAmerican Exceptionalism begins with the fifty-six extraordinary men who signed the Declaration of Independence. On this Fourth of July it is only fitting that we discuss the character of these men lest they be confused with the revolutionaries of other countries.
Thomas Jefferson, the principal but not sole author of the Declaration, spoke famously of a natural aristoi. On October 28, 1813, in response to a letter from John Adams, Jefferson agreed with his old friend that there is a natural aristocracy among men founded on virtue and talents:
This natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature, for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society. And indeed, it would have been inconsistent in creation to have formed men for the social state, and not to have provided virtue and wisdom enough to manage the concerns of society. May we not even say that that form of government is best, which provides the most effectually for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the offices of government?i
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