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Jefferson, Race, and Democracy

Jefferson, Race, and Democracy

2,065th Stated Meeting

February 6, 2018


Good evening.  I am Jonathan Fanton, President of the American Academy. It is my pleasure to welcome you and to call to order the 2,065th Stated Meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

As you entered the Academy this evening, you may have walked past the Gilbert Stuart portrait of John Adams that is hanging in the lobby. Adams, along with James Bowdoin and other scholar-patriots, founded the American Academy in the midst of the Revolutionary War. Even with the great upheaval around them, they recognized the need, I quote, “to cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honor, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people.” They saw people as the greatest asset to a democratic republic. Adams would go on to become the Academy’s second president, as well as the second president of the United States – posts he held concurrently for a time.

You may also have walked past Thomas Jefferson’s letter in response to his election to the Academy in 1787. Written in 1791, he praised the work of the Academy while simultaneously keeping a distance, saying:

“however wedded by affection to the objects of [the Academy’s] pursuit, I am obliged to unremitting attentions to others less acceptable to my mind, and much less attracting. I read with pleasure whatever comes from the society, and am happy in the occasion given me of assuring them of my respect and attachment…”

After this, less attracting pursuits won out, and our archives hold no further communication from Jefferson.

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