Milton and Jefferson were fundamental to Western democracy. Both were extraordinarily talented. They were true Renaissance and Reformation polymaths with wide ranging interests from poetry to politics. Both were revolutionaries against hierarchies and upper-class privilege. They were worried about human rights – Milton about the rights of the English non-conformists, and Jefferson about American slavery under George III. Both strongly advocated for a strong free press. Milton was the intellectual guide to the English Revolution (Cromwell used him to explain England to Europe, and that was not an easy task). Jefferson was crucial for the American Revolution in his writings and offices he held. They were both bad news on slavery agreeing with Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas on “natural slavery” – i.e. some civilizations were destined to slavery because of their faults. They had some points of disagreement but came together on much including education which they wrote about extensively. Jefferson founded a college, especially to compete with the Ivy League which he believed offered a terrible education. Not unlike the formation of Mansfield making education serious in Oxford compared to Zuleika Dobson, one might say.
The purpose of this paper is to illustrate two points. The first is that Milton and Jefferson had a broad view of education that was similar. College was for the elite. They wanted an inclusive education to include most of the major subjects of their time and did not want total specialization. The second is that they both insisted that the major purpose of education was to educate leaders who were sympathetic to republicanism and would work hard to save the nation from tyranny and superstition, the latter including anti-scientific thinking. David Leopold will open the lecture as the College’s Milton Fellow.
Mansfield Public Talks are free and open to all.