Advice to a Young Man

In his last year, Thomas Jefferson was asked by a friend to write a letter to the friend’s son who had been named after the former President.  On February 21, 1825, he penned this letter to Thomas Jefferson Smith, who was still a small boy.  This letter is quoted often, but the advice is timeless.vc216 Here’s the text of the whole letter:

This letter will, to you, be as one from the dead. The writer will be in the grave before you can weigh its counsels. Your affectionate and excellent father has requested that I would address to you something which might possibly have a favorable influence on the course of life you have to run, and I too, as a namesake, feel an interest in that course. Few words will be necessary, with good dispositions on your part. Adore God. Reverence and cherish your parents. Love your neighbor as yourself, and your country more than yourself. Be just. Be true. Murmur not at the ways of Providence. So shall the life into which you have entered, be the portal to one of eternal and ineffable bliss. And if to the dead it is permitted to care for the things of this world, every action of your life will be under my regard. Farewell.

The portrait of a good man by the most sublime of poets, for your imitation.

Lord, who’s the happy man that may to thy blest courts repair;

Not stranger-like to visit them but to inhabit there?

‘Tis he whose every thought and deed by rules of virtue moves;

Whose generous tongue disdains to speak the thing his heart disproves.

Who never did a slander forge, his neighbor’s fame to wound;

Nor hearken to a false report, by malice whispered round.

Who vice in all its pomp and power, can treat with just neglect;

And piety, though clothed in rages, religiously respect.

Who to his plighted vows and trust has ever firmly stood;

And through he promise to his loss, he makes his promise good.

Whose soul in usury disdains his treasure to employ;

Whom no rewards can ever bribe the guiltless to destroy.

The man, who, by his steady course, has happiness insur’d.

When earth’s foundations shake, shall stand, by Providence secur’d.

A Decalogue of Canons for observation in practical life:

  1. Never put off till to-morrow what you can do to-day.
  2. Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
  3. Never spend your money before you have it.
  4. Never buy what you do not want, because it is cheap; it will be dear to you.
  5. Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst and cold.
  6. We never repent of having eaten too little.
  7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
  8. How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened.
  9. Take things always by their smooth handle.
  10. When angry, count ten, before you speak; if very angry, an hundred.

These treasured words of advice from America’s first great intellectual.  They are so practical, so American in character and unquestionably exceptional!

Let there be light!

That humble light bulb that has now evolved into the squiggly thing with lots of mercury is a quintessentially American invention.  Light-Bulb-Idea-HandAlthough a great deal of work preceded Thomas Edison’s 1879 invention of a “commercially practical” incandescent light bulb, it was Edison who was able to bring the light bulb to mainstream acceptance at a time when gas light was the norm.  In doing so, he invented an entire industry.

The ability to take scientific experimentation and turn it into a money making enterprise is a characteristic of our free people.  Adaptation and innovation have driven our economic growth.  They are representative of the American restless mind…exceptional!

Pointe du Hoc

The boys of Pointe du Hoc – American and exceptional.

To read more about this incredible military venture, click here.

Stephen Ambrose’s gripping book, “D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II


Federalist #10

doc_010_bigOne of the oft overlooked geniuses among our Founding Fathers, is James Madison.  A younger contemporary of Thomas Jefferson, he too hailed from Virginia.  One of the seminal documents that appeared during the effort to ratify the new Constitution of the United States, was a series of essays penned by James Madison, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton titled “The Federalist Papers,” which appeared from October, 1787 to August, 1788.  In all, some 84 articles appeared under that name with the pen name of “Publius,” ascribed as the author.

This was the philosophical underpinning of our Constitution, our Republican form of representative democracy.  In shaping that, Federalist #10 is arguably, the central player.  Titled “The Same Subject Continued: The Utility of the Union as a Safeguard against Domestic faction and insurrection.”  It was an answer to Federalist #9, by Alexander Hamilton, which posed the question of how a government could prevent a faction from destroying the republic.

In clear logic and plain prose, Madison lays out the need for majority rule and then how majority rule must be checked through representation to prevent the abuse of a minority.  Only with a representative form of government could a faction be prevented from becoming a tyranny of self interest.  This concept had been discussed widely among Enlightenment scholars, but it took the exceptionalism of the American Experiment to bring it to a reality.

For the whole text of Federalist #10 – and it’s worth the read, click here.

To learn more about the Constitution, it’s authorship and the raucous struggle to get it ratified, I highly recommend “Liberty’s Blueprint,” by Michael Myerson.



This year, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is celebrating its 75th year.  It truly is an exceptional place of raw beauty.  Deep gullies with old growth forests, crystalline streams, and breathtaking vistas – especially in the fall, make it easy to understand why this park is the most visited park in the country.  The park encompasses 814 square miles in the two states of Tennessee and North Carolina that it straddles.

Here’s a video that captures the essence of the park – but it’s still better live!

The Accident

In 1945, Percy LeBron Spencer was working on a more efficient way to manufacture magnetrons to improve the radar capabilities of the U.S. Armed Forces when he realized that the chocolate bar in his pocket was melting.  He was standing in front of one of these magnetrons when it happened. Microwave-ovenMr. Spencer could also be credited with discovering micro-wave popcorn as the next thing he did was bring some popcorn and place it in front of the magnetron – apparently, it began popping all over the place.

Out of these observations, the microwave oven was born and thousands of grease fires from overcooked popcorn cooked on an stove top were avoided! Percy was awarded patent #2,495,429 in 1947 for the invention of the microwave oven.

How often it is in an exceptional country like ours that free thinking people pursue unintended consequences and discover whole new industries.  It is an especially American trait and it is exceptional.


On September 10, 1846, Patent # 4750 was awarded to this man, Elias Howe:

HoweEliasThe patent was for this device:

577px-Elias_Howe_sewing_machineThe first sewing machine.  Although another American, Isaac Singer, was working on a similar device, it was Howe who got their first.  Born in 1819 in Spencer, Massachusetts, Howe would go on to become a millionaire off of his invention before his untimely death at age 48.

He and Singer were involved in a patent infringement lawsuit, in which Howe ultimately prevailed.  The key to his invention was the “lockstich” whereby the cloth could be moved under the needle and sewn together.  It is another one of those inventions that make Americans exceptional.