Jefferson’s Holy Trinity
History - World Released - Jan 13, 2013
The three men I admire most . . .
To Thomas Jefferson, they were Francis Bacon, John Locke and Isaac Newton. They were, proclaimed the Virginia, “the three greatest men who have ever lived, without exception.”
Strong words. Who were they?
Francis Bacon (1561-1626) - To some, Francs Bacon was the real author of Shakespeare’s plays. He was a noted playwright, and a player in Queen Elizabeth’s court, by turns in and out of favor with the Queen during Elizabeth’s 44-year reign. Under King James I who followed, Bacon advanced swiftly, from knight to lord chancellor. In 1621, he pleaded guilty to accepting bribes, was barred from office, and spent his last years in retirement.
Besides being a playwright and statesman, Bacon was a highly acclaimed philosopher and essayist. He is credited with having created the English essay. In one essay he coined the phrase, “Knowledge is power.” He established and popularized an inductive methodology of scientific inquiry that was his great contribution to philosophy.
In his novel “Atlantis” he envisioned a utopian state where there would be greater rights for women, the abolishment of slavery, an end to debtors’ prison, separation of church and state, and freedom of religion and political expression. Some scholars believe that this was his vision for the North American colonies which, as an insider in the English court, he helped create.
John Locke (1632-1704) - Locke created the phrase “life, liberty and property” which Jefferson rewrote as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The Declaration of Independence draws heavily on Locke’s Second Treatise.
If Francis Bacon was a government insider, John Locke was a government outsider--extreme outsider, as having to leave England in a hurry as a suspect in the Rye House Plot to overthrow tyrannical King James II. When William and Mary replaced King James II during the bloodless Glorious Revolution in 1688, Locked returned to England and began publishing his works on government, education, religion and philosophy.
In his Two Treatises of Government, Locke justified the Glorious Revolution in his doctrine that government requires the consent of the governed, and may be overthrown by revolution if it violates individual rights. Such notions made Locke a “must read” among 1776 American patriots looking to justify the own revolution.
Isaac Newton (1642-1727) - That’s Sir Isaac Newton to you. Newton has gone down in popular lore as the guy who discovered the laws of gravity when an apple fell on his head. In fact, he merely observed an apple fall in his garden. Not content to merely attribute it to the earth’s gravity, he reasoned that the same force which caused the apple to fall to the earth must extend to the moon and to the planets. His “Philosophie Naturalis Principia Mathematica,” published in 1687, described universal gravitation and the three laws of motion, laying the groundwork for classical mechanics, which dominated the scientific view of the physical universe for the next three centuries and is the basis of modern engineering.
Newton invented the reflecting telescope (still used today) and developed a theory of color based on the observation that a prism decomposes white light into a visible spectrum. He also formulated an empirical law of cooling and studied the speed of sound. In mathematics, New shares credit with Gottried Leibnet for the development of calculus. In a 2005 poll of the Royal Society of who has had the greatest effect on the history of science, Newton was deemed more influential Albert Einstein.
Bacon, Locke and Newton all wrote a great deal about religion, each declaring God to be a rational being. John Locke was the first Deist (several Founding Fathers were Deists, including Jefferson). As much as he wrote about science and mathematics, Newton wrote more about religion, dedicating much of his scientific and mathematic breakthroughs to the revelations contained in the Biblical books of Daniel and Revelation.
Jefferson’s “three greatest men who ever lived” were all Englishmen, which is curious coming from a guy who loathed the English and worshipped the French.