Boles praises Jefferson’s ‘way with words’ during Constitution Day lecture at MSU

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

STARKVILLE, Miss.—A nationally recognized scholar and critically acclaimed author from Rice University praised Thomas Jefferson’s powerful rhetoric during a Constitution Day presentation at Mississippi State University.

During his Monday [Sept. 18] talk “Jefferson’s Constitutionalism: Words to Protect our Liberties,” Professor John Boles discussed how the nation’s third president used his writing talents to define the purposes and powers of government and protect the liberties of citizens.

“Thomas Jefferson used his power for words for many purposes. He has often been called a ‘Renaissance man’ because of the breadth of his interests and range of his accomplishments in statescraft, architecture, paleontology, linguistics and so on, but perhaps his greatest skill was as a wordsmith. His magical way with words enabled him to write with a clarity and grace unequalled among the founding fathers,” said Boles, a doctoral graduate of Jefferson’s alma mater, the University of Virginia.

Boles explained that Jefferson was not a member of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 because he was in Paris serving as U.S. minister to France when the convention was held in Philadelphia. The founding father’s view of the Constitution was not rigid; rather, he believed it could and should be changed as the nation matured and responded to progress.

“He never saw the Constitution as so holy that its words should be venerated,” Boles said of Jefferson. “It was a decidedly human doctrine that he simply believed should be changed to take into account new opportunities.”

“I absolutely believe Jefferson thought in order to be respected, the Constitution had to be a living, breathing document. That was, in some sense, the glory of it because the American people could change it,” Boles emphasized.

Constitution Day celebrates the signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1789.  Federal law requires all publically funded educational institutions to recognize the occasion by offering programming on the Constitution’s history and principles.

Organized by the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Political Science and Public Administration and Institute for the Humanities, Boles’ campus visit was part of the university’s Lamar Conerly Governance Lecture Series.

The lecture series is made possible by major support from Conerly, a 1971 MSU accounting/pre-law graduate and longtime partner in the Destin, Florida, law firm of Conerly, Bowman and Dykes LLP. He is both a former national MSU Alumni Association president and continuing College of Business Alumni Fellow.

Support also is provided by the Jack Miller Center for Teaching America’s Founding Principles and History.

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