The Legal Education of Thomas Jefferson

Cecchinato, Andrew (2017) The Legal Education of Thomas Jefferson. PhD thesis, University of Trento.

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Thomas Jefferson’s legal education offers a unique insight into the authoritative foundations of modern constitutionalism and sheds light on the revolutionary effort to digest American political experience according to the scientific legacy of Western jurisprudence. Much attention has been dedicated by contemporary literature to the sources of Jefferson’s thought. However, the interpretations offered over the past fifty years have told us more about Jefferson’s political alignment, than of his comprehensive engagement with the many strands and several authorities the Western legal tradition. The dissertation offers a study of Jefferson’s engagement with European jurisprudence. It tries, in particular, to connect Jefferson’s constitutionalism with medieval and early modern authorities addressing questions of sovereignty and religious freedom. These trans-Atlantic connections point equally to Common Law sources, as well to Continental Romano-Canonical jurisprudence and challenge, at the same time, the very distinction between the two traditions. In selecting the sources, preference has been given to those that belonged to Jefferson’s personal library. And, amongst these, particular attention has been dedicated to the ones that bear Jefferson’s annotations or inscriptions. The Introduction presents Jefferson’s copy of the foundational treatise on modern public law: Jean Bodin’s Les Six Livres de la Republique. Although Jefferson’s engagement with Bodin constitutes one of the main themes of the entire dissertation, the Introduction focuses mostly on the markings inscribed by Jefferson in his copy of the Republique and suggests that Jefferson may have been drawn to this work as it addressed the nature of power and of its constitutional limitations beyond any contingent concern. The dissertation’s first part is then dedicated to the exploration of Jefferson’s doctrine on sovereignty. It assumes, as its starting point, Jefferson’s “Bartolist” doctrine on tyranny. The first chapter traces the development of this doctrine from the Middle Ages to Modernity. It also evaluates the force of its various arguments in Jefferson’s own historical understanding of the conditions that defined the struggle for independence as the rational outcome of a legal process. The second chapter investigates, instead, the legal titles placed by Jefferson at the origins of the Americans’ lawful acquisition of power – expatriation, conquest, and citizenship – and their connection to the European jurisprudence on the iura naturalia. The third chapter closes the first part of the dissertation with an examination of Jefferson’s later reflections on the exercise of power. It focuses, in particular, on a two distinct groups of letters, dedicated to the independent exercise of sovereign power by each living generation, according to a Bodinian understanding of sovereignty, and to the constitutional relevance of intermediate bodies, maintained by Jefferson in keeping with Montesquieu. The second part of the dissertation is dedicated to religious freedom. The fourth chapter provides an examination of Jefferson’s participation in the “Grotian moment” and illustrates his understanding of religion as the naturalized foundation of morality and jurisprudence. Moreover, it traces the enduring relevance of the distinction between spiritual and temporal jurisdictions within his thought. The fifth and final chapter, instead, focuses on Jefferson’s integrative jurisprudence and insists that the multiple dimensions of law remained a fundamental feature of Jefferson’s legal persuasion, as he strived to substantiate the checks on power through his continuous engagement with the legacy of Western jurisprudence.

Item Type:Doctoral Thesis (PhD)
Doctoral School:Comparative and European Legal Studies
PhD Cycle:29
Subjects:Area 12 - Scienze giuridiche > IUS/19 STORIA DEL DIRITTO MEDIEVALE E MODERNO
Repository Staff approval on:15 Jun 2017 08:58

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