All posts tagged: due Government of the passions

The Founders’ Guide to Happiness

The Founders’ Guide to Happiness

In 1815, the head of a boarding school in Maine wrote to Thomas Jefferson asking for some wisdom to pass along to his students. Jefferson responded by sending a passage from a Stoic self-help manual, Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations, that he had copied down as a teenager to console himself after his father’s death. “If the Wise, be the happy man, as these sages say,” Jefferson paraphrased, “he must be virtuous too; for, without virtue, happiness cannot be.” Who were these other sages? And what was the connection Jefferson saw between virtue and happiness? A reading list that Jefferson first drafted in 1771, five years before he wrote the Declaration of Independence, provides the beginning of an answer. Jefferson sent the list to his friend Robert Skipwith, who had asked for books to include in a private library. There, under the category of “religion,” Jefferson listed his favorite moral philosophers—the “sages” of his letter. They included Cicero as well as the classical writers Xenophon, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca and the Enlightenment writers John Locke, David …