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Take things always by their smooth handle

The quotation, "Take things always by their smooth handle" comes from Thomas Jefferson's "Canons of Conduct."

Jefferson's intended meaning has become a subject of debate. In 1957, Julian Boyd published an article entitled "The Smooth Handle: A Challenge to the Organization Man."1 Boyd believed that Jefferson's statement embodied his thoughts about proper behavior for citizens of a republic. Boyd further suggested that Jefferson's phrase was descended from a similar saying by Epictetus, "Everything has two handles, one by which it can be borne; another by which it cannot." While debate was essential to a healthy republic, Boyd argued, Jefferson believed strongly that the exchange of ideas must always be civil, and he expressed this belief in his advice to "take things always by their smooth handle."

Boyd's explanation is only one interpretation, however, and without explicit elucidation from Jefferson himself, each reader is free to make an individual interpretation.

- Anna Berkes, 6/25/07


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