(Full recording of the July 4, 1936 Ceremony is available at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library)
Senator Glass, Governor Peery, Mr. Gibboney, ladies and gentlemen:
As my old friend, Carter Glass, has so well suggested, I have come here today to renew my homage to the sage of Monticello.
It was symbolic that Thomas Jefferson should live on this mountain-top of Monticello. On a mountain-top all paths unite. And Jefferson was the meeting point of all the vital forces of his day.
There are periods in history when one man seems great because those who stand beside him are small. Jefferson was great in the presence of many great and free men. When we read of the patriots of 1776 and the fathers of the Constitution, we are taken into the presence of men who caught the fire of greatness from one another, and who all became elevated above the common run of mankind.
The source of their greatness was the stirring of a new sense of freedom. They were tasting the first fruits of self-government and freedom of conscience. They had broken away from a system of peasantry, away from indentured servitude. They could build for themselves a new economic independence. Theirs were not the gods of things as they were, but the gods of things as they ought to be. And so, as Monticello itself so well proves, they used new means and new models to build new structures.
Of all the builders of those days it is perhaps generally conceded that Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson possessed what may be roughly described as the most fertile minds. Franklin was stranger to no science, to no theory of philosophy, to no avenue of invention. Jefferson had those qualities in equal part; and with greater opportunity in the days of peace which followed the Revolution, Jefferson was enabled more fully to carry theory into practice.
Farmer, lawyer, mechanic, scientist, architect, philosopher, statesman, he encompassed the full scope of the knowledge of his time; and his life was one of the richest diversity. To him knowledge and ideal were fuel to be used to feed the fires of his own mind, not just wood to be left neatly piled in the woodbox.
More than any historic home in America, Monticello appeals to me as an expression of the personality of its builder. In the design, not of the whole alone, but of every room, of every part of every room, in the very furnishings which Jefferson devised on his own drawing board and made in his own workshop, there speaks ready capacity for detail and, above all, creative genius.
He was a great gentleman. He was a great commoner. The two are not incompatible.
He applied the culture of the past to the needs and the life of the America of his day. His knowledge of history spurred him to inquire into the reason and justice of laws, habits and institutions. His passion for liberty led him to interpret and adapt them in order to better the lot of mankind.
Shortly before taking the office of President he wrote to a friend, "I have sworn on the Altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." His life served that consecration. Constantly he labored to enlarge the freedom of the human mind and to destroy the bondage imposed on it by ignorance, poverty and political and religious intolerance.
On one day of his long life he gave to the world a Declaration of 'Independence on behalf of political freedom for himself and his fellow Americans. But his Declaration of Independence for the human mind was a continuing achievement, renewed and reiterated every day of his whole life.
One hundred and sixty years have passed since the Fourth of July, 1776. On that day, Thomas Jefferson was thirty-three years old. His imagination, his enthusiasm and his energy, the qualities that youth offers in every generation, were symbolic of that generation of men, who not only made a Nation in the wealth of their imagination and energy, but, because their youthful wings had not been clipped, were able to grow with the Nation and guide it in wisdom throughout their lives.
Through all the intervening years, America has lived and grown under the system of government established by Jefferson and his generation. As Nations go, we live under one of the oldest continuous forms of democratic government in the whole world. In that sense we are old.
But the world has never had as much human ability as it needs; and a modern democracy in particular needs, above all things, the continuance of the spirit of youth. Our problems of 1936 call as greatly for the continuation of imagination and energy and capacity for responsibility as did the age of Thomas Jefferson and his fellows.
Democracy needs now, as it found then, men developed, through education, to the limit of their capacity for ultimate responsibility. Emergencies and decisions in our individual and community and national lives are the stuff out of which national character is made. Preparation of the mind, preparation of the spirit of our people for such emergencies, for such decisions, is the best available insurance for the security and development of our democratic institutions.
Was the spirit of such men as Jefferson the spirit of a Golden Age gone now, and never to be repeated in our history? Was the feeling of fundamental freedom which lighted the fire of their ability a miracle we shall never see again?
That is not my belief. It is not beyond our power to re-light that sacred fire. There are no limitations upon the Nation's capacity to obtain and maintain true freedom, no limitations except the strength of our Nation's desire and determination.
On the hillside below where we stand is the tomb of Thomas Jefferson. He was given many high offices in State and Nation. But the words recorded above his grave, chosen by himself, are only these:
"HERE WAS BURIED THOMAS JEFFERSON, AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE, OF THE STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, AND FATHER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA."
The honors which other men had given him were unimportant; the opportunities he had given to other men to become free were all that really counted.
NOTE: FDR spoke on from Monticello's West Portico. His opening words referred to Carter Class, Republican (VA-D), George Peery, Governor of Virginia (D), and Stuart Gibboney, President of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation. The address was carried on a nationwide radio broadcast.