Sunday, November 14, 2010

John Adams: "Thoughts on Government"

“Thoughts on Government” was written by John Adams during the spring of 1776 in response to a resolution of the North Carolina Provincial Congress which requested Adams's suggestions on the establishment of a new government and the drafting of a constitution. Adams says that "Politics is the Science of human Happiness -and the Felicity of Societies depends on the Constitutions of Government under which they live." Many of the ideas put forth in Adams's pamphlet were adopted in December 1776 by the framers of North Carolina's first constitution.  Adams describes the purpose (or end) of government, which is happiness, and the source of happiness, which is virtue, which provides the only sure foundation for government.  Following are excerpts from his essay:

“MY DEAR SIR,--If I was equal to the task of forming a plan for the government of a colony, I should be flattered with your request, and very happy to comply with it; because, as the divine science of politics is the science of social happiness, and the blessings of society depend entirely on the constitutions of government, which are generally institutions that last for many generations, there can be no employment more agreeable to a benevolent mind than a research after the best…

We ought to consider what is the end of government, before we determine which is the best form. Upon this point all speculative politicians will agree, that the happiness of society is the end of government, as all divines and moral philosophers will agree that the happiness of the individual is the end of man. From this principle it will follow, that the form of government which communicates ease, comfort, security, or, in one word, happiness, to the greatest number of persons, and in the greatest degree, is the best.

All sober inquirers after truth, ancient and modern, pagan and Christian, have declared that the happiness of man, as well as his dignity, consists in virtue. Confucius, Zoroaster, Socrates, Mahomet, not to mention authorities really sacred, have agreed in this.

If there is a form of government, then, whose principle and foundation is virtue, will not every sober man acknowledge it better calculated to promote the general happiness than any other form?

Fear is the foundation of most governments; but it is so sordid and brutal a passion, and renders men in whose breasts it predominates so stupid and miserable, that Americans will not be likely to approve of any political institution which is founded on it.

Honor is truly sacred, but holds a lower rank in the scale of moral excellence than virtue. Indeed, the former is but a part of the latter, and consequently has not equal pretensions to support a frame of government productive of human happiness.

The foundation of every government is some principle or passion in the minds of the people. The noblest principles and most generous affections in our nature, then, have the fairest chance to support the noblest and most generous models of government…

You and I, my dear friend, have been sent into life at a time when the greatest lawgivers of antiquity would have wished to live. How few of the human race have ever enjoyed an opportunity of making an election of government, more than of air, soil, or climate, for themselves or their children! When, before the present epocha, had three millions of people full power and a fair opportunity to form and establish the wisest and happiest government that human wisdom can contrive? I hope you will avail yourself and your country of that extensive learning and indefatigable industry which you possess, to assist her in the formation of the happiest governments and the best character of a great people.”

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Good and Bad Magistrate

Algernon Sidney (1622-1683) wrote his Discourses Concerning Government in argument against the divine right of Kings, and in support of individual liberty and representative government. Discourses was first published in England in 1698 (with several later printings), and was first in America in 1805.  Thomas Jefferson cited Algernon Sidney’s writings as one of the sources for the “authority” of the Declaration of Independence. He endorsed Sidney's "Discourses Concerning Government" as "a rich treasure of republican principles" and "probably the best elementary book of the principles of government, as founded in natural right which has ever been published in any language." In Discourses, Sidney reviews the history of governments from Biblical, through Greek, Roman and English eras.  In one of its most significant passages, he discusses and analyzes the characteristics of "Good and Bad Magistrates."  This selection is quoted verbatim by Trenchard and Gordon in their Cato's Letters (published as pamphlets in Great Britain from 1720-1723) which were popular in the American colonies at the time of the revolution.  Sidney's insights into what makes a magistrate (a government leader) "good" or "bad" are still applicable today:

"Reason and experience instruct us, that every man acts according to the end he proposes to himself. The good magistrate seeks the good of the people committed to his care, that he may perform the end of his institution: and knowing that chiefly to consist in justice and virtue, he endeavors to plant and propagate them; and by doing this he procures his own good as well as that of the public. He knows there is no safety where there is no strength, no strength without union, no union without justice; no justice where faith and truth, in accomplishing public and private contracts, is wanting. This he perpetually inculcates, and thinks it a great part of his duty, by precept and example, to educate the youth in a love of virtue and truth, that they may be seasoned with them, and filled with an abhorrence of vice and falsehood, before they attain that age which is exposed to the most violent temptations, and in the which they may, by their crimes, bring great mischiefs upon the public. He would do all this, tho' it were to his own prejudice. But as good actions always carry a reward with them, these contribute in a high measure to his own advantage. By preferring the interest of the people before his own, he gains their affection, and all that is in their power comes with it; whilst he unites them to one another, he unites all to himself: in leading them to virtue, he increases their strength, and by that means provides for his own safety, glory, and power.

"On the other side, such as seek different ends must take different ways. When a magistrate fancies he is not made for the people, but the people for him; that he does not govern for them, but for himself; and that the people live only to increase his glory, or furnish matter for his pleasures; he does not inquire what he may do for them, but what he may draw from them. By this means he sets up an interest of profit, pleasure, or pomp, in himself, repugnant to the good of the public, for which he is made to be what he is. These contrary ends certainly divide the nation into parties; and whilst every one endeavors to advance that to which he is addicted, occasions of hatred for injuries every day done, or thought to be done, and received, must necessarily arise. This creates a most fierce and irreconcilable enmity, because the occasions are frequent, important, and universal, and the causes thought to be most just. The people think it the greatest of all crimes, to convert that power to their hurt, which was instituted for their good; and that the injustice is aggravated by perjury and ingratitude, which comprehend all manner of ill; and the magistrate gives the name of sedition or rebellion to whatsoever they do for the preservation of themselves, and their own rights. When men's spirits are thus prepared, a small matter sets them on fire; but if no accident happens to blow them into a flame, the course of justice is certainly interrupted, the public affairs are neglected; and when any occasion, whether foreign or domestic arises, in which the magistrate stands in need of the people's assistance, they, whose affections are alienated, not only shew an unwillingness to serve him with their persons and estates, but fear that by delivering him from his distress, they strengthen their enemy, and enable him to oppress them; and he, fancying his will to be unjustly opposed, or his due more unjustly denied, is filled with a dislike of what he sees, and a fear of worse of the future. Whilst he endeavors to ease himself of the one, and to provide against the other, he usually increases the evils of both and jealousies are on both sides multiplied. Every man knows that the governed are in a great measure under the power of the governor; but as no man, or number of men, is willingly subject to those who seek their ruin, such as fall in so great a misfortune continue no longer under it than force, fear, or necessity, may be able to oblige them. But as such a necessity can hardly lie longer upon a great people, than till the evil be fully discovered and comprehended, and their virtue, strength, and power, be united to expel it; the ill magistrate looks upon all things, that may conduce to that end, as so many preparatives to his ruin; and by the help of those, who are of his party, will endeavor to prevent that union, and diminish that strength, virtue, power, and courage, which he knows to be bent against him. And as truth, faithful dealing due performance of contracts, and integrity of manners, are bonds of union, and helps to good, he will always by tricks, artifices, cavils, and all means possible, endeavor to establish falsehood and dishonesty; whilst other emissaries and instruments of iniquity, by corrupting the oath, and seducing such as can be brought to lewdness and debauchery, bring the people to such a pass, that they may neither care nor dare to vindicate their rights, and that those who would do it, may so far suspect each other, as not to confer upon, much less to join in, any action tending to the public deliverance.

"This distinguishes the good from the bad magistrate, that faithful from the unfaithful; and those who adhere to either, living in the same principle, must walk in the same ways. They who uphold the rightful power of a just magistracy, encourage virtue and justice; teach men what they ought to do, suffer, or expect from others; fix them upon principles of honesty; and generally advance every thing that tends to the increase of the valour, strength, greatness, and happiness of the nation, creating a good union among them, and bringing every man to an exact understanding of his own and the public rights. On the other side, he that would introduce an ill magistrate, make one evil who was good, or preserve him in the exercise of injustice when he is corrupted, must always open the way for him by vitiating the people, corrupting their manners, destroying the validity of oaths and contracts, teaching such evasions, equivocations, and frauds, as are inconsistent with the thoughts, that become men of virtue and courage; and overthrowing the confidence they ought to have in each other, make it impossible for them to unite among themselves. The like arts must be used with the magistrate: he cannot be for their turn, till he is persuaded to believe he has no dependence upon, and owes no duty to the people; that he is of himself, and not by their institution; that no man ought to inquire into, nor be judge of his actions; that all obedience is due to him, whether he be good or bad, wise or foolish, a father or an enemy to his country. This being calculated for his personal interest, he must pursue the same designs, or his kingdom is divided within itself, and cannot subsist. By this means those who flatter his humor, come to be accounted his friends, and the only men that are thought worthy of great trusts, whilst such as are of another mind are exposed to all persecution. These are always such as excel in virtue, wisdom, and greatness of spirit: they have eyes, and they will always see the way they go; and, leaving fools to be guided by implicit faith, will distinguish between good and evil, and chose that which is best; they will judge of men by their actions, and by them discovering whose servant every man is, know whether he is to be obeyed or not. Those who are ignorant of all good, careless, or enemies to it, take a more compendious way; their slavish, vicious, and base natures, inclining them to seek only private and present advantages, they easily slide into a blind dependence upon one who has wealth and power; and desiring only to know his will, care not what injustice they do, if they may be rewarded. They worship what they find in the temple, tho' it be the vilest of idols; and always like the best which is worst, because it agrees with their inclinations and principles. When a party comes to be erected upon such a foundation, debauchery, lewdness, and dishonesty, are the true badges of it. Such as wear them are cherished; but the principal marks of favor are reserved for those, who are the most industrious in mischief, either by seducing the people with allurements of sensual pleasures, or corrupting their understandings by false and slavish doctrines. By this means, a man who calls himself a philosopher, or a divine, is often more useful than a great number of tapsters, cooks, buffoons, players, fidlers, whores, or bawds. These are the devil's ministers of a lower order; they seduce single persons; and such as fall into their snares, are for the most part men of the simpler sort; but the principal supporters of this kingdom are they, who by false doctrines poison the springs of religion and virtue, and by preaching or writing (if their falsehood and wickedness were not detected) would extinguish all principles of common honesty, and bring whole nations to be best satisfied with themselves, when their actions are most abominable. And as the means must always be suitable to the end proposed, the governments that are to be established or supported by such ways must needs be the worst of all, and comprehend all manner of evil." (Discourses, III:19:342-45).

1 Thomas Jefferson to John Trumbull, 18 January 1789, in "The Papers of Thomas Jefferson," ed. Julian P. Boyd (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950), 14:467-68; Thomas Jefferson to Mason Locke Weems, 13 December 1804, in "Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson," ed. W. Millicent Sowbery (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1953), 3:13.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Teaching the Federalist in Secondary Schools

John J. Patrick[1] shared the following insights and teaching ideas for The Federalist: “[The] Ideas of The Federalist should be essential elements of civic education, because they are core values and principles of the American heritage and foundations of national unity in a pluralistic society. These ideas are also keys to understanding how American government works.

Recent assessments of the curriculum and of students' knowledge indicate a need to emphasize The Federalist in secondary schools. Secondary school textbooks in history and government tend to avoid detailed examination of political ideas in history and our contemporary society. One analyst writes: "The lack of intellectual history in the texts has had some serious consequences, one of which is that students get a rather profound misunderstanding of the Constitution. ... Rarely have they (the textbooks) mentioned the political philosophy of the Framers.[2] Another deficiency of the textbook-dominated curriculum of secondary schools is neglect of primary sources -- the documents that directly communicate to students the ideas and ways of thinking and writing of Americans in other times. In particular, most students have little or no exposure to documents on American political ideas, including the ideas of the Founding Fathers in such fundamental sources as The Federalist Papers.

There is an obvious need to emphasize ideas of The Federalist Papers in the secondary school curriculum. These ideas certainly fit standard educational goals and curriculum guides for courses in history, government, and civics. They are also core components of the American civic heritage and keys to civic literacy. Finally, they have enduring relevance to contemporary citizenship and government.”[3] 

“Ideas of The Federalist Papers are congruent with the content of standard secondary school courses, such as American history, government, civics, and studies of Western Civilization in world history. Therefore, there is no need to create special courses or units of study on The Federalist Papers because examination of these documents can be infused into standard coursework…

Use The Federalist Papers to teach core concepts of American constitutional government, such as republicanism, federalism, separation of powers, judicial review, national security, civil liberties, popular sovereignty, an energetic executive, limited government, the rule of law, free government, and so forth. Excerpts from selected essays can be used to explicate these civic concepts; for example, essays 47-51 are classic discussions of the American conception of separation of powers; essays 78-83 explain and justify novel American ideas on an independent judiciary and judicial review; essays 9, 10, 37, 39, 51 treat the American idea of federalism in an extended republic.

Show how core concepts of The Federalist are rooted in Western Civilization by teaching connections of the European Age of Enlightenment to the theory and practice of politics in eighteenth-century America. Compare these ideas and the institutions of government around the world in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Through this global comparative analysis, students can learn how American ideas on constitutional government are related to civic cultures of other times and places.

Encourage deliberation, reflection, and rational decision-making about perennial issues of constitutional government that are raised by The Federalist Papers. These essays can be used to spark debate on questions that have permeated our constitutional history, such as how to have majority rule with protection of minority rights; how to have a powerful national government that is also strictly limited by law; how to maintain national security while protecting civil liberties, including the freedom of dissenters; and how to balance effective national government with meaningful rights for state governments. Discussions of these issues in The Federalist can be assigned in concert with readings about specific instances of these issues in history and current events.”[4] 

U. S. Government and Civics classes serve as the gate to the rising generation’s knowledge of the Constitution and its principles, and The Federalist is the key to that gate.
Purchase The Federalist Papers at for $7.95:

[1] Professor, Indiana University, author of The Oxford Guide to the United States Government (2001), ERIC (ED) contributor, the Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, and the Center for Civic Education.
[2] Frances FitzGerald, America Revised: History Schoolbooks in The Twentieth Century (New York, Vintage Books, 1980), p. 152.
[3] John J. Patrick, Teaching the Federalist Papers (ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education, Bloomington IN, 1988)(
[4] Id.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

"Mrs. Madison's Wednesday Nights"

Most Americans know Dolley Madison as the heroine who saved the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington from the White House when British Troops occupied and burned Washington in 1814. But, in addition, “during the time as the president’s wife and for decades after she was one of the best-known people in the United States. [Many] people raved about her charismatic charm and gracious presence, her legendary parties and her impressive wardrobe.  Even the occasional criticism centered on the excess of these qualities – she was too charming, too regal, and too popular.”  (p. 5)

“Like many extraordinary people, Dolley cannot entirely be explained by her origins.  If leaders are born as well as made, Dolley seems to have been born a leader full of ambition and the desire to be the center of attention and activity.  But she was also born a girl, and so was taught from the first the cardinal virtues of meekness and femininity.  She was raised in a Quaker culture, which prized passivity and retirement from the world.  Dolley turned compliance into an art, transforming female submissiveness into a political tool. She employed conciliation to disarm and defuse a violent political culture, while winning friends and supporters for her husband.” (p. 8)   Dolley’s dinner table and her drawing room parties which soon became known as “Mrs. Madison’s Wednesday Nights” were two ways she helped her husband as his political partner.

Madison had decided to refuse all dinner invitations in order to avoid any hint of favoritism.  Since he could not go out to meet the political families of the area, Dolley devised a way for them to come to him by hosting formal dinners in the White House.  Over the eight years that they lived there, Dolley hosted more formal dinners than any other president’s wife in history (p. 182.) “In making her dinner table yet another political space, Dolley built on a long tradition in politics.  Sitting down with people to share food constitutes an act of power in all societies, the first step in network building.  The superior food, the lovely setting and the refined behavior allowed people to feel open, relaxed, and included.  Dolley’s table, laden with luxury foods such as duck and ice cream made her guests feel privileged and honored. Dinner at Dolley’s bought nothing so crass as to be measurable in monetary terms, or so crude as a vote in Congress.  Rather, it built goodwill and a social allegiance that, in early Washington, easily translated into political alliance.  By inviting prominent people to dine with her, Dolley made them part of the Madison family.”   (p. 185-186) 

Dolley’s Wednesday Nights began just two months after James Madison’s inauguration and became part of the Washington Social scene for the next eight years.  Initially, Dolley put a general invitation in the newspapers with the only qualification for attendance the usual requirement “that one had been “introduced” to the Madison, either personally or through letters of introduction.” After a very short time both the introduction and the invitation faded away as everyone knew where to be on Wednesday nights.  The first drawing room parties where held in the sunny yellow parlor but were moved to the Oval room for more space when it was ready on January 1, 1810.  Dolley’s drawing room “swirled with excitement, crowds, color and movement.  Before long, these events became known as “squeezes” – for two hundred people crammed into the White House rooms.”  (p. 189)   Dolley’s gathering was much different that the formal gatherings held by Martha Washington and Abigail Adams “where all the guests stood or sat in ceremonious fashion waiting to be greeted.  Dolley’s guests had the freedom to meet, greet and move among groups of people as they wished” helping themselves to side tables which overflowed with punch, wine, coffee, tea, nuts, cake, fruit, and ice cream. This weekly event allowed everyone in Washington City “access to the president unparalleled before or since.” (p. 191)    

Dolley’s generosity and openness were the key to her charm, and “a large measure of her social success lay in her willingness to supply members of the federal government with access not only to herself and her husband, but also to one another. Then, as now, “access” to key personnel and points of decision was a crucial factor in the political process, and one most available in an informal situation rather than in a formal structure.” (Id.)  At a Madison’s drawing room people could move beyond partisan politics if they chose.

From: “A Perfect Union, Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation” 
By Catherine Allgor (Henry Holt & Company, 2006)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Prospect Hill, Virginia

The Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute has held seven, semi-annual seminars for high school and middle school teachers over the past three years (2007-2010) at Prospect Hill located near Charlottesville, Virginia.  Following is a brief history of this historic Plantation Inn.

"Roger Thompson, the first settler to this part of Virginia arrived sometime  about 1699 when this was the Western Frontier.  There were few natives between the Tidewater area and the Shenendoah Valley and Thompson selected as his homesite a place on a hilltop with a strong spring nearby.  This simple 10 X 10 log cabin still houses guests today, more than three hundred years later.  A few years later when he was beginning to show success as a farmer in this wilderness he married a widow, Mary English, who brought her husband’s wealth and sons to help farm.  Thompson built a larger cottage and the boys stayed in the original log cabin, thereby giving it the current name, "the Boys’ Cabin."

Soon the Thompson family grew to 13 children and Thompson built the nucleus of what became the manor house in 1732, the year George Washington was born. This parlor in the manor today still has the original windows and glass panes from that time.  In 1796 the farm of then 400 acres was sold to a relative from adjoining Albemarle County, Richmond Terrill and his wife Elizabeth Overton Terrill, who were absentee owners and introduced the first slaves to work the fields.  The farm had now grown from a small farm on the frontier into a plantation where others  instead of the planter worked.  About 20 field-hands lived in the slave quarters named after the slave foreman who also lived there, Uncle Guy, and this present two story guest cottage has been called Uncle Guy’s house ever since.

Terrill later sold Prospect Hill to his wife’s relative, William Overton and his wife, Martha Gilliam Overton, in 1840 who soon expanded the house adding two wings on the east and west wings for a dining room and ballroom for entertaining and they and their children and grandchildren lived here until the last passed away in 1969.  Due to the area switching to wheat farming during the Revolution, the Overton’s extended their wealth in the ensuing years by exporting this high quality wheat to Europe in the 1840’s and 1850’s and acquired more land and slaves to work it and also added the Carriage House with more slave quarters above, called the Grooms’ Quarters.

Their son, William G. Overton, Jr. gradated from Virginia Military Institute in 1859, second lowest in his class due to many demerits.  He was commissioned a Lieutenant in the Provisional Vrmy of Virginia and was assigned to enlist the newly immigrant Irish fleeing from the potato famine in their homeland which, after Virginia secceeded [from the Union], was later formed into the Irish Battallion, the First Virginia, under his former professor at VMI, Gen.Stonewall Jackson’s Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, under Gen. Robert E. Lee.  Overton would serve in every battle with Lee until the surrender at Appomattox Court House in April, 1865.  Overton and his former slave, Sanco Pansy Scott, walked home barefoot after his parole.

In 1875 Overton married Nannie Branch Giles, the granddaughter of a VA governor and contemporary of Thomas Jefferson, although they were political enemies.  Nannie had also joined the Confederacy and was a bill signer at the Confederate Mint at Charlotte, NC during the war.  She took over the household accounts and quickly realized that Prospect Hill was losing a great deal of money farming since there was a terrible economic depression in the South as all the railroads that had been built out West during the war and the nation’s breadbasket with them.

Nannie soon began taking in guests from Richmond and Washington, DC for the summer at Prospect Hill.  One of her relatives had not resigned his US commission during the war and remained in the Union Army.  His wearing of his uniform did not please Overton and became a thorn in their marriage.  Nannie and her daughters, Frances and Marcie, inherited this General Giles home in Washington and opened a boarding house catering to women who worked in Congress, bringing them home to Prospect Hill during summer when Congress was in recess. 

The manor house was expanded with two more bedrooms, a pantry, and later the kitchen was brought into the house as well.  Business gradually faded in the 1920’s and 30’s for economic as well as comfort reasons.  Prospect Hill had two modern bathrooms added after the First World War but no electricity or running hot water until 1953 and no central heat until 1969. Bill and Mireille Sheehan and their children, Michael and Nancy, bought Prospect Hill in 1977 and began the restoration of the manor and renovation of the original outbuildings and slave quarters into guest rooms for a country inn and restaurant." 

Over the past 33 years the Sheehans have received many awards for excellence for both inn-keeping and fine dining. The warmth of their, and their staff's, genuine friendship and dedication, together with the historical roots, character and atmosphere of Prospect Hill, combine to make it the perfect setting to teach and to study the lives and writings of the Founders of the Republic.
From: Bill Sheehan, "Prospect Hill History"

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Calvin Coolidge: The Inspiration of the Declaration

Our 30th President, Calvin Coolidge spoke in Philadelphia on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.  Here is a brief excerpt from his speech:

"Under a system of popular government there will always be those who will seek for political preferment by clamoring for reform. While there is very little of this which is not sincere, there is a large portion that is not well informed. In my opinion very little of just criticism can attach to the theories and principles of our institutions. There is far more danger of harm than there is hope of good in any radical changes. We do need a better understanding and comprehension of them and a better knowledge of the foundations of government in general. Our forefathers came to certain conclusions and decided upon certain courses of action which have been a great blessing to the world. Before we can understand their conclusions we must go back and review the course which they followed. We must think the thoughts which they thought. Their intellectual life centered around the meeting-house. They were intent upon religious worship. While there were always among them men of deep learning, and later those who had comparatively large possessions, the mind of the people was not so much engrossed in how much they knew, or how much they had, as in how they were going to live. While scantily provided with other literature, there was a wide acquaintance with the Scriptures. Over a period as great as that which measures the existence of our independence they were subject to this discipline not only in their religious life and educational training, but also in their political thought. They were a people who came under the influence of a great spiritual development and acquired a great moral power.

No other theory is adequate to explain or comprehend the Declaration of Independence. It is the product of the spiritual insight of the people. We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren sceptre in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshiped."

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Rotunda

The Rotunda at the University of Virginia was designed by Thomas Jefferson as the architectural and academic heart of his community of scholars, or what he termed the "academical village." As the phrase implies, learning was for Jefferson an integral part of life. The academical village is based on the assumption that the life of the mind is the pursuit of all participants in the University, that learning is a lifelong and shared process, and that interaction between scholars and students enlivens the pursuit of knowledge.

The Rotunda is the focal point of the academical village, which includes the Rotunda at the north end; the Pavilions, which house faculty; and the student rooms along the Lawn. From the Lawn, Jefferson's academical village appears as he intended it. The Rotunda was designed by Thomas Jefferson to represent the "authority of nature and power of reason."

Jefferson modeled the Rotunda after the Pantheon in Rome, reducing the measurements by half, making the Rotunda 77 feet in diameter and in height, so that the Rotunda would not dwarf the Pavilions. For its interior, Jefferson divided the first two floors into suites of oval rooms to serve as classrooms and lecture halls. The domed top floor, with its ring of paired columns, served as the university's library. Construction began in 1822 and was completed in 1826 at a cost of almost $60,000. With the books Jefferson initially selected, the Rotunda served as the library, demonstrating Jefferson's belief that a university should have as its focus a collection of academic achievements. The library remained in the Rotunda for more than a century.

In 1824, the Marquis de Lafayette and James Madison dined with Thomas Jefferson in the Dome Room of the unfinished Rotunda at the University's inaugural banquet, and Lafayette toasted Jefferson as the "Father of the University of Virginia". This brought Jefferson to tears, and he later had the phrase inscribed on his grave.