Press forward

At Monticello, as elsewhere, Jefferson never ran out of ideas for improvement. Photographed in June 2014

At Monticello, as elsewhere, Jefferson never realized all his ideals for improvement.
Photographed in June 2014

“The ground of liberty is to be gained by inches. We must be contented to secure what we can get from time to time and eternally press forward for what is yet to get. It takes time to persuade men to do even what is for their own good.”
Thomas Jefferson

A quote attributed to Yogi Berra is “I never said most of the things I said.”  Thomas Jefferson might say the same thing if he were alive today, so I looked this one up and this is straight out of his published writings.  Which assumes, of course, that the publisher’s historical sources can be trusted!  In any case, the point remains a valid one today, well over two hundred years later.

If the ground of liberty is gained by inches, it also can be lost by inches.  But as Jefferson admits, attaining a desirable state is an ongoing effort that will never reach perfection.  Thus he wisely counsels patience and contentment, coupled with diligent and unrelenting attention.  I think that’s an interesting and difficult combination to sustain for very long.

Of course, Jefferson was not always good at taking his own advice.  How else could a man who argued against slavery be a slaveholder, or one who pontificated on the importance of honesty and integrity nonetheless father unacknowledged children by one of those enslaved women?  How could a man who warned repeatedly against debt die so insolvent as to leave his heirs unable to keep his estate?

Apparently, he is a prime example of how often we fail to live up to what we know to be right.  This underscores the need for a combination of patience and diligence.  Whether it’s our country, our family or ourselves, we will be happier if we continue to hope and work for improvement, while recognizing our own fallibility and bearing with each other when we give it our best and still fall short.

As this Independence Day weekend draws to a close, I wish you a renewed awareness of our collective accomplishments AND responsibilities, whether your citizenship is in the U.S.A. or elsewhere.  Celebrate the large and small victories, and press forward!

One year ago today:

Achieved, not bestowed


  1. Amazing about Jefferson! Have always appreciated his quotes. I knew about the slave children but not the debt. Sounds like he kept trying to talk to himself first. Perhaps he was heeding others from lessons he learned the hard way.

    • Yes, I think Jefferson could speak firsthand about the problems he warned others against. One thing I never realized until I visited Monticello and read the details there, is that Sally Hemings was half-sister to Martha, Jefferson’s wife who died young. The two women had the same father, and may have looked somewhat alike, though no portraits of either of them have survived.

  2. We “are” all fallible. But, we must strive to know what is right and just, all the same. In so far that we proclaim that knowing, in the often used phrase:”Do as I say, not as I do.” Credibility matters, but not as much as the promotion and preservation of truth.
    We may not have achieved, as some standard may decree. However, if, at least, it can be said of us that-as we know to be true of St. Paul; “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race and I have kept the faith,” then we are most importantly, on the right path.

    • Alan, that’s true. If we allow our own errors to discourage us, that does no good for anyone. No matter how many times we fall, we need to keep getting up and trying again. Your comment reminded me of the lovely words of 2 Corinthians 4:7, about having treasure in jars of clay. Hope you enjoyed a wonderful weekend!

      • Julia,
        I remember 2 Corinthians 4:7 as well. A great passage.
        My weekend was enjoyable, and hope yours was too.

        • Alan, yes it was. Friday and Saturday in particular were delightfully cool, so much so that I spend most of the weekend outdoors, loving every minute. Jeff and I got some much-needed maintenance done on our yard, and while there is still much to do (a lot has gotten overgrown over the past 18 months!) it’s a much more pleasant exhaustion than what one feels after a day in the hospital. So we are feeling thankful and blessed today.

  3. Sheila

    Julia, I hope that you’ve had a very good weekend and thank you for your well wishes to us and the patriotic blogs. It is satisfying to know that we’ve tried our best, gave it our all, and really have pressed forward. On a personal level, this really hit home with me! 🙂

    • Thank you Sheila, I’m so happy you like the blogs. It was a nice weekend for us, although I came down with a sore throat. I don’t remember ever being sick on the 4th of July weekend, usually this sort of thing hits at Christmas! Have a lovely week, my friend. Those chairs on the July page are there for us — just imagine we’re sitting there having tea and looking out over the water!

      • Sheila

        Sharing those calendars has meant so much to me over the years. It’s as though each new porch becomes “our porch”…… a little club of sorts! Please don’t be tempted to buy the 2015 calendar. You’re in my CLUB, nearest and dearest! 🙂 Love, Sheila

        • Thank you Sheila! Let’s call it “Club Verandah” — with the appropriate Southern drawl of course, to imply the relaxed vibe! 😀 Pass me the iced tea, with a sprig of mint, please!

  4. singleseatfighterpilot

    If I had a nickel for every time I’d seen an image like the one in this post . . .

    • Hee-hee, the first thing I said to Jeff when I saw the house is “it looks different on the nickel.”

      • Sheila


  5. an interesting assessment of Jefferson…how we can see others faults but can’t see the “log” in our own eyes. We may know the right thing to do but fail to do it.
    Happy 4th July week end. 🙂

    • Thanks Merry, hope you had a wonderful holiday weekend! I am the world’s worst at knowing the right thing to do and not doing it. Life just gets in the way sometimes and we don’t get everything right, but we can keep trying. Maybe people who make mistakes are the best role models, as far as that goes. Just look at all the Bible characters!

  6. Carlyle

    A couple of very apt posts for Independence Day,

  7. I for some reason didn’t remember that Jefferson died broke. Must be that selective memory thing. I actually did the guided tour twice, ha. The fellow who lead the second tour I took was so gentlemanly and Southern (or how I think of as Southern gentle). He wore a crisp baby blue linen shirt (you know how they wrinkle) a bow tie and very light coloured slacks and shoes. I thought his accent was so dapper. I guess he made an impression because I still remember him, LOL. He was like Robert Redford’s, Finch Hatton in Dinesen’s ‘Out Of Africa’.
    Anywayyyyyys I digress, about the ‘gaining and loss of ground’, this had me thinking about weeds (“what? weeds? why?” she says). You can work at them every day and little by little you have the gravel path looking great, but don’t dare take a couple of days off because all that progress will be for not. Yep, an on-going effort and it’ll never be perfect. It’s the ol’ “Rome wasn’t built in a day” analogy. If we continually and enthusiastically chip away at making our countries better, they’ll probably never be worse but they’ll never be perfect.

    • I loved your description of that tour guide, you should write fiction. I have a perfect mental image of him (though it might be different from reality, but that doesn’t really matter) and I love it that you would notice those small details. Re: the weeds– we have experienced that dynamic in a dramatic way since we’ve been dividing our time between two homes. Our lovely York grounds get SO overgrown, it’s stunning to compare the photos. We forget what it looked like before, and find them amazing. Nonetheless, there is something quite satisfying about working away on a task on which one can make visible progress, even if one will never be finished. Weeds are a great analogy for many areas of life, political, spiritual, physical, etc. Those pesky “little” bad habits take a huge toll over the long run, so we have to chip away with enthusiasm, as you say. That enthusiasm is the “spoonful of sugar” that our perky hero sings about!

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