Last Friday, we enjoyed a great talk by Jon Meacham, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. He delivered the inaugural presentation in our year-long series, Moral and Ethical Leadership in the American Presidency, which launches our Mosher Center for Moral and Ethical Leadership.
The Westmont Mosher Center will focus on three primary objectives: host national conversations of consequence, provide regional executive education, and enhance undergraduate leadership development. We’re incredibly grateful to the Mosher Foundation, and especially to Ed and Sue Birch, for their commitment to provide this exciting opportunity for the college.
I appreciated Meacham’s fascinating presentation. As a robust question-and-answer time followed his remarks, the audience also found him engaging. His wide-ranging intellect and his delightful sense of humor kept the event moving. He commented on Jefferson’s love of family and belief that the family plays an important role as the first proving ground of our character formation and the place where we develop the cooperation and compromise that make a democracy possible. He responded to questions regarding Jefferson’s cautious and somewhat hesitant view of Napoleon despite Jefferson’s love of all things French. In fact, he saw in Napoleon the very hallmarks of power run amuck that threatened the fullest range and expression of the human spirit.
He also observed that Jefferson was in many respects a lifelong undergraduate, always pursuing new ideas and people with whom to explore the vast array of human curiosity and learning. Ultimately, Jefferson exhibited the great Enlightenment confidence in the role of education in preparing the public for its proper role in society, offering a long quote from Ronald Reagan’s address at the University of Virginia in 1988 as evidence of this commitment. President Reagan highlighted Jefferson’s “transforming genius” with these words, “The pursuit of science, the study of the great works, the value of free inquiry, in short, the very idea of living the life of the mind—yes, these formative and abiding principles of higher education in America had their first and firmest advocate, and their greatest embodiment, in [Jefferson], a friendly man who watched this university take form from the mountainside where he lived, the university whose founding he called a crowning achievement to a long and well-spent life.”
It was a privilege to welcome Jon Meacham to Westmont and to mark the launch of a great new initiative at the college. We look forward to Bob Woodward coming January 16 as the second speaker in this year-long series.