I’m passing through DC at the moment and took the opportunity to visit the Thomas Jefferson’s Library exhibition at the Library of Congress. I’m the author of several books on Stoicism, including How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius. I know that Jefferson, like some of the other Founding Fathers, was well-read in classical philosophy, so I naturally wondered what he thought of Stoicism, the philosophy that most influences me.
However, it’s generally assumed that Jefferson was a follower of Epicurus’ philosophy because he owned several texts on the subject and, in 1819, wrote a letter to William Short stating: “I too am an Epicurean”. In the same letter, although he praises Seneca as a “fine moralist”, he also criticizes Stoicism. Nevertheless, there are obvious Stoic influences in Jefferson’s writings, especially toward the end of his life.