Pulitzer-winning author discusses education, Thomas Jefferson

MU also received an epitaph piece written by Jefferson to celebrate Loftin’s inauguration and MU’s 175th year.

Thomas Jefferson embodies both the best and worst of U.S. history because of his innovation in education and connection to slavery and the Trail of Tears, said Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “American Lion” and executive editor at Random House.

“My view is that we should not look up at (historical figures) adoringly, but not look down on them,” Meacham said. “Simply look at them in the eye.”

Meacham visited the Missouri Theater on Monday evening to share his knowledge of Jefferson and the founding father’s philosophies on education with students and faculty, as part of a weeklong celebration of the 175th anniversary of the university’s founding.

Meacham highlighted the importance of public education and how Jefferson promoted the three levels of education: Primary, secondary and higher education.

“Universities are about important work; it is in many ways Jefferson’s work,” Meacham said. “(Jefferson) gave us many things to aspire to.”

Meacham said universities are an extension of what Jefferson envisioned to achieve in order to educate the population, and that Jefferson even hoped to establish a public university in Washington, D.C.

“MU is a child of Jefferson’s politics and philosophy, of which can be said of America … he conceived the work of the university in Missouri as he conceived politics,” Meacham said.

Meacham said one of Jefferson’s biggest goals was to ensure that future generations are striving for innovation and success through education, and that the role of universities cannot be overstated, particularly during a time of celebrating Loftin’s inauguration as chancellor.

But Jefferson’s contribution went beyond expanding education.

Meacham said Jefferson’s facilitation of the Louisiana Purchase was a key turning point in the nation’s history and helped mold the U.S. into what it is today.

“We are on land that (Jefferson) arranged for us to own,” Meacham said. “He created the possibility for the world we know today.”

In addition to Meacham’s visit, MU received a marble slab from the Smithsonian Institute on which an epitaph written by Jefferson is inscribed. According to a news release, the epitaph piece will eventually be put on display in Jesse Hall.

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