The Glorious Enigma
The United States' first two Presidents, George Washington and John Adams, were remarkable men, the former was earthy and prudent, the latter fiery and luminous. But if these two were extraordinary then the third President of the United States was astonishing. Thomas Jefferson was a multifaceted genius who demonstrated all his life an insatiable curiosity, constant restlessness and enormous energy. The curiosity was to be expected of course; all Rationals are instinctively curious, and they search unceasingly for problems, enigmas, paradoxes, puzzles. But Jefferson's turbulent curiosity and his inventiveness were immense.
He had an unending fascination with philosophy, political and economic theory, architecture, inventions, science and technology. He single-handedly designed and founded the University of Virginia, was the architect for his own home, Monticello, and for the homes of a number of his friends; he also studied a half dozen languages, some mathematics, astronomy, surveying, botany and zoology, and became successful as a lawyer, farmer, philosopher, political scientist, writer, scientist, musician, and inventor. In his spare time he also managed to become a respectable violinist. He was also the holder of several patents and, along with his other activities, found time to devise a folding chair, a dumbwaiter, swivel chair, pedometer, and a lazy Susan.
He was, like most Rationals, deeply interested in technology. The introduction of phosphorus matches fired his curiosity, and he was intrigued by the first experiments with balloons large enough to carry men. When in France he noted the new European means of mass production of firearms, including the novel notion of interchangeable parts for these weapons. And along with his other inventions he also developed a small printing press.
In his college years at William and Mary he studied philosophy, the literary classics and mathematics, and the law. He was deeply engrossed in his studies and could at any time, as one of his classmate recalled, "tear himself away from his dearest friends and fly to his studies." Even in college his thinking was characterized by a terrible intensity, by great complexity, and by remarkable precision. Jefferson was not just a Rational; he was a brilliant Rational. He was able to master almost anything to which he turned his mind and almost automatically (and without any ambition to become a politician) he became a legislator, a Governor, a Congressman, a diplomat, the Secretary of State, Vice-President, and President of the United States. So outstanding were his abilities that almost a century and a half later President John F. Kennedy, hosting a White House dinner for a group of Nobel Prize winners, described that remarkable group as "the most distinguished gathering of talents ever assembled in the Executive Mansion except for when Jefferson dined there alone."
Fortunately for the United States, Jefferson was as passionately dedicated to the new nation as were his presidential precursors, Washington and Adams. His remarkable gifts were brought to bear in pursuit of a United States that would focus first, last, and always on the well-being and independence of its ordinary citizens, who were the true heirs of the virtues of good government. Jefferson believed this very strongly, and the aristocratic Washington and Adams must have had mixed emotions upon hearing his comment that "kings are the servants, not the proprietors of the people."
Consistent with his convictions, Jefferson undertook the practice of law in 1767 (he was only twenty-three at the time), served in the Virginia colonial legislature, was a member of Virginia's delegation to the Continental Congress, wrote the Declaration of Independence, was Governor of Virginia during the revolution, diplomatic Minister to France after the war, Secretary of State under Washington, Vice-President under John Adams, and finally President of the United States.
Thomas Jefferson was a man of striking contrasts. In spite of his busy public life the apparent contradictions in his makeup have always escaped clear and simple portraiture. Quoting Henry Adams, one of Jefferson's biographers remarked that all our early Presidents except for Jefferson can be drawn with a few broad strokes of the brush. "But the master of Monticello, with his shifting lights and shades, nuances and translucencies, defies even the finest pencil."
That he was enigmatic to his observers, then and now, owes itself in important part to his temperament. Jefferson was a Rational, and the Rationals are complex creatures. But more to the point, he was a Rational Engineer, one of only three who have become Presidents of the United States. (The other two were James Madison and Abraham Lincoln, neither of whom could be considered straightforward in the organization of their character.)
The Organizer Rationals, such as John Adams, are directors, ordering people about without a second thought, though without the least interest in "dominating" or lording it over others. Recall John Adams: his preference for giving directives rather than giving information was pronounced, as one would expect of an energetic Organizer. Jefferson the Engineer Rational, on the other hand, was not in the least directive. He naturally and comfortably informed others; giving directives was much less comfortable. When he did give directions it was only after much thought and rumination-perhaps too much rumination at times. Engineer Rationals are usually discontent and even uncomfortable when circumstances force them to command.
Still, though they give information willingly, and even irrepressibly at times, Engineer Rationals are difficult to know well. The soft-spoken but eloquent Thomas Jefferson was easy to know as an acquaintance but, like all Engineers, almost impossible to know intimately. He preferred conversation to action, but the conversation was about ideas, concepts, abstractions, not small talk about himself.
Jefferson's thinking had a terrible intensity and he guarded his private world carefully so that others rarely had access to it. Yet he longed for friends and, at least in his youth, found some time to enjoy a reasonably outgoing and cheerful social life. Though he was profoundly discreet about his own personal world he enjoyed lengthy conversations about abstract and complex ideas and was considered one of the best conversationalists of his time. He usually showed a calm and even manner but some people considered that he was at times held prisoner by his own dark and brooding thoughts. There were times, as when his wife died, when this thoughtful, and self-controlled Engineer seemed to have been captured by the most agonizing despair imaginable. In all this, except perhaps for the remarkable intensity of his reactions and the brilliance of his thinking, he was a typical Engineer Rational.
In spite of his glowing intelligence and constant activity Jefferson had a reputation among some for being hopelessly lazy. John Adams complained vigorously about this from time to time. From the perspective of an Organizer like Adams, Jefferson might indeed look lazy or at least wasteful of time and effort. Jefferson was not an Organizer Rational; he was an Engineer Rational. He preferred learning to leading, reporting to commanding, suggesting to directing, open inquiry to final certainty. Taking public action, giving commands, exerting control, "making it happen" were never his preference except when his most strongly held beliefs were at stake. Even with his remarkable command of language he seemed to dislike public speaking.
To write an essay or a book, however, or quietly to design a building, write a declaration, a constitution, or to consult with others similarly occupied-these were the modes of involvement most favored by him and most natural to him. Perhaps there were those who saw these activities as somehow the frivolous behaviors of a "lazy" man. But had they been able to observe the furious pace and endless complexity of his thought they would have stood astonished at the enormous activity of Jefferson's mind.
Jefferson further demonstrates nicely the distinction between the Organizer Rational and the Engineer Rational in the wide range of his interests and in the frequent shifts of his focus from one interest to another. One does not find here the single-mindedness of the Organizer, the persistent fixed focus on a project or interest until it is complete. Consider for example the history of his book, Notes on the State of Virginia . He began the book merely as a set of replies to questions posed by a European friend about Virginia. As he wrote Jefferson expanded his replies-including in his notes other matters which he wanted to address-until a full-fledged book had emerged. In it Jefferson spoke to a very wide diversity of topics, making observations and rendering judgments, some of which, by the way, were controversial and a few quite inflammatory. Overall the book was intelligent, informed, and entertaining and is still interesting and readable today.
Excerpted from Presidential Temperament by David Keirsey, PhD and Ray Choiniere
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