History remembers Thomas Jefferson as one of the most influential Founders. Few have rivaled his influence on the American experiment.
His words and deeds endure not only in his statements and political career. His architectural legacy also passes the test of time. His Virginia Capitol established Classical antecedents as the basis for the design of American public buildings. The Virginia Capitol makes philosophical observations as deep as the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville.
The University of Virginia’s Rotunda stands as Jefferson’s masterpiece and may be the greatest building in the United States. It gives the university an academical village of beauty and inspiration. The placement emphasized old world roots while the lawn opened to the virginity of the West. It is not a coincidence that the Jefferson who designed the Rotunda wrote the Declaration of Independence, purchased Louisiana and commissioned Lewis and Clark. Jefferson’s Statute of Religious Freedom contributed to the vibrancy of church life that persists to this very day.
In 1820, Jefferson stated the ideals:
“This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”
The Rotunda eventually fell into disuse. Students seldom visited it; they preferred local dives. The Rotunda closed for two years during renovations. The project has restored the building’s centrality. The reopened place represents the university in the intellect as well as on postcards. It gives all of Virginia goals to attain. U.Va. President Teresa Sullivan pays deference to the school’s father. The Rotunda motivates the search for her successor. The flame burns.