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How did we get here? Part 8

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By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist

We are approaching, but not quite at, the middle of my list of people who shaped our modern world. Up through John Harrison – our subject last week – you might have thought of these people as living in very olden times.

I think the tone will begin to change now, as we start talking about people of what I would consider more modern times.

First up is George Washington. Born in 1732 and dying in 1799 at a relatively young 67 – even for his times – he is known by many. Considered the “Father of our Country,” these days he is loved or hated. When I was growing up, we were taught to revere Washington.

I’ll say this for Washington: He was one sharp cookie (although some historians even dispute this) and a fearless leader. Likely if he had not been in charge of the Continental Army, the place where we are today would look very different. We might even still be part of the British Commonwealth, in the way that Canada and Australia are.

Known for honesty, leadership and farming, Washington, at the time, was also the biggest whiskey distiller in the United States. Turning your corn crop into liquid gold was the highest value and the most easily transportable way to merchandise a corn crop.

George could “cut the rug,” too. At parties, the ladies all wanted to get on his dance card – as one historian said, he was “a real minuet man.”

Next, we need to jump back into the mathematicians for a minute. Pierre-Simon Laplace was born in 1749 in France and deserves a little recognition. He lived until modern times, passing away in 1827.

He is known for much original work in mathematics, astronomy, physics and engineering. He is well known for summarizing the work of his predecessors, whom we have covered, into a five-volume set named “Celestial Mechanics.” He started this work in 1799 and wrapped it up in 1825. It is considered a seminal work on mathematics and physics.

Remember how Newton looked at the construct of the universe and concluded there must be a master designer (God)? Laplace, an atheist, looked at the same world and came to exactly the opposite conclusion – the universe did not need a designer. Hmm.

Laplace had a political role also. Prudently, he was not involved in politics during the French Revolution, otherwise he might not have survived those times. However, in 1799, immediately after seizing power, Napoleon appointed Laplace minister of the interior.

Our next person to discuss is Thomas Jefferson. Much like Washington, he has gone through periods of popularity and likely is currently suffering from the same criticisms as Washington, but even more so.

Personally, I think we should study these people – warts and all, a standard we should follow to this day and somewhat seem to be in tune with now.

Accomplishments here? The Declaration of Independence, Louisiana Purchase and architect of one of the neatest houses in North America come to mind. And since I don’t have Frank Lloyd Wright on the list, I’ll say right here that Falling Water, designed by Wright, is the other seminal house design in North America. Coincidentally, Monticello and Falling Water are approximately 230 miles apart and are both located in the Appalachian Mountains.

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at

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