Chinard argued forcefully that when it came to the Declaration as well as to the laws of Virginia, Jefferson understood what would and would not work in America. “No greater mistake could be made than to look for his sources in Locke, Montesquieu, or Rousseau,” Chinard argued, most certainly exaggerating to make a point. “The Jeffersonian democracy was born under the sign of Hengist and Horsa, not of the Goddess Reason.” As proof of this, Chinard—himself, it should be remembered, of French birth and stock—drew upon John Adams’ description of Jefferson’s proposed seal of the United States in 1776. “Mr. Jefferson proposed, the children of Israel in the wilderness led by a cloud by day, and a pillar by night—and on the other side, Hengist and Horsa, the Saxon chiefs, from whom we claim the honor of being descended, and whose political principles and form of government we have assumed.” Even if you’re an extremely intelligent reader—and, after all, you wouldn’t be here at The American Conservative if you weren’t—you might be scratching your head as you read this. Newton and Locke, certainly. You know them well. But Hengist and Horsa? Who on God’s green earth are these two? Unless you spend your time reading early Medieval Celtic or Anglo-Saxon poetry—such as Beowulf—or modern British fantasy by C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, Hengist and Horsa probably mean almost or even less than nothing. The two Saxon chiefs reside more accurately in myth than they do in history, at least as professional historians understand the term.
For Jefferson, though, Hengist and Horsa represented the great republican tradition of the Germanic tribes sitting under the oak trees, deciding what was common law and what was not, speaking as representatives of their people in the Witan, and living as free men, bound to no emperor. To the American founding generation, Hengist and Horsa were as real as Cincinnatus, the Roman republican who threw down the sword, refused a permanent dictatorship of the city, and walked into the country to spend his life as a farmer. In the long scheme of things, the accuracy of the founders’ understanding of history matters little. They believed in Cincinnatus, Hengist, and Horsa, and they acted accordingly.Many scholars, including myself, see the American Founding as a synthesis of competing ideologies. Jefferson for instance, self consciously tried to take "the best" from the different groups in forming his vision. (In the context of religion, he called it Apriarianism, where he analogized himself to a bee taking the "honey" from every sect.)
This could be seen as a larger project of Western civilization itself which has different ideologies in its makeup, some religious, some secular, some pagan. We have often heard about the "twin" foundings of Western Civilization: Athens and Jerusalem.
"Athens" is the noble pagan source. But it also has another pagan source whose nobility is more questionable than Athens': The Anglo Saxon. Remember, Thursday is Thor's Day.
The Norse gods, like the Greek's certainly have nobility embedded in their tales, along with some ignobility. But Anglo-Saxon paganism lacks one major thing that Greco-Romanism has that arguably is responsible for most of the latter's nobility: Philosophers like Aristotle, Socrates, the Roman Stoics, etc.
In fact, my friend Wayne Dynes believes the Hengist and Horsa represent white ethnonationalism, something many of us consider to be quite ignoble.