Why Did Thomas Jefferson Believe Classical Revival Was a More Appropriate Style Than Georgian for Public Buildings in the United States?

Thomas Jefferson popularized the Roman Classical Revival style because he wanted to make the comparison between the newborn United States and the influential Roman Empire of old. While the Georgian style drew inspiration from Greco-Roman architecture, it did not attempt to recreate the ancient temples and coliseums explicitly, making the influence more evident in the smaller details rather than the overall look.

Jefferson believed that buildings and architecture symbolized American ideology, likening the process of constructing a building to the construction of a nation. He also sought to establish a unique national architecture distinct from England’s.

Although he was heavily influenced by the Roman Classical Revival style, his design of the University of Virginia draws from Italian, Greek, French and Chinese styles interpreted through an American perspective. He maintained meticulous control over the construction of the University, adhering rigidly to classical order and betraying a conservative ideology that inevitably influenced its student body. The University was initially open only to white men, with no room for female or African-American students.

Eventually, American tastes switched to the Greek Revival style around 1820. After the War of 1812, Americans sought to distance themselves further from England. The Greek War of Independence also sparked sympathy in the American population from which interest in ancient Greece spread.