Thomas Jefferson Speaks

by Wilton Strickland

Over the past few months I have derived great pleasure from reading the firsthand accounts of the Founding Fathers, who confronted many of the same challenges we now face: a government contemptuous of the rule of law; the confusion of patriotism with obedience; and the task of creating a new form of government to replace the old, corrupt one. What makes our modern challenges even harder is that the Founders’ eloquence, learning, and historical understanding have gone extinct. Today’s “leaders” are not worthy to blacken the Founders’ boots, and one should read what the Founders said if for no other reason to find out what intelligent political discourse consists of.

Thomas Jefferson stands out as one of the most prominent of those men, since he set forth America’s revolutionary philosophy when authoring the Declaration of Independence, a document that could not possibly be drafted today. The Declaration announces for all time that humans are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that government is merely a servant whose job it is to protect those rights; and that any form of government failing to perform its job must be abolished. During the fifty years he lived after bestowing this gift on humankind, Jefferson often shared his thoughts on the progress of the nation he helped to create. I have selected a few of them to help you rest assured that we the “extremists” have right and justice on our side.

“Were not this great country already divided into states, that division must be made, that each might do for itself what concerns itself directly, and what it can so much better do than a distant authority. Every state again is divided into counties, each again into townships or wards, to manage minuter details; and every ward into farms, to be governed each by it’s individual proprietor. Were we directed from Washington when to sow, and when to reap, we should soon want bread. It is by the partition of cares, descending in gradation from general to particular, that the mass of human affairs may be best managed for the good and prosperity of all.”

“The capital and leading object of the [C]onstitution was to leave with the States all authorities which respected their own citizens only, and to transfer to the United States those which respected citizens of foreign or other States: to make us several as to ourselves, but one as to all others. In the latter case, then, constructions should lean to the general jurisdiction, if the words will bear it; and in favor of the estates in the former, if possible to be so construed.”

[T]he States should be watchful to note every material usurpation on their rights; to denounce them as they occur in the most peremptory terms; to protest against them as wrongs to which our present submission shall be considered, not as acknowledgments or precedents of right, but as a temporary yielding to a lesser evil, until their accumulation shall overweigh that of separation.”

“I see, as you do, and with the deepest affliction, the rapid strides with which the federal branch of our government is advancing towards the usurpation of all the rights reserved to the States, and the consolidation in itself of all powers, foreign and domestic; and that, too, by constructions which, if legitimate, leave no limits to their power. Take together the decisions of the federal court, the doctrines of the President, and the misconstructions of the constitutional compact acted on by the legislature of the federal branch, and it is but too evident, that the three ruling branches of that department are in combination to strip their colleagues, the State authorities, of the powers reserved by them, and to exercise themselves all functions foreign and domestic. Under the power to regulate commerce, they assume indefinitely that also over agriculture and manufactures, and call it regulation to take the earnings of one of these branches of industry, and that too the most depressed, and put them into the pockets of the other, the most flourishing of all. Under the authority to establish post roads, they claim that of cutting down mountains for the construction of roads, of digging canals, and aided by a little sophistry on the words “general welfare,” a right to do, not only the acts to effect that, which are specifically enumerated and permitted, but whatsoever they shall think, or pretend will be for the general welfare. And what is our resource for the preservation of the [C]onstitution? Reason and argument? You might as well reason and argue with the marble columns encircling them.”

“On every question of construction, carry ourselves back to the time when the [C]onstitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”

“It is not enough that honest men are appointed judges. All know the influence of interest on the mind of man, and how unconsciously his judgment is warped by that influence. To this bias add that of the esprit de corps, of their peculiar maxim and creed that “it is the office of a good judge to enlarge his jurisdiction,” and the absence of responsibility, and how can we expect impartial decision between the General government, of which they are themselves so eminent a part, and an individual state from which they have nothing to hope or fear. We have seen too that, contrary to all correct example, they are in the habit of going out of the question before them, to throw an anchor ahead and grapple further hold for future advances of power. They are then in fact the corps of sappers and miners, steadily working to undermine the independent rights of the States, and to consolidate all power in the hands of that government in which they have so important a freehold estate.”

A final quote is from an early draft of the Declaration of Independence, where Jefferson bids farewell to fellow countrymen whose habits and goals are irreconcilable with liberty. The time may be coming for us to do the same.

“We must endeavor to forget our former love for them, and hold them as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends. We might have been a free and a great people together; but a communication of grandeur and of freedom it seems is below their dignity. Be it so, since they will have it. The road to happiness and to glory is open to us too. We will tread it apart from them.”

© 2010 Liberty Defense League

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