Thomas Jefferson, and his Buried Liberalism
Even after the American Revolution was over, the fight to preserve the people’s liberties continued for Thomas Jefferson, and he found its threats at every turn. He tried to instill conditions in which the fight could be continued indefinitely, and if not, he knew the republic would fall. Coming fresh out from under British rule, Thomas Jefferson felt danger to liberty was inherent in a consolidated centralized government. Although it was clear that Jefferson was concerned with any tyranny or usurpation of power, the most prominent cause for concern at the time was over extended power of one’s own government. Jefferson’s mission was to equip the people and the states with the tools they needed to prevent any tyranny, especially that of their own government. As Jefferson dealt with the practical problems of the country during his presidency, he began to realize abusive power may come from anywhere or anyone, and was willing to use the federal government as a tool for the people’s protection, even at the risk of increasing federal strength.
Thomas Jefferson falls within the assemblage of the greatest liberals of all time. For Jefferson, democracy was power of the peoples. Jefferson pressed that "the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is its natural manure" (qtd. in Familiar Quotations 343). To Jefferson, protecting the natural rights and power of the individuals was the primary purpose of government. Jefferson wanted equal voting for all, with each and every person the same ability to be a part of the democracy. Concentration of wealth, and financial influence on democracy, which are accepted practices in modern society, would not have been permitted in the Jefferson presidency. Jefferson was a liberal for the general welfare of all people at any cost. He was a man who hated government favoritism given to bankers or industrialists, and equated this favoritism to the path to the monarchy he had just fought against. Jeffersonian principles are misunderstood, and misused to support big business, even though this staunch agrarian hated urbanization. He feared industrialization as the root of corruption.
Preserving the natural rights for man is an ancient idea, developed to protect the average person from tyranny of the powerful. A significant leap in these rights can be traced to the Magna Carta of 1215, which was used by rich barons to protect themselves against the tyranny of their King. It was a powerful statement for our founding fathers to write a Bill of Rights in the Constitution of our country as law. One of the men who insisted upon its inclusion was Thomas Jefferson. After Thomas Jefferson reviewed the newly drawn up Constitution, he told Madison of his primary grievance. "First the omission of a bill of rights providing clearly and without the aid of sophisms for freedom of religion, freedom of the press, protection against standing armies, restriction against monopolies, the eternal and unremitting force of the habeas corpus laws, and trials by jury" (Portable Jefferson 429).
A Bill of Rights was necessary for the type of political structure Jefferson envisioned, one in which every person was equal in power, and no single person or institution would be able to abuse their power. Jefferson wanted the fundamental rights of each individual to take precedent over all other laws:
Jefferson’s theory of local self-government and individualism obviously could not have been derived from French political institutions. And while he started from the hypothesis of Hobbes and Locke that in a state of nature man is free, he maintained contrary to Rousseau and Locke, that upon forming a civil society man does not surrender all of his natural rights. While Locke used the doctrine of natural rights to limit the state, Jefferson used it as a basis for a fundamental law established by the people. Jefferson was as original as Rousseau, Hobbes, Harrington, Montesquie, or Locke-all in fact borrowing from the same general stock of ideas, though differing fundamentally in their combination of such elements. (Principles 8)
Concerned about the rise of any form of tyranny, Jefferson wanted tools in government to work as inherent checks upon itself and provide safeguards against the vandalism of the Bill of Rights. Of these tools were to have an unrestricted press, an educated public to judge it with, and the right for all to vote. Although no system is perfect, he thought it better to allow the people to err, rather than to permit a power that restricts the people. "The people are the only censors of their governors: and even their errors will tend to keep the true principles of their institution. To only punish these errors too severely would be to suppress the only safeguard of public liberty" (Portable Jefferson 414).
For Jefferson, this was the imperfect government, but the best government. Occasionally he experienced the imperfections, mainly with the press. He had received much bad press from those who he thought were not interested in the preservation of the republic. Despite these problems, he felt, "were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter" (Portable Jefferson 415). By his second term in office, his problems were ever increasing with the press, and he made a point to speak against it in his second inaugural speech. It was obvious by his being elected that the people were able to be their own judges in the midst of the press hysteria. "The artillery of the press has levelled against us, charged with whatsoever its licentiousness could devise or dare. These abuses of an institution so important to freedom and science, are deeply to be regretted… and the offenders have therefore been left to find their punishment in the public indignation" (Portable Jefferson 319).
Even though a nation courts an inherent self-danger when it allows citizens speak in subversive ways, Jefferson believed in protecting all individuals’ freedoms at any cost. He urged in his First Inaugural Address, "if there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as moments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it" (Portable Jefferson 292). Jefferson had experience with this problem first hand, when the Federalists passed laws to prosecute subversive activities. In this case, the Sedition Act was used against Jefferson himself, as well as his supporters. "Jefferson thought the Sedition Act was intended to wreck the Republican press" (Aristocrat 172).
With this Act’s passage, basic freedoms were in trouble, and Jefferson felt the people needed inherent protection against what could be "tyranny against the mind." He acted firmly, but quietly:
Casting about for a weapon against the Alien and Sedition Acts, he turned to the states. Behind the scenes he and James Madison drafted the famous Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798. The Kentucky assembly passed resolutions drawn up by Jefferson, and then the Virginia assembly adopted others drafted by Madison. The resolutions declared that the national government had violated the Bill of Rights, and that when the central authority threatened the people’s liberties, the states ‘have the right and are in duty bound to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil.’ This amounted to saying that the states had the right to set aside a federal law they considered unconstitutional. (Aristocrat 173)
In the Kentucky Resolutions, Jefferson wrote that the Sedition laws "are altogether void, and of no force; … no power over the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, or freedom of the press being delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, all lawful powers respecting the same did of right remain, and were reserved to the States or the people" (Portable Jefferson 282). Also in offense was the Alien Act. Of this, he said the government cannot "remove a person out of the United States, who is under accusation without jury, without public trial, without confrontation of witnesses against him, without hearing witnesses in his favor, without defence, without counsel, is contrary to the provision also of the Constitution, is therefore not law, but utterly void, and of no force" (Portable Jefferson 285). This first major battle to preserve our rights was won by Jefferson, but unfortunately many other examples, like the Japanese detention of WWII, McCarthyism, and the recent Anti-Terrorism and Secret Evidence Act, seem to continue to plague our freedoms.
VOTING AND EDUCATION
Considering that the decision to revolt against the British was made chiefly by wealthy aristocrats who were accustomed to wielding power over the lower classes, Jefferson demonstrates an incredible moral strength by insisting that voting rights should go to all men, not just the wealthy. There were many, like Alexander Hamilton, who disagreed with this notion. As Jefferson said in his Virginia Notes, it was the only way to prevent abuses of power. "It has been thought that corruption is restrained by confined the right of suffrage to a few of the wealthier of the people: but it would be more effectually restrained by an extension of that right to such numbers as would bid defiance to the means of corruption" (Portable Jefferson 199).
The idea behind providing voting rights for all people was to distribute and decentralize power as much as possible. "If every individual which composes their mass participates of the ultimate authority, the government will be safe; because corrupting the whole mass will exceed any private resources of wealth: and public ones cannot be provided but by levies on the people" (Portable Jefferson 199). To secure and maximize participation of all people, they would also need to be educated:
From the beginning of the statehood of Virginia until his death fifty years later in 1826, Jefferson struggled to establish universal education, ‘the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.’ Regarding education as the best means of eliminating man’s natural defects and incapacitates to maintain constitutional liberty, Jefferson proposed in 1776 that Virginia establish a system of public education, consisting of elementary schools in every community, of twenty grammar schools, and of William and Mary College, with scholarships for both to be given to especially selected poor boys of promise. (Principles 170)
Jefferson believed education for all was an essential part of maintaining a free nation. Throughout history, education has been used as a tool of power to retain class structure. But education can also empower the underprivileged and improve or reverse their situation. By writing education into law, Jefferson knew he was creating one more safeguard against the power of tyranny:
But of all the views of this law none is more important, none is more legitimate, than that of rendering the people safe, as they are the ultimate, guardians of their own liberty. Apprising them of the past will enable them to judge of the future; it will avail them of the experience of other times and of other nations; it will quality them as judges of the actions of other men; it will enable them to know ambition under every disguise it may assume; and knowing it, to defeat its views. In every government on earth is some trace of human weakness, some germ of corruption and degeneracy, which cunning will discover, and wickedness insensibly open, cultivate, and improve. Every government degenerates when trusted to the rules of the people alone. The people themselves therefore are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe their minds must be improved to a certain degree. This indeed is not all that is necessary, tough it be essentially necessary. An amendment of our constitution must here in aid of the public education. The influence over government must be shared among all the people. (Portable Jefferson 198)
The poor were not considered any less intelligent or any less able to rule in the eyes of Jefferson. As always, it was important to Thomas Jefferson that all the people participate in the government. In his Virginia Notes, he wrote of "our plan which prescribes the selection of the youths of genius from among the classes of the poor, we hope to avail the state of those talents which perish without use, if not sought for and cultivated" (Portable Jefferson 193). The poor inherently have multiple disadvantages when it comes to education, one also being access to expensive materials. Jefferson wanted to take any steps necessary to close the barriers to the lower class acquiring the knowledge and education they desired. Jefferson’s Monticello home had an impressive library, and a book was not a commodity hard to come by for the wealthy. To close this gap for the poor, he wanted the public to provide such resources for use to all men. Tailing his "Virginia Notes" on education, he says, "lastly, it is proposed, by a bill in this revisal, to begin public library and gallery, by laying out certain sum annually in books, paintings, and statues" (Portable Jefferson 199).
There has always been controversy surrounding Thomas Jefferson and the issue of slavery. Although he spoke against slavery, it he was also a slaveholder. Even more controversial was his idea to expel all the blacks from America. Much of this has been misinterpreted, and the truth is that Jefferson wanted equality for all men, including blacks. He wanted to end slavery in theory, but in practice, he knew there was no simple solution. He was wise enough to predict that simply freeing the slaves, and integrating blacks equally into a racist society would be a revolutionary undertaking in itself. As usual, he was able to foresee the cascading problems both whites and blacks would be confronting in the face of emancipation. Despite these problems, he felt blacks, as all men, should be free to live with dignity. This could only be achieved by returning the slaves to the countries of their origins, at the expense of the nation. He explained these feelings clearly in his Virginia Notes: "Why not retain and incorporate the blacks into the state, and this save the expence of supplying, by importation of white settlers, the vacancies they will leave? Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained" (Portable Jefferson 186). Although Jefferson wasn’t racist, it was clear to Jefferson that the problems of racism wouldn’t end merely by emancipation.
Thomas Jefferson is known for his limiting of federal power and decentralization. The main fear of our revolutionary founding fathers was still fresh in their minds: the tyranny of the King. Much of their actions to limit power were taken from their experience in dealing with a monarchy. Some argue that decentralization weakens a government, but Jefferson responded to this in his first inaugural address: "I believe this… the strongest government on earth. I believe it is the one where every man… would meet invasions of the public order as his own personal concern. Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question" (Portable Jefferson 292).
The fight against centralization turned practically into an outright war, as Alexander Hamilton, the appointed Secretary of the Treasury, began implementing his plan to centralize the banking structure. Although now we are comfortable with the private Federal Reserve of New York controlling the economy and currency, this idea terrified our revolutionary founding fathers. "Jefferson contended that Hamilton’s financial measures adopted during Washington’s first administration meant the restoration of mercantilism, from which the colonies had revolted, and the re-establishment of a strong centralized government. He believed their inevitable result would be the creation of a bureaucratic type government. This, he said, was not the type of government the founding fathers had fought for" (Principles 104).
For Jefferson, giving Hamilton a National Bank was giving entrepreneurs too much power. He wasn’t ignorant of financial matters, as some accuse him off. "Jefferson also was… a champion of fiscal responsibility" (Shenkir 15). He was not in favor of helping financial interests, or any other power interests. Jefferson’s only interest was limiting power. Jefferson said "to give them the sole and exclusive right of banking under the national authority; and so far is against the laws of Monopoly" (Portable Jefferson 262). Jefferson fought against the National Bank on Constitutional grounds. One of his arguments is what’s known strict construction. "The incorporation of a bank, and the powers assumed by this bill, have not, in my opinion, been delegated to the United States, by the Constitution" (Portable Jefferson 262). Much of the bureaucracy and powers of government today are a result of loose construction. This was a fear Jefferson had. He "feared that the resort by the Secretary of the Treasury to loose constructionism to justify the constitutionality of the bank would prove a foot in the door that would enable him to move increasingly in the direction of the more consolidated government he was know to favor. Jefferson attributed to motives of personal profit the support given Hamilton by a number of Congressmen who owned securities" (Growth 124).
Often Jefferson is misinterpreted as one who would always choose to help the capitalists. This is not true, and is actually more of an attribute of Alexander Hamilton. On his National Bank, "Hamilton had set the government to helping the capitalists at the expense of the agrarians" (Tradition 39). Jefferson did not trust capitalists or bankers, or their motives. Capitalists have managed to echo through history his mistrust for the federal government as a case to support free enterprise. It is often omitted that Jefferson spoke of financial and industrial entrepreneurs with mistrust, and in fact would prefer to use the federal government to limit their power, rather than give them free reign.
The people who Jefferson really thought he could trust were the common farmers. He thought that the ones who worked the land had intentions of benefiting the earth and their farming, and did not feel they were capable of the same usurpation of power as the financiers and industrialists. "Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue… Corruption of morals in mass of cultivators is a phenomenon of which no age nor nation has furnished an example" (Portable Jefferson 216). These feelings for Jefferson never did change, despite some of his actions during his presidency. "The nation’s experience before and during the War of 1812 does not mark, as is sometimes implied, his permanent shift to the cause of industrialism. He reacted angrily to the Tariff of 1824, and six months before his death deplored, in a letter to Madison, that ‘the general prostration of the farming business, under levies for the support of manufacturers, etc. with the calamitous fluctuations of value in our paper medium, have kept agriculture in a state of abject depression’" (Growth 114)
In fact, Jefferson was so worried about America being infested with corruption by the growing of industry, he wanted to keep industry out of the country:
For the general operations of manufacturer, let our workshops remain in Europe. It is better to carry provisions and materials to workmen there, than bring them to the provisions and materials, and with them their manners and principles. The loss by the transportation of commodities across the Atlantic will be made up in happiness and permanence of government. The mobs of great cities add just so much to the support of pure government, as sores do to the strength of the human body. It is the manner and spirit of a people which preserve a public vigour. A degeneracy in these is a canker which soon eats to the heart of its laws and constitution. (Portable Jefferson 217)
Jefferson realized that corruption breeds and consolidates in industry and financial institutions. In the days of Thomas Jefferson, the danger of big industry was minimal, and Jefferson was obviously wishing America would always stay an agrarian society, in which the corruption of industry would not be a threat. In later years, in the times following the industrial revolution, Thomas Jefferson would have obviously been a major supporter of heavy regulation and government control of large industry. Jefferson has shown during his presidency that he was willing to sacrifice limited government for the cause of curtailing power and corruption. "The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government" (qtd.in Familiar Quotations 344). Jefferson saw Hamilton as a broker for this financial power, and handing out what has been coined today by Ralph Nader as corporate welfare. It’s been over two centuries, and many of the fights for the progressive left have not changed. "He spoke for the anti-Federalists, the southern planters and the small farmers of all regions who saw the government was helping business by generous credit while giving themselves no relief from debt and taxation. They felt threatened by the power of the ‘ins,’ of the Federal Party. Jefferson viewed Hamilton as a monarchist at heart, a dangerous reactionary" (Portable Jefferson 137).
Today in America, you hardly ever see a candidate who has not used the power behind a political party to acquire his position. This was the way it has been since the days of Thomas Jefferson, but not by design. Parties formed in American when politicians were looking to increase their power by forming coalitions. Originally, it was thought that this kind of power seeking was a remnant of a monarchy type system, and should be left to the monarchies:
Most Americans in the early 1790’s did not want parties. Not only the exalted George Washington, who was trying to be President of all people, but Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison railed against the spirit of party. ‘If I could not go to heaven but with a party,’ Jefferson exclaimed, ‘I would not go there at all.’ An anonymous Philadelphian spoke for many Americas when he wrote in a local paper: ‘We want no Ticket Mongers: let every citizen exercise his own judgement, and we shall have a good representation- intrigue, favoritism, cabal and part will be at rest.’ Part stood for selfish and petty maneuver. (Deadlock 27)
George Washington was the only president who claimed no party affiliation whatsoever. "Late in 1796, when Washington gave his farewell speech against parties, the language of party dialogue was complete" (Deadlock 29). This was the ideal at the time, by a people who wanted a President to be chosen by all the people, and not just a faction of the people. "Such a wholly individualistic politics could not last; inevitably politicians would join forces with like-minded men in order to concert and broaden their power. The only question was when and how" (Deadlock 28). Although it was Alexander Hamilton who began forming factions to support his cause, it was those who were against Hamilton that actually built the first political party. "Meeting in informal caucus, its leaders easily agreed on Jefferson as their presidential nominee. By the end of Washington’s second term, in short, America had its first national party in the Republicans" (Deadlock 30).
Despite the growing factions of Republicans and Federalists, the idea of having no parties still remained as the ideal for many decades. Many were holding on the idea that their opposing party was not actually an opposing faction within the country, but a group of people wishing to destroy the Republic, and therefore should not be given the legitimacy of being an opposing government faction. Jefferson’s plan of government allowed opposition and debate within government, but not as legitimate power holding parties:
This did not apply to the Federalist leaders, whom he considered irredeemable monarchists, a mere faction he wished to sink into the abyss so deep as to make its resurrection impossible, as he once put it. ‘I will not say our party, the term is false and degrading, but our nation,’ he wrote in 1811. ‘For the Republicans are the nation. Their opponents are but a faction, weak in numbers, but powerful and profuse in the command of money, and backed by England…The greatest good we can do our county is to heal its party divisions & make them one people,’ he wrote in July 1801. (Growth 114)
Thomas Jefferson furthered his thoughts on bringing all the people together united as one, under the republic during his first inaugural speech. "We are all republicans-we are all federalists" (Portable Jefferson 292). At the time, this prevailing wind against these power structures within the government was the norm of the majority. One must wonder what Thomas Jefferson would think if he were to view the current entrenchment of political parties in today’s republic.
Not having parties was one way Jefferson planned on politicians controlled by possible corruption or usurpation. Another method Jefferson strongly believed in is something that is still in debate today. It’s now referred to as term limits. Although it wasn’t until FDR that there was a legal limit put on the executive to two term limits, Jefferson always had the desire for immediate rotation of the president’s office. To Jefferson, not having term limits was just one more possibility for corruption. As always, Jefferson’s primary concern with government was instilling the tools necessary to prevent gain of power, "to keep the wolf out of the fold." In a letter to Madison discussing his problems with the proposed constitution, he wrote, "the second feature I dislike, and greatly dislike, is the abandonment in every instance of the necessity of rotation in office, and most particularly in the case of President. Experience concurs with reason in concluding that the first magistrate will always be re-elected if the constitution permits it. He is then an officer for life. This once observed it becomes of so much consequence to certain nations to have a friend or a foe at the head of our affairs that they will interfere with money and with arms" (Portable Jefferson 430).
TERM LIMITS AND DEBT
Although the people had the right to vote a president out of office, Jefferson, as usual, had a foresight of the capacity of the power which people don’t see today. Jefferson saw that the people themselves are victims of usurpation, and often may not even know when they are used as the tools for such plays for power. In this case, there was the possibility that the right to vote a candidate out of office was not the complete solution in itself. "An incapacity to be elected a second time would have been the only effectual preventative. The power of removing him every fourth year by the vote of the people is a power which will not be exercised" (Portable Jefferson 431).
The presidency wasn’t the only remnant of previous generations Jefferson wanted rotated out. "Over the next 15 years he continued to stress the obligation of each generation to relinquish power to its successor. In 1816, he said that the ‘globe, and everything upon it, belongs to its present … inhabitants, during their generations’" (McDonald 289). Jefferson thought the "earth was for the living." He also didn’t want any debt to be there left by the previous administrations, no matter what the circumstances. War was no exception. "Revenue…may meet within the year all the expenses of the year, without encroaching on the rights of future generations, by burdening them with the debts of the past. War will then be but a suspension of useful works, and a return to a state of peace, a return to the progress of improvement" (Portable Jefferson 317). He would be much disturbed by the deficit spending of the past few decades. In addition, Jefferson wanted a rotation of many laws, which may not have applied to future generations. He thought laws should naturally expire "at the end of 19 years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right" (McDonald 289).
JEFFERSON AGAINST POWER
Although Jefferson’s original idea was to have almost no government or bureaucracy, this was not the main goal. This was really just the means in which Jefferson was to achieve what were his real intentions, to curb the power gain of anybody or any institution, including the power gain of financiers and industries. At the time of Jefferson, limited government was the method he used to reach his ideal of democracy, which was not favoring power or the rich. "Where modern liberals have looked to government interference as a means of helping the poor, Jefferson, in common with other eighteenth century liberals, thought of it chiefly as an unfair means of helping the rich through interest-bearing debts, taxation, tariffs, banks, privileges, and bounties. He concluded that the only necessary remedy under republican government would be to deprive the rich of these devices and restore freedom and equality through ‘natural’ economic forces. Because he did not usually think of economic relationships as having an inherent taint of exploitation in them, he saw no necessity to call upon the state to counteract them." (Tradition 39).
JEFFERSON STRENGTHENS THE FEDERAL
This changed during his Presidency. When it became necessary to use federal power to counter power, Jefferson did not hesitate to do so. Although Jefferson wanted to limit the power of the executive, he did not hesitate to increase the power of the executive in order to overshadow the outside growing threats of power. "But they underrated the steel in Jefferson’s gangling frame and his knack for overlooking general principles when faced with practical politics. ‘What is practical must often control what is pure theory,’ he said blithely, ‘and the habits of the governed determine in a great degree what is practice.’ Not only did Jefferson accept much of the Federalist Policy, such as the Bank. He went far beyond the Federalists in broadening executive power" (Deadlock 35).
Jefferson’s goal, in the end, was the help protect the general welfare of the common people. If it took the federal government to provide for this goal, then Jefferson allowed the use of the federal government. "In both his sixth and eighth Annual Messages Jefferson invited Congress to consider the application of surplus revenues ‘to the improvement of roads, canals, rivers, education, and other great foundations of prosperity and union, under the powers which Congress may already posses, or such amendment of the constitution as may be approved by the states.’ The federal government had already taken steps which would culminate in its construction of the National Road" (Growth 121).
When it came to dealing with the Federalists, what Jefferson saw as an outside threat to the republic, one can easily see how Jefferson endorsed the Federal government usage to deal with such threats:
He personally drafted bills, and had them introduced into Congress; saw to it that the men he wanted took the leadership the leadership posts in Congress; induced men he favored to run for Congress by holding out promises of advancement; made the Speaker and the floor leader of the house his personal lieutenants; changed the leadership as he saw fit; used Ways and Means and other committees as instruments of presidential control; dominated the Republican caucus in the House… Jefferson followed every measure with a hawk’s eye, applied pressure where necessary, wined and dined the legislators, and used his Cabinet members and other subordinates as his agents on the Hill. (Deadlock 36)
JEFFERSON AND HAMILTON
Some may say it was ironic that Jefferson dealt with the Federalists by using Federal power, but then one would only be accepting a misconception of Jefferson’s goal. He isn’t necessarily an opponent of the Federalist concept itself, he was just under the impression that those who called themselves Federalists were actually corrupted and attempting to destroy the republic. "Hamilton used as his model the Bank of England. That of course was part of the problem" (Kapstein 35). There were many issues where the two parties actually had cooperation and agreement. "If the Hamiltonians stood for a protective tariff, so too did the Jeffersonians" (Growth 119). The government as a whole was united in many of these ideas, such as the building of the country’s infrastructure. Many call this stage of Thomas Jefferson his stage of hypocrisy, when in fact he is following his basic ideals to the letter: providing for the general welfare rights, and dealing with elements of power and corruption.
Alexander Hamilton inadvertently brought out the executive strength like never before, by creating what Jefferson saw as a threat to freedom. Jefferson used the Federal, and used it thoroughly and swiftly, and used it to destroy the seed of corruption he saw as eminent. "The anti-Federalists were not content simply to oppose Hamilton’s measures. They organized forays against his position in the Administration. They set up a Ways and Means committee in the House to clip his financial powers. They backed Jefferson’s successful effort to have the Mint from Hamilton’s department to his own. They swore they would topple Hamilton from his ‘fiscal throne’" (Deadlock 28). Jefferson, as usually, was right, in his belief that Hamilton would eventually go to far. This was proven to the people as well as Jefferson, with laws such as the Alien and Sedition Act. Jefferson had fought to preserve the rights of the common people. "The ideas let loose by the French Revolution were running swiftly through America, awakening a militant spirit in the democracy. Antagonism to the aristocratic arrogance of the Federalism, and disgust at its coercive measures, were mounting fast" (Thought 347).
JEFFERSON AND BURR
Even more of a threat than the republic for the Federalists, Jefferson thought, was the slayer of Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, Jefferson’s own vice president during his first term. He had accepted Burr’s assistance in order to gain support in the cities of New York, an area Jefferson thought was weak of his agrarian constituency base. "In charge of the Republican group in Manhattan was Aaron Burr. Jefferson had always been a bit dubious about the slick New Yorker, but this was no time for squeamishness" (Deadlock 34). During the Presidency, it soon became clear that the New York banker had banking interests in mind. Clipping the power of the financiers was always a priority for Jefferson, who saw nothing but the seeds of corruption from their wealth wielding abilities. Jefferson once again used his power to keep this wolf out of the fold. "One of his foes-or so Jefferson thought-was his Vice-President, Aaron Burr. Jefferson not only denied patronage to Burr and his friends; he set out deliberately to destroy the dapper little New Yorker’s power in his home state by giving patronage to Burr’s adversaries there" (Deadlock 36).
"That governs best which governs least" was Thomas Jefferson’s principle for controlling usurpation of power, not to allow the run of free enterprise. He has proven that when the threat of corruption becomes evident, he does not hesitate to use federal power in order to prevent the possibility of tyranny. "The time to guard against corruption and tyranny, is before they shall have gotten hold on us. It is better to keep the wolf out of the fold, than to trust to drawing his teeth and talons after he shall have entered" (Portable Jefferson 166). The modern practice of transitioning of vast moneys, consistently used for selfish purposes, exhibits the constant threats of tyranny and usurpation Jefferson feared, and predicted with the growth of industry. This supports the theory that Jefferson would be a staunch supporter of federal regulation, despite the fact that he is used as an excuse to deregulate and limit government power against industry. He proved his priority of limiting corruption of the democracy, even at the expense of increasing federal power. This is clear when one considers his distrust for industry, coupled with his feelings that "a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another" (Portable Jefferson 293).
Once again, Jefferson stated that good government "shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned" (Portable Jefferson 293). Although these principles of protecting labor from exploitation have been lost in modern America, they are now prominent in the teachings of Karl Marx, who said, "workers of the world unite" (Portable Marx 203) in 1848. The main premise of Karl Marx, that "all struggle is class struggle," (Portable Marx 207) very much resembles James Madison who said, "the most common and durable source of factions has been the verious and unequal distribution of property" (Federalist 79). Marx’s communism, a government with no "controlling power" except "authority by the masses themselves," (Portable Marx 528), seems to follow the limited government ideology of Thomas Jefferson. Unfortunately, many now equate Marxism with the unrelated Soviet Communism. This misconception has seriously harmed the progressive left movement, and the ideals of our founding fathers.
The great protectors of democracy and liberalism of the centuries have seen the advancement of corruption caused by limited government, and forewarned us to take action. As Jefferson took action against the Federalists, he would have agreed to take action against any consolidation of power that threatens taking power from the hands of the people. In 1863, the great emancipator, Abraham Lincoln warned that "corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow…until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed" (Lincoln Encyclopedia 40). Due to our break from liberalism, such presidential concern for the usurpation of power by over the republic has been rarely demonstrated since. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been responsible for great change for the welfare of people. Although Eisenhower warned of the growing powerful "military industrial complex" in his farewell speech in 1954, no Jeffersonian-type assault has been since attempted to decentralize growing institutional power of finance and industry, with the possible exception of John F. Kennedy.
Jefferson’s notion of industry and bureaucracy causing a corruption and usurpation of the power proves more correct as every decade passes, yet the only words of Jefferson echoed are those to limit government interference. The words of his friend, James Madison, thoroughly explain why it was always necessary to "keep the wolf out of the fold," and to stop the gain of power at any cost. Madison said, "I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations" (qtd. in Familiar Quotations 352). Jefferson’s primary concern was always the people, and when the issue was industry verses the people, Jefferson always chose the people. Although the issue dominating monopolies is much more a threat today as in Jefferson’s time, he still often made mention of restricting monopolies to protect the rights of the people, and often warned of his fear of corruption by industry and centralization of banking. The great liberals of history knew that any power must be controlled in the face of its domination. Today, industrial domination causes hundreds of thousands of protesters to flock to international meetings of multination corporations. If alive, Jefferson may have been tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed by police in the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle, along with today’s progressive liberals.
(c) 2001 CorporateWelfare.org
Bartlett, John. Familiar Quotations 6th Ed. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1992.
Bruchey, Stuart. The Roots of American Economic Growth. New York: Harper & Row, 1965.
Burns, James MacGregor. The Deadlock of Democracy. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1963.
Hamilton, Alexander and Madison, James and Jay, John. The Federalist Papers. New York: New American Library, 1961.
Hofstadter, Richard. The American Political Tradition. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1948.
Jefferson, Thomas. The Portable Thomas Jefferson. New York: Penguin Books, 1979.
Kapstein, Ethan B. "Hamilton and the Jefferson myth." World Policy Journal. Spring 1997 v14 n1: 35-44.
Marx, Karl. The Portable Karl Marx. New York: Penguin Books, 1988.
McDonald, Robert. "Thomas Jefferson and historical self-construction." The Historian Winter 1999 v61 i2: 289.
Meltzer, Milton. Thomas Jefferson, The Revolutionary Aristocrat. New York: Franklin Watts, 1991.
Parrington, Vernon L. Main Currents in American Thought. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanich, 1927.
Patterson, Caleb Perry. The Constitutional Principles of Thomas Jefferson. New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1971.
Shaw, Archer H. The Lincoln Encyclopedia. New York: Macmillan, 1950.
Shenkir, William. "Thomas Jefferson: the first advocate for simplification." Journal of Accountancy April 1993 175 n4: 15.