Category: Thomas Jefferson

“Whereas it appeareth that however certain forms of government are better calculated than others to protect individuals in the free exercise of their natural rights, and are at the same time themselves better guarded against degeneracy, yet experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms, those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny; and it is believed that the most effectual means of preventing this would be, to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts, which history exhibiteth, that, possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes; And whereas it is generally true that the people will be happiest whose laws are best, and are best administered, and that laws will be wisely formed, and honestly administered, in proportion as those who form and administer them are wise and honest; whence it becomes expedient for promoting the publick happiness that those persons, whom nature hath endowed with genius and virtue, should be rendered by liberal education worthy to receive, and able to guard the sacred deposits of the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens, and that they should be called to that charge without regard to wealth, birth or other accidental condition or circumstance; but the indigence of the greater number disabling them from so educating, at their own expence, those of their children whom nature hath fitly formed and disposed to become useful instruments for the public, it is better that such should be sought for and educated at the common expence of all, than that the happiness of all should be confided to the weak or wicked.” – Thomas Jefferson, “A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge”

“It is not only vain, but wicked, in a legislator to frame laws in opposition to the laws of nature, and to arm them with the terrors of death. This is truly creating crimes in order to punish them.” – Thomas Jefferson, “A Bill for Proportioning Crimes and Punishments”

“My observations do not enable me to say I think integrity the characteristic of wealth. In general I believe the decisions of the people, in a body, will be more honest & more disinterested than those of wealthy men.” – Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to Edmund Pendleton”, August 26, 1776

You can’t buy thatYou can’t buy that

“When Jefferson opposed the spread of manufacturing, Jackson opposed a centralized financial system, Lincoln criticized wage labor, the Progressives criticized the trusts, and numerous states tried to halt the spread of chain stores, they did so not only for reasons of distributive justice, but even more from a desire to preserve the material conditions of self-rule and civic virtue. To many generations of American democrats, economic growth—our panacea—was morally suspect. Their political economy was meant to produce staunch, self-reliant citizens with deep local roots and commitments, not satisfied consumers or even highly-paid workers. This sets republicans apart from both conservatives and liberals. It was mass production, the factory system, and the concentration of capital and credit—in a word, big business—that vanquished the political economy of citizenship. Big government was a flawed effort to mitigate the worst effects of that triumph. Both forms of bigness confront the individual with impersonal, uncontrollable forces. Both generate large inequalities of wealth and power. Both subordinate the traditional virtues to newer skills of corporate gamesmanship and bureaucratic maneuvering. Both make it difficult, perhaps impossible, to realize the republican ideal. For better or worse, bigness is apparently here to stay. Can the republican ideal be adapted?” – George Scialabba, “Democracy’s Discontent”

The interlocking gridThe interlocking grid

“The great desideratum in Government is, so to modify the sovereignty as that it may be sufficiently neutral between different parts of the Society to controul one part from invading the rights of another, and at the same time sufficiently controuled itself, from setting up an interest adverse to that of the entire Society.” – James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, October 24, 1787, Debate on the Constitution, Part One (ed. Bailyn)

Social potpourriSocial potpourri

“In all civilized Societies, distinctions are various and unavoidable. A distinction or property results from that very protection which a free Government gives to unequal faculties of acquiring it. There will be rich and poor; creditors and debtors; a landed interest, a monied interest, a mercantile interest, a manufacturing interest. These classes may again be subdivided according to the different productions of different situations & soils, & according to different branches of commerce, and of manufactures. In addition to these natural distinctions, artificial ones will be founded, on accidental differences in political, religious or other opinions, or an attachment to the persons of leading individuals. However erroneous or ridiculous these grounds of dissension and faction, may appear to the enlightened Statesman, or the benevolent philosopher, the bulk of mankind who are neither Statesmen nor Philosophers, will continue to view them in a different light. It remains then to be enquired whether a majority having any common interest, or feeling any common passion, will find sufficient motives to restrain them from oppressing the minority.” – James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, October 24, 1787, Debate on the Constitution, Part One (ed. Bailyn)