I’ve decided to be brief today and instead allow someone else to, sotospeak, “guest post” today’s Watering Hole. Why? Because it’s become increasingly obvious over the last two or three decades that Wingnuttistanians — especially the interbred hyper-Christian and “Tea Party” elements thereof — have adopted the mission of misreading and misrepresenting the intent and ideas of the American Founders in nearly every context. It seems timely, therefore, to allow a legitimate voice the privilege of restating original doctrines and, in the process, clarifying and/or refuting various modern contorted interpretations — all in his own words.
So: following are a few dozen refreshing thoughts and ideas on a wide variety of topics including, in no particular order, government, law, war, foreign affairs, God, religion, Christianity, we the people, the Constitution — allathat and more — in words written by none other than America’s own Thomas Jefferson (specific attributions noted when available). Enjoy.
“Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.”
“No society can make a perpetual Constitution . . . The earth belongs always to the living generation.”
“The most effective means of preventing tyranny is to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts.”
“The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.” (to Lafayette, 1823)
“Constant apprehension of war has the same tendency to render the head too large for the body. A standing military force with an overgrown executive will not long be a safe companion to liberty.”
“Habeas Corpus secures every man here, alien or citizen, against everything which is not law, whatever shape it may assume.” (1798)
“The country is headed toward a single and splendid government of an aristocracy founded on banking institutions and monied corporations, and if this tendency continues it will be the end of freedom and democracy, the few will be ruling and riding over the plundered plowman and the beggar.”
“I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us, that the less we use our power the greater it will be.”
“I hold it that, a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”
“Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights.”
“Law is often the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual.” (To I. Tiffany, 1819)
“Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations – entangling alliances with none.”
“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be . . . The People cannot be safe without information. When the press is free, and every man is able to read, all is safe.”
“No one nation has a right to sit in judgment over another.”
“We wish not to meddle with the internal affairs of any country, nor with the general affairs of Europe.”
“I am for free commerce with all nations, political connection with none, and little or no diplomatic establishment.”
“We have produced proofs, from the most enlightened and approved writers on the subject, that a neutral nation must, in all things relating to the war, observe an exact impartiality towards the parties.”
“The insulated state in which nature has placed the American continent should so far avail it that no spark of war kindled in the other quarters of the globe should be wafted across the wide oceans which separate us from them. At such a distance from Europe and with such an ocean between us, we hope to meddle little in its quarrels or combinations. Its peace and its commerce are what we shall court.
“The essential principles of our Government . . . form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed of our political faith, the text of civic instruction, the touchstone by which to try the services of those we trust; and should we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty and safety.” ~(From First Inaugural Address, Jan. 1 1801)
“If there is one principle more deeply rooted in the mind of every American, it is that we should have nothing to do with conquest.”
“It is the old practice of despots to use a part of the people to keep the rest in order.”
“The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.”
“What a stupendous, what an incomprehensible machine is man! Who can endure toil, famine, stripes, imprisonment & death itself in vindication of his own liberty, and the next moment . . . inflict on his fellow men a bondage, one hour of which is fraught with more misery than ages of that which he rose in rebellion to oppose.”
“Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.” (From “Notes on Virginia,” 1782)
“A groundwork of vulgar ignorance, of things impossible, of superstitions, fanaticisms and fabrications.” (Assessment of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John)
“I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition [Christianity] one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded upon fables and mythologies” (In a Letter to Dr. Woods)
“Our Revolution commenced on more favorable ground [than the foundation of the Ten Commandments]. It presented us an album on which we were free to write what we pleased. We had no occasion to search into musty records, to hunt up royal parchments, or to investigate the laws and institutions of a semi-barbarous ancestry. We appealed to those of nature, and found them engraved on our hearts.” (In a Letter to Major John Cartwright, June 5, 1824)
“In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”
“I have sworn eternal warfare against all forms of superstition over the minds of men.” (Words engraved on Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC)
Context of the Jefferson “quotation” carved into the Jefferson Memorial (From a Letter to Benjamin Rush, 1800):
“DEAR SIR, . . . I promised you a letter on Christianity, which I have not forgotten. I do not know that it would reconcile the genus irritabile vatum [the angry poets] who are all in arms against me. Their hostility is on too interesting ground to be softened.
“The delusion . . . on the [First Amendment] clause of the Constitution, which, while it secured the freedom of the press, covered also the freedom of religion, had given to the clergy a very favorite hope of obtaining an establishment of a particular form of Christianity through the United States; and as every sect believes its own form the true one, every one perhaps hoped for his own, but especially the Episcopalians and Congregationalists.
“The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their hopes, and they [the preachers] believe that any portion of power confided to me [such as being elected President], will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly: for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: and enough too in their opinion.”
“A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles. It is true that in the meantime we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt. . . . If the game runs sometimes against us at home, we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are at stake.” (1798, after the passage of the Sedition Act)
“The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But may we hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding . . .”
“Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage to reason, than that of blindfolded fear . . .” (In a letter to his nephew, Peter Carr)
“The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.”
“If my neighbor believes in twenty gods or no gods, it does not pick my pocket or break my leg and therefore it’s no harm to me.”
“Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.”
“Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the ‘wall of separation between church and state,’ therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.”
“When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”
“It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.”
“A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have.”
“No generation can contract debts greater than may be paid during the course of its own existence.”
“The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history, whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small elite.”
To Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin, Monticello, October 16, 1815:
“I grieve for France; although it cannot be denied that by the afflictions with which she wantonly and wickedly overwhelmed other nations, she has merited severe reprisals. For it is no excuse to lay the enormities to the wretch who led to them, and who has been the author of more misery and suffering to the world, than any being who ever lived before him.
“After destroying the liberties of his country, he has exhausted all its resources, physical and moral, to indulge his own maniac ambition, his own tyrannical and overbearing spirit. His sufferings cannot be too great. But theirs I sincerely deplore, and what is to be their term?
“The will of the allies? There is no more moderation, forbearance, or even honesty in theirs, than in that of Bonaparte. They have proved that their object, like his, is plunder. They, like him, are shuffling nations together, or into their own hands, as if all were right which they feel a power to do.”
“Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like the evil spirits at the dawn of day.” (In a letter to Pierre S. du Pont de Nemours, 24 April 1816)
“Dissent is the highest form of patriotism. “The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive.”
“If once the people become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, Judges and Governors, shall all become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature, in spite of individual exceptions.”
“Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms (of government) those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.”
“I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government in a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.” (To George Logan, 1816)
“. . . freedom of person under the protection of the habeas corpus; and trial by juries impartially selected. These principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us, and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation.”
“[T]he mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.”
“It is not only vain, but wicked, in a legislature 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 in a Note on the Crimes Bill, 1779
That’s the sum total of my diminutive collection of Jeffersonian thoughts and writings. It is, I’m sure, little more than a nibble from the entire of the T.J. Pie, but even such a small smidge comes close to totally refuting a huge percentage of today’s Wingnuttistanian Politic, the vast bulk of which is NOT oriented toward Jeffersonian Constitutional Democracy, toward the well-being of the individual, toward prosperity for all, but rather is offered in the interest of money and power only. All of which seems to make it perfectly clear that Thomas Jefferson was neither a Corporatist, an Oligarch, or a Fascist, and therefore he would NOT be, today, a participant in the GOP/Republican/Tea Party, the AFM (American Fascist Movement). How sad for them, but how grand for those who actually believe in the worth of we the People!
A final thought: reading and pondering Jefferson’s own words always reminds me of something JFK said in the address he gave at the White House Dinner and Reception honoring Nobel Prize winners in April, 1962:
“I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the white House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”