Thomas Jefferson, where art thou?

"A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor and bread it has earned - this is the sum of good government." - Thomas Jefferson.


It's not often I plug a magazine so shamelessly, but a certain publication caught my eye as I browsed at Borders Books today. 178 years, almost to the day, after his death, Mr. Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, gets his week on the cover of Time Magazine. As many conservatives wonder, in the midst of massive government spending and the Patriot Act, where the true Republican Party went, Jefferson embodied what some consider the true conservative, or perhaps a libertarian of sorts. Although not every shred of Jefferson's policies were true to his beliefs, Jefferson - very well-read, introspective, and a definite Type B personality - championed states' rights, individualism, small government, and clear separation of church and state, while deriding "entangling alliances". The man, of course, wasn't without faults. His views on race were quite disagreeable, but then again, these viewpoints weren't entirely out of step for 18th-Century Virginia.

Still, Thomas Jefferson has been among my favorite presidents (if not the favorite), and his mug on the cover of a major, mainstream magazine couldn't have come at a better time.

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are his views and his

are his views and his actions considered as the same thing? especially if you're calling him a hypocrite?


...'intelligence differences' between whites and blacks... something he may not have necessarily believed if he lived today, as this ill-conceived notion was more of a widespread accepted idea back in the day.

Yes: today, instead of merely being accepted at face value, the idea is widely documented.

In office, Jefferson... *

In office, Jefferson...

* Slashed defense spending
* Cut the budget
* Eliminated a "sin tax" on whisky
* Reduced the national debt by a third
* Kicked Barbary Pirate butt when they began harassing American commercial ships
* Tried to avoid the Napoleonic Wars at all costs
* Wasn't very comfortable as a public speaker (something he admitted to)
* Committed to his stance on separation of church and state

Jefferson "walked the walk" more than he didn't.

Brian Doss, Jefferson's

Brian Doss,

Jefferson's behavior as a spendthrift slave-owner was typical of the whole Virginia planter class.

In evaluating his behavior in office, a distinction should be made between his first and second terms. In his first, he cancelled Federalist plans for a large shipbuilding program, paid down most of the federal debt, and cut internal taxation with the intention of eliminating it when the debt was paid off. His second term, in contrast, was characterized by a disastrously erratic foreign policy, including the oppressive non-intercourse act, that led in Madison's presidency to war with Britain. One of the best histories I've seen of Jefferson's presidency is Forrest MacDonald's.

Finally, for all his faults, Jefferson was head and shoulders above the Federalist junta he was replacing: the centralizing mercantilist Hamilton, ideological godfather of the neocons; Washington (Old Muttonhead, as Adams called him), who let Hamilton lead him around by the nose; and Adams, of Sedition Act fame.

It's just a crying shame that Adams' legerdemain kept Spencer Roane from becoming chief justice. Without the centralizing effects of Marshall's decisions (Gibbon v. Ogden, for example, is the basis of most federal regulation and preemption of state law today), this country would be a far better place.

Still better would have been if every single state had called a secession convention after Washington signed Hamilton's National Bank into law, and the militias had marched on New York and strung Washington upside down like Mussolini. Better yet if the Articles of Confederation had been left alone in the first place, and Dan Shays had been able to given Boston a good cleaning.

"His views on race were

"His views on race were quite disagreeable"

Which views are you referring to? Because he owned slaves? Or because he wrote "All men are created equal"?

Jefferson epitomized some

Jefferson epitomized some aspects of the party that grew into the Democrats.

(A) He wrote and said many great things about liberty, rights, etc, and then when in office proceeded to break every promise and quickly and gleefully compromise every previously stated principle when handed the reins of power.

(B) In his personal life, he was a spendthrift slaveowner and a womanizing hypocrite who ended up a destitute wastrel at the end of his years.

He could talk a good game, but fell so far short of his own rhetoric...

Ironically, despite owning

Ironically, despite owning slaves (which I believe were "hand-me-downs", so to speak, from his father), Jefferson had viewed slavery as overall unjust.

My particular comment was referring to Jefferson's comments regarding 'intelligence differences' between whites and blacks... something he may not have necessarily believed if he lived today, as this ill-conceived notion was more of a widespread accepted idea back in the day.

In office, Jefferson: *

In office, Jefferson:

* Executive Decreed the Embargo, shutting down New England shipping because he wanted to "enforce neutrality" in the Napoleonic Wars.
* Bought Louisiana, even though he explicitly denied the US Constitution gave the gov't the power to do what he did, because he wanted to.
* "Although as secretary of state and vice president he had opposed developing an American navy capable of anything more than coastal defense, President Jefferson dispatched a squadron of naval vessels to the Mediterranean. As he declared in his first annual message to Congress: 'To this state of general peace with which we have been blessed, one only exception exists. Tripoli, the least considerable of the Barbary States, had come forward with demands unfounded either in right or in compact, and had permitted itself to denounce war, on our failure to comply before a given day. The style of the demand admitted but one answer. I sent a small squadron of frigates into the Mediterranean. . . .'" (i.e. the short-sighted hypocrite slashes defense spending then decides that projecting warmaking ability is a good idea- while still refusing to fund the production of more frigates!)

furthermore, "In fact, it was not until the second war with Algiers, in 1815, that naval victories by Commodores William Bainbridge and Stephen Decatur led to treaties ending all tribute payments by the United States."- after the disastrous defense policy of Jefferson was reversed.

So, Jefferson is a small-gov't confederate in his writings, but endorses spending millions of dollars on enlarging the territory of the US in a move he considered unconstitutional prior to acceeding to office...

...a committed anti-military man who fought long and hard to neuter US defenses and eliminate the US Navy, decides when in office to send his hollowed-out (by design) navy to attack the Barbary pirates. What's worse is that he was in favor of attacking the pirates in 1784, but still destroyed the US Navy while Secretary of the Navy & Treasury. Not just a hypocrite, but a rather inept one, too.

...a person supposedly dedicated to "no entangling alliances" gets the Embargo act to prevent Yankee traders from doing business with England making the US a de-factor member of the Napoleonic Continental System (which was designed to, well, stop commerce from happening with England), perhaps not in small part due to his overweening Francophilia and admiration for the bloody and despotic French Revolution. So he gets a twofer here, restraining trade and sucking up to the French (as well as f*****g over the Yankees, given Jefferson was a Virginian; an added plus).

Hamilton rationalized the

Hamilton rationalized the Revolutionary War debt, allowing it to be paid off in the first place. I have to give the man credit for that.

Jefferson's bizarre and erratic foreign policy did indeed lead directly to the War of 1812. Cancelling the shipbuilding program was idiocy and left us almost defenseless against the British in the war he provoked with his Embargo act. I also lay the Civil War partially at his feet- the inordinate resistance to Hamilton's weak centralism led directly to the environment where (a) a predecent for federal action existed but (b) there was institutional resistance to it, so (c) war broke out instead of having a compromise weak federal action.

And I'm referring specifically to the South's demand for the Fugitive Slave Act to be enforced by the Federal Gov't, overriding the 'states rights' of the Northern states who passed Liberty laws for escaped slaves. By Jefferson's example of eliminating all federal power when the constitition clearly gave federal power left a vacuum that was eventually filled by the strong centralizing power of Lincoln and the Radical Republicans...

By the way, the AoC was intended to form a central government, not a defensive league or weak confederation as 'revisionists' would have us believe. That the AoC considered the union "perpetually binding" and a "central government" in explicit language puts the lie to the idea that we had a noble, ancient ancapistan in the cradle, but it was snuffed out by the evil Federalists who gave us the Evil Constitution... The AoC was just an egregiously badly written document of an essentially ad-hoc nature cooked up in the heat of rebellion to govern the united colonies.

IMO, the accomplishments

IMO, the accomplishments listed in my bullet points - including locking bloody horns with the Green Party-esque Hamilton - vastly trumps the land buying, French-admiring, and naval vessal deploying outlined in your bullet points. (The embargo, I submit, was a terribly ill-fated decision as his second term was waning). And everything is all relative as well. A clone of Thomas Jefferson would stand heads and shoulders above the likes of what we find running for high office in more-recent times.

And - while I don't endorse the behavior - the womanizing part gets little more than a yawn from me.

Admit it, you just don't like him because he's a Hoo. ;-)

and finally, George

and finally, George Washington, perhaps the epitome of the Virginia slaveowning planter class, left his estate prosperous, and his heirs a wealthy inheritance- that even after freeing all his slaves upon death. IIRC, ditto for Patrick Henry, Henry Lee, etc.

Jefferson was a dissolute playboy who lacked the courage of his convictions. He happened to be on the right side of politics before 1800, and then was a disgrace after 1800 (politically), and a disgrace personally, period.

That he created UVA is yet

That he created UVA is yet another failing, I do admit. ;)

Ok, ok, Jefferson is not as

Ok, ok, Jefferson is not as horrid as I am portraying him. But he's a mixed bag, of that there is no doubt. And I disagree that Hamilton was either Neocon or Green. He just hadn't read enough Adam Smith yet (Wealth of Nations was only published in 1776, and ideas spread a lot slower back in the day).

And mixed bag or not, I'd vote for Jefferson in a heartbeat over Kerry or Bush. That is, if he would be the Jefferson of the 1780s and 90s. Somehow, though, I think he'd end up as a Clintonite rather than a Friedmanite.

"Jefferson's bizarre and

"Jefferson's bizarre and erratic foreign policy did indeed lead directly to the War of 1812. Cancelling the shipbuilding program was idiocy and left us almost defenseless against the British in the war he provoked with his Embargo act."

I disagree that Jefferson "provoked" the British. The Brits were flagrantly fouling our neutral ships, and even actively recruiting-by-force. Yes, embargo was a boneheaded decision, and we weren't all too militarily prepared... but the schoolyard fight was being picked on America before the embargo, not after.

In sum (before I get some

In sum (before I get some much-needed sleep), the reason I admire Jefferson is that he's one of the very, very few who actually lowered taxes, lowered spending, and cut the deficit while in office. A fiscal trifecta. Not trying to excuse the man here, but "foreign policy" is frequently a tricky guessing game, especially in a nation in such an infancy stage. He didn't set out to bluster at the world, but rather preferred to focus on free and unmolested ship commerce (until he capitulated with the embargo, of course). His adament neutrality and military scale-downs, which would appear as noble intentions, didn't work out. As such, I forgive these errors in light of the other accomplishments and ideas he put forth.

By his own definition how is

By his own definition how is good government even possible? How do you fund government without taking from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned?

Brian, For the other side of


For the other side of the A of C issue, check out this chapter from my manuscript on state sovereignty:

Chapter 1: The Ultimate Source of Sovereignty

It includes a lot of documentation to show that the Articles of Confederation never did anything but exercise the delegated sovereign powers of the member states, and that it amounted to a treaty between them.

The Confederation Congress never had the authority to levy taxes or pass binding laws in its own right. It could only request that the states implement its resolutions within their own borders by their own sovereign legislative power.

As for the "eternal union" supposedly embodied in the Articles, if that proves anything it proves too much. The Article VII ratification provisions of the Constitution stated that it would go into effect when nine states had ratified, and would go into effect only between the acceding states. So in effect, the Federalists organized a secession movement. The "more perfect" union created by the Constitution was not an improvement of the old union, but a new union that the states formed by seceding from the old one, one at a time--just like the southern states did when they formed the CSA 70 years later.

Rhode Island and North Carolina remained independent of the new U.S. government until well into Washington's first term, and the union could have gone into effect with two more outside as well. It was the Federalists, during the federal convention and the state ratifying debates, who constantly proclaimed that the Articles were a dead letter and that the states' only choice was between the Constitution and a state of nature.

The states did not create

The states did not create the Constitution. It was not created by the various state legislatures, nor was it ratified by such. It was ratified by separately-called constitutional conventions. The "states" reference in Article VII was not carried out by the state legislatures.

What this means is that the Constitution was not a compact of the states but a separate creation of the people. Legally, the Constitution was created by the American people as a whole and not by the states, and it was created to be the supreme sovereign over the states, as Article VI, Section 2 makes clear.

Of course, all of this is crap because of the reasons outlined by Spooner, but in the legal sense, the people and not the states created the Constitution.

- Josh