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Category Archives: Independence

How much freedom for man? How much power for government?

… Can man govern himself? … [This is] the one great object of proving that a government may be so free as to leave every man in the unrestrained exercise of all his rights, while it has energy enough to protect him from every wrong …
To Nathaniel Macon, July 17, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Self-governing leaders promote a self-limiting government.
Jefferson held strongly that America was an experiment that all the world was watching. That experiment was summed in the first four words, “Can man govern himself?”

Man could govern himself, provided government would keep to its essential constitutional role. Government needed enough power to protect its citizens from other nations, and that was all. Doing so would “leave every man in the unrestrained exercise of all his rights.” In other words, man would indeed be left in the position of doing what only he could do best, govern himself.

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Anti-slavery deleted from the Declaration of Independence

he [the King of England] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people [Africans] who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium [harsh criticism] of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted [shamefully traded away] his negative [veto] for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable [wretched, detestable] commerce [in human beings]…
Committee of Five to the Continental Congress, July 2, 1776

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
A leader can’t go where people won’t follow.
The Declaration of Independence adopted July 4, 1776, lists 27 offenses by the King of England against his colonial subjects. There could have been one more offense had Congress not deleted the entire paragraph above, a ringing denunciation of the slave trade. That paragraph was part of Jefferson’s “original rough draft” of the Declaration. Georgia and South Carolina would not vote for independence unless that paragraph was deleted, and so it was.

Jefferson receives considerable criticism today on the subject of slavery. These words are but one example of many that he wrote throughout his lifetime condemning “this execrable commerce.” He knew that America could not continue to exist as two peoples, one slave and one free, but the majority of his contemporaries were not willing to follow his lead.

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More than you ever wanted to know about the Declaration of Independence

In Honor of this Special Day

On June 7, 1776, Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee introduced a resolution in the Continental Congress declaring independence from England. Congress set it aside temporarily and appointed a Committee of Five to draft a document that would explain why they sought the separation. Committee members were Thomas Jefferson (VA), John Adams (MA), Benjamin Franklin (PA), Robert Livingston (NY) and Roger Sherman (CT). Jefferson drafted the document, and the Committee made minor changes.

Congress voted for independence on July 2 (NOT July 4), then took up the Committee’s “rough draft.” They debated and amended the draft and adopted what we know today as the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

Three resources on the Declaration:

Twenty-two single-paragraph illustrated descriptions of important documents, places, people, events & items surrounding July, 4, 1776:

Thomas Jefferson’s “original Rough Draft” of the Declaration of Independence, before it was amended by Congress:

Jefferson and The Committee of Five’s original Declaration of Independence with additions and deletions made by the Congress before its adoption July 4, 1776:

John Adam’s wrote to his wife on July 3:

“The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha,
in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated,
by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.
It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance
by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty.
It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade,
with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations
from one End of this Continent to the other
from this Time forward forever more.”

 

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I insist that you not write about me!

The enquiries in your printed letter of Aug. 1808. would lead to the writing the history of my whole life, than which nothing could be more repugnant to my feelings. I have been connected, as many fellow labourers were, with the great events which happened to mark the epoch of our lives. but these belong to no one in particular.
To Skelton Jones, July 28, 1809

This is the 700th post in the Jefferson Leadership Blog! Woo-woo!

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Servant leaders acknowledge team accomplishments over their own.
Jones was a Virginia newspaper publisher and historian who wished to compile a history of his native state and Jefferson’s role in it. Jones made several requests of Jefferson for information. The lengthy reply containing this excerpt was an earnest attempt to summarize the work of the revisors of statutes in post-independence Virginia. Jefferson was one of five revisors appointed to the task in 1776 and one of two, along with George Wythe, who did the bulk of the work.

Jones’ 1808 query referenced here was an extensive list of questions about every aspect of Jefferson’s life. Always helpful in furthering others’ intellectual and historical pursuits, he declined this request. He said he was only one of “many fellow labourers” involved in a common cause in uncommon times. He did not want anyone to write the history of his life alone. “Nothing could be more repugnant to my feelings,” he wrote.

“Although the land surveyors have had numerous types of entertainment at the conference,
they have never
[before]
responded with a standing ovation.”
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1 Comment Posted in History, Independence, Personal preferences Tagged , , , , , , , |

Thank you and thank God!

I join you, fellow-citizens, in rendering the tribute of thankfulness to the Almighty ruler, who … hath willed that the human mind shall be free in this portion of the globe: that society shall here know that the limit of it’s rightful power is the enforcement of social conduct; while the right to question the religious principles producing that conduct is beyond their cognisance [and for] the establishment here of liberty, equality of social rights, exclusion of unequal privileges civil & religious, & of the usurping domination of one sect over another …
To the Delaware Baptist Association, July 2. 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders appreciate the role of Providence.
214 years ago, approaching his first Independence Day as President, Jefferson penned these acknowledgements to the Delaware Baptists. Not to be confused with the Baptists of Danbury, CT, whose later letter prompted Jefferson’s famous wall-of-separation response, this congregation simply sent their congratulations to the new President, along with thanks to God for putting him in office.
Jefferson returned his thanks to them and to “the Almighty ruler,” who had established, not him, but rather one place on the globe where:
1. Men’s minds could be free;
2. Society limited government’s control to conduct, not thoughts;
3. Government could not question religious principles which produced that conduct; and
4. “Unequal privileges civil & religious” were excluded.

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Who exactly is in charge here? Part 11 F (OR Who fights hardest against long odds?)

 [This is the 16th post in a series abstracted from Jefferson’s famous “My Head and My Heart” dialogue written to Maria Cosway. This is part of Heart’s final reply.]

Heart: If our country, when pressed with wrongs at the point of the bayonet [in 1776], had been governed by its heads instead of its hearts, where should we have been now? Hanging on a gallows as high as Hamans. You began to calculate & to compare wealth and numbers: we threw up a few pulsations of our warmest blood; we supplied enthusiasm against wealth and numbers; we put our existence to the hazard when the hazard seemed against us, and we saved our country: justifying at the same time the ways of Providence, whose precept is to do always what is right, and leave the issue to him.
To Maria Cosway, October 12, 1786

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Oppressed leaders must lead with their hearts.
How appropriate as we approach the 4th of July!
Faced with England’s oppression, Heads (with intellectual reasoning) first considered how outnumbered they were. Had their minds led them into battle, they would have lost and been hung for treason. Their Hearts ignored the numbers and fought with passion for their cause.

Passionate emotion, not careful analysis, won the war, vindicating Heaven’s choice on their behalf.

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Arrogance leads to this.

When the representative body [Parliament] have lost the confidence of their constituents  [American colonies], when they have notoriously made sale of their most valuable rights, when they have assumed to themselves powers which the people never put into their hands, then indeed their continuing in office becomes dangerous to the state, and calls for an exercise of the power of dissolution.
Summary View of the Rights of British America, 1774

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders carefully maintain the confidence of their followers.
Thomas Jefferson noted three troubling factors in British leadership. Its Parliament:
1. No longer enjoyed the confidence of the people they were supposed to lead/serve.
2. No longer respected the rights of those people.
3. Assumed powers which had never been given them.

Since business-as-usual was dangerous to America, the colonists had the right to dissolve the connection. They would do that two years later.

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What reduces free people to slavery?

Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of a day; but a series of oppressions, begun at a distinguished period, and pursued unalterably through every change of ministers, too plainly prove a deliberate and systematical plan of reducing us to slavery.
Summary View of the Rights of British America, 1774

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
The 31 year-old Jefferson wrote Summary View for Virginia’s delegates to carry to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia. It was a much longer document than his Declaration of Independence, but its theme was much the same, outlining the abuses England’s King and Parliament had imposed on their American colonies. He categorized those abuses as tyrannies.

Jefferson wrote that one tyranny could be seen as a mistake in judgment. A series of them meant something much different and sinister, He then described the series: imposing multiple duties and taxes, suspending New York’s legislature, blockading Boston, trying American “crimes” in British courts. What turns free people into slaves? A deliberate plan to whittle away their natural rights, one by one, until there were no freedoms left.

Summary View was later printed in pamphlet form and widely circulated throughout America and Europe. It did not have the effect Jefferson hoped, a wake-up call that ended Bristish abuses. It did have an effect he had not anticipated, establishing his credentials as a gifted writer. Two years later, he would be called upon to use that skill again.

(Today, April 13, is Mr. Jefferson’s 272nd birthday.)

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Half a loaf? A whole loaf? Or no loaf at all?

I was much acquainted with the leading patriots of the assembly. Being from a country which had successfully passed thro’ a similar reformation, they were disposed to my acquaintance, and had some confidence in me. I urged most strenuously an immediate compromise; to secure what the government was now ready to yield, and trust to future occasions for what might still be wanting … They thought otherwise however, and events have proved their lamentable error. For after 30. years of war, foreign and domestic, the loss of millions of lives, the prostration of private happiness, and foreign subjugation of their own country for a time, they have obtained no more, nor even that securely.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Realistic leaders settle for half a loaf now and hope for more later.
Jefferson wrote at length about the start of the French Revolution. He had a ring-side seat as America’s ambassador to France.

Power in France was concentrated in the hands of the king, the nobles and the priests. Any new rights granted to others meant a decrease in those enjoyed by a privileged few. The king had already made serious concessions: guarantees of basic rights of conscience, freedom of the press, habeas corpus, trial by jury and more. It wasn’t all that the reformers wanted, but it was far more than they had. Jefferson’s advice: Take what you can get now, and get more later!

Those reformers disagreed, and their losses over the next 30 years were staggering! They didn’t have as many rights in 1821 then as they’d been offered in 1789. The rights they did have weren’t all that secure.

No doubt the reformers thought they could get the whole loaf at the beginning and wouldn’t settle for less. They were so very wrong.

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If it has been done well already, why do it over?

On the 1st of June 1779. I was appointed Governor of the Commonwealth [of Virginia] … Being now, as it were, identified with the Commonwealth itself, to write my own history during the two years of my administration, would be to write the public history of that portion of the revolution within this state. This has been done by others, and particularly by Mr. Girardin … has given as faithful an account as I could myself. For this portion therefore of my own life, I refer altogether to his history.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Smart leaders leave well enough alone.
Jefferson’s two one-year terms as governor of Virginia (June 1, 1779 to June 1, 1781) were fully occupied with the state’s participation in the war for independence. Any history written of that time would have covered little else. A “Mr. Girardin,” who had access to all of Jefferson’s wartime papers, had faithfully reported those two years. Jefferson saw no need to duplicate a work someone else had already done well.

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