Where did it [anarchy] ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusetts? And can history produce an instance of rebellion so honourably conducted? … God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, & always, well informed … what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them … The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is its natural manure.
To William S. Smith, Nov. 13, 1787
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Secure leaders recognize that opposition makes you better, stronger.
Jefferson wrote from Paris months after Shay’s Rebellion, a tax and debt revolt in western Massachusetts in late 1786 and early 1787. That rebellion alarmed many (and influenced the outcome of the Constitutional Convention), but Jefferson, an ocean away, didn’t share their concern.
He spoke of a little rebellion now and then as a good thing, even if the people acted in ignorance. He didn’t disapprove of their taking arms against their government. It kept rulers on their toes about the importance of protecting the country’s liberties. The solution was education and forgiveness.
Some use this passage to claim Jefferson espoused a revolution every 20 years, but that’s a misuse of his sentiment. An occasional rebellion, yes, and healthy for the nation. Revolution, not so much.
The next to the last sentence, “The tree of liberty … “ is quoted often. Practically always, the last sentence is omitted. I love that last sentence!
No rebellion, arms, blood OR manure for your audience!
Just practical wisdom and encouragement.
Invite Thomas Jefferson to speak. Call Patrick Lee, 573-657-2739