Tag Archives: government

We said we would do it, and we kept our word!

the session of the first congress, convened since republicanism has recovered it’s ascendancy [in the election of 1800], is now drawing to a close. they will pretty compleatly fulfil all the desires of the people … the people are nearly all united, their quondam [former, i.e. Federalist] leaders infuriated with the sense of their impotence … and all is now tranquil, firm and well as it should be. I add no signature because unnecessary for you.
To Tadeusz Kosciuszko, April 2, 1802

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
A measure of true leadership is accomplishing what you said you would do.
With the republicans (small r) in control of the Congress and Presidency, they worked together to accomplish the goals Jefferson had laid before the people. Deleted from this excerpt, but available in full at the link above, those successes were:
1. Reduced the army and navy to only what was necessary for defense
2. Curtailed the President’s patronage powers and cut Executive Branch offices in half.
3. Suppressed taxes on ordinary citizens
4. Economized in a way that would still honor payments on the national debt and eliminate that debt in 18 years
5. Reduced the size of the judicial branch, enlarged pre-1801 to increase Federalist power
6. Welcomed refugees from other countries
7. Eliminated all public governmental ceremonies patterned after England’s

Jefferson claimed near unity of the citizenry, to the fury of their former leaders.

He didn’t sign this letter, saying Kosciuszko would know who wrote it. There was another reason. Political opponents regularly pilfered the mails. Since Jefferson apparently could not send this letter by private courier, his preferred method, he would omit his name so his straightforward assertions could not be used against him.

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Missouri Mappers Association
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Is an activist government the solution? Or the problem?

I own I am not a friend to a very energetic government. It is always oppressive.
To James Madison, December 20, 1787

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Lovers of liberty are suspicious of an activist government.
Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary defines energetic:  “1: marked by energy: STRENUOUS  2: operating with vigor or effect  3: of or relating to energy.” Those were qualities Jefferson admired in an individual and his private pursuits. He feared them in a government.
Jefferson had received in France a copy of the new U.S. Constitution and shared his thoughts with Madison. Jefferson told his good friend what he liked about the Constitution, and where he found it lacking.
His major concerns were no bill of rights and a President who could be re-elected forever. He knew the nature of government was always to reach beyond its limits. The result was always a loss of individual liberty. In support of his distrust, he cited Roman emperors, Polish kings, popes during the Catholic Church’s ascendency, and the deys (rulers) of North African states.
Keeping the national authority Constitutionally-limited to minimal and clearly defined powers  was the citizens’ best possible protection against an “energetic government.”
Many well-known Jefferson quotes come from this long letter.

“… your presentation brought to life not only the spirit of Thomas Jefferson,
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Which is best: More? Or Less?

We have thought hitherto that the roads of a state could not be so well administered even by the state legislature as by the magistracy of the county, on the spot. What will it be when a member of N.H. is to mark out a road for Georgia? Does the power to establish post roads given you by congress, mean that you shall make the roads, or only select from those already made those on which there shall be a post? If the term be equivocal, (and I really do not think it so) which is the safest construction?
To James Madison, March 6, 1796

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Grasping leaders always look to expand their power.
In the January 24, 2014 post, Jefferson warned Madison about his bill to establish official “post roads” for carrying the nation’s mail. Here, from the same letter, Jefferson is more philosophical about human nature and governmental expansion.

He asked three questions:
1. Who was best qualified to select post roads in the counties in Georgia?
         a. A Congressman from another state
         b. The Georgia state legislature
         c. The county officer in each county
He thought the answer was obvious.

2. Was the President to dedicate existing roads or create new ones? There was a HUGE difference.  “Cutting down mountains and bridging of rivers” for new roads meant massive government expansion, patronage and spending. Using existing roads accomplished the same purpose but involved none of those.

3. If the answer to #2 could be either, which was safest for the nation?

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Do people obey because of duty … or fear?

… but I expect all will go off with impunity. if our government ever fails, it will be from this weakness. no government can be maintained without the principle of fear as well as of duty. good men will obey the last, but bad ones the former only.
To John Wayles Eppes, September 9, 1814

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Realistic leaders understand the need for fear.
To his widower son-in-law (married to Jefferson’s younger daughter Maria, who died in 1804), Jefferson wrote about an apparent lack of preparation for the British invasion of the nation’s capital in the War of 1812. He strongly defended President Madison and suggested others were negligent. He hoped the courts or the Congress would deal with the responsible parties. That thought ends with this excerpt, his thinking that no one would be called to task, a potential fatal flaw in America’s future.

Duty was sufficient motivation for good men to do what was right. Bad men needed to be afraid of what would happen if they were not dutiful. Both principles, duty and fear, were absolutely necessary to maintain a government.

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What’s a government to do?

… The only orthodox object of the institution of government is to secure the greatest degree of happiness possible to the general mass of those associated under it … unless the mass retains sufficient control over those intrusted with the powers of government, these will be perverted to their own oppression and to the perpetuation of wealth and power in the individuals and their families selected for the trust.
To F. A. Van der Kemp, March 22, 1812
From Koch & Peden’s Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson, P. 566

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Liberating leaders keep government focused on its highest purpose.
Van der Kemp was a Dutch immigrant, intellectual and friend. He and Jefferson were corresponding about the Constitution. Jefferson reiterated a common theme: Government’s only proper role is the happiness of its people. (Remember “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness …“ from 1776?)

To maintain such a limited and focused government, the citizens must continue to exercise active control over it. Failure to do so will result in:
– Government’s powers being used against them
– Those in government using their positions to perpetuate wealth and power
in themselves, their families and their descendants.

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an honor awarded very few presenters.”
Assistant Executive Director, Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors

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Are you a republican [small r]?

…  the republican is the only form of government which is not eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind … It is indeed an animating thought, that while we are securing the rights of ourselves and our posterity, we are pointing the way to struggling nations, who wish like us to emerge from their tyrannies also. Heaven help their struggles, and lead them, as it has done us, triumphantly through them …
To William Hunter, Esq., Mayor of Alexandria, March 11, 1790
From Koch & Peden’s Life & Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson, P. 453

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Far-sighted leaders inspire the less-fortunate.
The government Jefferson called republican [small r] was one which regarded all men as created equal and possessing God-given rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, one that derived its authority from the permission of those being governed. Any other form of government, based on privilege, wealth or power, would forever be at war with those God-given rights. That war could be secret, as privileges traded behind closed doors, or open, as in a dictatorship, but it was still a war against mankind.

Jefferson pointed out an added blessing. While America was pursuing a republican government for herself, she was an example to oppressed nations who hoped for the same freedom. He prayed they would be successful in their yearning, as his own country had been.

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Jefferson came across as a real person.”
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Why can’t they be happy?

Indeed, it is difficult to conceive how so good a people [the French], with so good a King, so well-disposed rulers in general, so genial a climate, so fertile a soil, should be rendered so ineffectual for producing human happiness by one single curse, — that of a bad form of government. But it is a fact, in spite of the mildness of their governors, the people are ground to powder by the vices of the form of government. Of twenty millions of people supposed to be in France, I am of opinion there are nineteen millions more wretched, more accursed in every circumstance of human existence than the most conspicuously wretched individual of the whole United States.
To Mrs. Trist, August 18, 1785

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders know oppressive government destroys happiness.
As a new minister to their country, Jefferson’s love affair with most-things-French had begun. He praised the people, the King, and the governors. He acknowledged a mild climate and fertile soil.

Yet none of that could make its people happy. Why? Because its system of government, based on heredity, privilege and wealth…so non-republican…ground its citizens “to powder.” He estimated that 95% of French citizens, 19 million out of 20, lived lives that were worse off than the most destitute person in America.

In the paragraph preceding this excerpt, Jefferson observed the lack of marital faithfulness among the French. “The domestic bonds here are absolutely done away…” He speculated that sexual promiscuity served as a temporary diversion from “the hardness of their government.”

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They called me a genius – thank you.”
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Does Uncle Sam really know best?

Our country is too large to have all its affairs directed by a single government. Public servants at such a distance, and from under the eye of their constituents, must, from the circumstance of distance, be unable to administer and overlook all the details necessary for the good government of the citizens, and the same circumstance, by rendering detection impossible to their constituents, will invite the public agents to corruption, plunder, and waste.
To Gideon Granger, 1800, 1825

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders recognize the need for close public scrutiny.

Jefferson always opposed a strong, centralized (and necessarily large) federal government. Why?
– Public servants in Washington were too far removed from much of the nation to be able to govern effectively.
– At such a distance, the public couldn’t keep a close eye on them.
– Without close supervision, those “servants” would be tempted into dishonesty and waste.

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Thomas Jefferson on monarchies

Is one king just as bad as another?
I was much an enemy to monarchies before I came to Europe. I am ten thousand times more so, since I have seen what they are.
Thomas Jefferson to General Washington, 1788, 5350

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Not much explanation needed. Jefferson had been minister to France since 1784 when he wrote this. Before, he had known monarchies only from a distance. Now, he had seen them up close and personal for four years. To Jefferson, monarchies were the antithesis of republican government.

America still doesn’t have a king, and Thomas Jefferson is one of the reasons.
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