True, you can't change anything by yourself, but you can tell others about the meaning and origin of our country's true historical endowment of freedom. You will feel better about yourself knowing that you're shaping new lumber to make a difference.
There are good people out there who want to hear your message. They will be your fellow carpenters, masons, plumbers and electricians. Credit yourself for the groundswell of restored freedoms that is sure to come. Welcome home, you'll be a Jeffersonian.
Jeffersonian or Hamiltonian?
A Bewildering MosaicAnalysis of Jefferson is made far more difficult by the complex nature of Jefferson's personality and career. A man of brilliant intellect; keenly interested in the whole range of human thought, from economics to architecture to scientific farming; active, dynamic, and spirited in an amazing multitude of enterprises, and moreover a political leader the greater part of his life, necessarily presents to posterity a bewildering mosaic. Politics itself is a day-to-day affair, imposing by its very nature on the politician a series of shifts and compromises. Thus, Jefferson combined within himself the qualities of a soaring intellectual spirit, searching for political principle, busy man of affairs, and political boss. When it is further remembered that Jefferson dominated the stage during the most vital years of the Republic (Revolution, Independence, Constitution, Growth, War, etc.), it becomes more understandable that so many contrasting groups can pick out of his immense record of writings and actions support for their own ideologies.
A Mere Scribbler?But to an unbiased observer who explores Thomas Jefferson, his principles stand out indelible and crystal clear. His political philosophy has been imbedded deep into the very soul of America, and has imprinted itself on the minds of innumerable Americans of later generations. His achievement has been sneered at by Hamiltonians of our day as well as his.
Hamilton, they claim, was a constructive and practical man of action. He funded the national debt, reformed the administration of government, established a national bank, etc. Jefferson was a mere phrase-maker and scribbler. These "practical men" fail to grasp that the forces which generate the actions of men, and therefore human history, are, for good or bad, the ideas of men. It is ideas, political, economic, ethical, esthetic, religious, that have prime significance for human action in the present and over the centuries. It is ludicrous to claim that Hamilton's financial measures were of comparable importance to the Declaration of Independence or the Kentucky Resolutions.
The battle between Jefferson and Hamilton, however, is of very great significance, and precisely because it represented a clash between two fundamentally contrasting systems of political principle. Jefferson's political philosophy is summed up in the phrase: ''That government is best which governs least." It received its finest expression in our own Declaration of Independence: man is endowed by God with certain natural rights; "to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed," and when government becomes destructive of that end, the people have the right to change the form of government accordingly. Thus Jefferson, as John Locke had done a century before, drastically shifted the moral emphasis from the State to the individual. In the absolutist and feudal era from which the world was beginning to emerge, divine right settled only on the kings, the nobility; in short, the State and its rulers. To Jefferson, the divine rights were conferred on each and every individual, not on rulers of government.
The Great Jeffersonian LessonWhat were these natural rights? The fundamental right, from which all others are deduced, is the right to life. Each individual has the moral right to live without coercive interference by others. To live, he must be free to work and acquire property, to "pursue happiness." In political terms, the one important natural right is self-defense; defense of one's life, liberty, and property from invasive attack. Government's function, then, is to use its power of force to prevent and combat attempts to use force in the society. If the Government extends its powers beyond this "cop-on-the-corner" function, it in itself becomes the greatest tyrant and plunderer of them all.
Since the Government has virtual monopoly of force, its potentialities for evil are far greater than that of any other institution. The people must constantly keep their Government small and local, and even then must watch it with great vigilance lest it run amok. That is the great Jeffersonian lesson, and it is one that all Americans must begin to learn again.
From this basic cornerstone, the rest of the Jeffersonian edifice is easily deduced. It explains his passionate, lifelong adherence to States' Rights, his determined opposition to John Marshall in the latter's successful campaign to make the Constitution more elastic so as to permit wider extension of federal power, his very distrust of the Constitution itself and insistence upon incorporating a Bill of Rights.
Jefferson's position on foreign policy stemmed from the same source. He did not believe that our government, or any government, is equipped to remake the world by force to our own liking. He was frankly a whole-hearted patriot, whose natural love of the soil and his country was reinforced by the fact that America constituted the Great Experiment in Liberty.
His foreign policy was expressed in this classic phrase: "Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none." Particularly marked was his perceptive distrust of the wily imperialism of Great Britain.