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Friday, October 19, 2018


Our Founding Fathers collectively possessed incredible wisdom: Ben Franklin, John Adams, John Jay, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and so many more.

Where did they acquire such knowledge and wisdom to create the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers and the Constitution? None had “public education” to their credit but were taught at home by parents and tutors. All were well-read and otherwise self-educated. Several attended private universities in their late teens and early twenties.

In particular, the wit and wisdom of Thomas Jefferson remains an inspiration to all who read him. As with others, he was essentially self-taught surrounded by books. Jefferson is so often cited and embraced both by liberals and assorted progressives as well as conservatives and libertarians.

What we know of Jefferson’s thinking comes principally from his letters. He never wrote a book but, at the age of thirty-three, he drafted the Declaration of Independence.

Yet, Jefferson held some beliefs that don’t square with today’s liberal and progressive thinking. To illustrate, here are some revealing quotes by Jefferson suggesting his probable opposition to some contemporary signature policies if he were alive today.

On the redistribution of wealth: “To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry...has acquired too much, in order to spare others, who...have not exercised equal industry and skill...is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, ‘the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry, & the fruit acquired by it.’” This is found in a prospectus for his translation of Destutt de Tracy’s “Treatise on Political Economy.”

On welfare: “If we can but prevent the government from wasting the labours of the people, under the pretence (sic) of taking care of them, they must become happy.” This from a letter written to Thomas Cooper, November 29, 1802. As a friend, Jefferson described Cooper as “one of the ablest men in America” and later appointed him as the first professor of natural science and law at the University of Virginia.

On taxes: In the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, adopted in 1785, Jefferson drafted “...That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical;....”

On big government: “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yeild (sic), and government to gain ground.” Jefferson wrote this to Edward Carrington on May 27, 1788. Lieutenant Colonel Carrington commanded artillery during the siege of Yorktown. Virginia sent Carrington as a delegate to the Continental Congress (1786-1788).

On liberty: Upon his receipt in Paris of a copy of the new US Constitution, Jefferson wrote a lengthy letter of thanks to William Stephens Smith, at one time a member of George Washington’s staff. In the letter Jefferson commented, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.” The letter was dated November 13, 1787.

On the right to bear arms: “No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms [within his own lands or tenements].” Jefferson’s belief in the right to bear arms is found in his drafts of the Virginia Constitution. His view was shared by many and was later reflected in the Second Amendment to the US Constitution.

On rebellion: “Even this evil [rebellion] is productive of good. It prevents the degeneracy of government, and nourishes a general attention to the public affairs. I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.” This Jefferson wrote from Paris to James Madison in a letter dated January 30, 1787.

Jefferson’s legacy echoes through the halls of time. While hosting a White House dinner for a group of the “best and brightest,” President John F. Kennedy is reported to have made the following comment. “This is perhaps the assembly of the most intelligence ever to gather at one time in the White House with the exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

Why are so many so unfamiliar with this fundamental thinking of Thomas Jefferson as well as where he got his ideas and how he was trained? Maybe we were never taught. Our education, regardless of how it was acquired, bears no small responsibility for our general ignorance of such a rich heritage, where we came from and where we are headed.

There’s no use blaming politicians for our cultural and economic malaise. Just look in the mirror. Voters supported over and over again misguided leaders who promised much in violation of the fundamental principles codified by our Founding Fathers.

It’s not too strong to say voters get what they deserve.


Dennis M. Patrick can be contacted at (JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Click here to email your elected representatives.


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