In honor of the 236th birthday of the declaration of independence, I think it would be appropriate to say a few words in honor of its author, Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson is my favorite president, I am a strong believer in Jeffersonian democracy and I feel that our country, while maintaining the core structure might have strayed from his original goal. I hope that this will inspire some of you, my readers, to find out a little more about this great man, and who knows? Maybe this will inspire you to get up and get involved.
I believe the foundation of Jeffersonian philosophy is as he himself said, “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others..." In other words, every man should have the right to do as he pleases, so long as he does not infringe on the rights of his fellow man to do the same.
Jefferson was uncomfortable with a big government, or a government that got too comfortable with its power. He knew that government was unavoidable and therefore wanted to keep it small and in its place. In a letter to Abigail Adams he wrote, "The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all." In another letter, this time to William S. Smith, he wrote, "And what country can preserve its liberties, if the rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms." He felt that the needs of the people must always be the first priority of the government, and that people should be involved in the government. He called for a unified and educated America; he founded the University of Virginia and donated all his books to the library of congress.
Probably the single saying of his which I love the most is
“The question Whether one generation of men has a right to bind another, seems never to have been started either on this or our side of the water. Yet it is a question of such consequences as not only to merit decision, but place also, among the fundamental principles of every government. The course of reflection in which we are immersed here on the elementary principles of society has presented this question to my mind; and that no such obligation can be transmitted I think very capable of proof. I set out on this ground which I suppose to be self evident, "that the earth belongs in usufruct to the living;" that the dead have neither powers nor rights over it.”
The honesty and humility, in that statement is why I admire him so much. Although he authored one of the greatest documents of all time, he was aware of his limitations as a human being. He knew that he could only ever say, that this seems to be the best idea that we have right now, and I will leave the door open for future generations who might have better ideas.
Jefferson was also a great supporter of human rights, as he famously stated in the declaration of independence “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal” and the idea that people have “unalienable rights, that among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Unlike most governments of his time, he truly tried, and succeeded, to create a secular state, and famously called for “a wall of separation between church and state”.
He was also a skeptical philosopher and his belief in god was limited to Deism. Although, in a letter to his nephew Peter Carr he famously wrote “Fix Reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason than of blindfolded fear. ... Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it end in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise and in the love of others which it will procure for you. -- (Jefferson's Works, Vol. ii., p. 217)”
He was an inventor and a philosopher, he is quoted as saying that he would have loved to dedicate his life to being a natural philosopher but his duties to his country came first, a true American Marcus Aurelius.
I raise my glass to you Thomas Jefferson, my favorite president, and thank you for your work in the establishment of the ideals of this country, which has made my life so much better. While America may not be perfect, it is surly one of the freest countries in the world, it has been the leader and light bearer for many countries that followed suit, and thanks is due to you.
Happy Fourth of July!