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THOMAS JEFFERSON by Ammon Hennacy - Catholic Worker odds & ends
March 6th, 2008
04:23 pm


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"His (Jefferson's) comment on Shay's Rebellion to Abigail Adams and W.S. Smith will stand for centuries. 'I like a little rebellion now and then...the spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it always to be kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all...God forbid that we should be over twenty years with such a rebellion."

"In a letter to Madison he wrote: 'What right have we to bind future generations to this form of government? To keep our ideas clear when applying them to a multitude, let us suppose a whole generation of men to be born the same day, to attain mature age on the same day, and to die on the same day, leaving a succeeding generation in the moment of attaining their mature age, all together...Each successive generation would in this way, come and go off the stage at a fixed moment, as individuals do now. Then I say, the earth belongs to each of these generations during its course, fully and in its own right. The second receives it clear of the debts and incumbrances of the first. The third of the second, and so on. For if the first could charge it with a debt, then the earth would belong to the dead, and not to the living generation. Then, no generation can contact debts greater than may be paid during the course of its own existence.' "

"Commenting on Justice Marshall's decision in Marbury vs. Madison, in a letter to Judge Spencer Roane in 1819, Jefferson said: 'The Constitution intended that the three great branches of the government should be co-ordinated independent of each other. As to acts, therefore, are to be done by either, it has given no control to another branch....If this opinion be sound (that the judiciary is the last resort in relation to the other departments of the government)...then indeed is our Constitution a FELO DE SE. For intending to establish three departments, co-ordinate and independent, that they might check and balance one another, it has given, according to this opinion, to one of them alone, the right to prescribe rules for the government of the others,and to that one too, which is unelected by, and independent of the nation...The Constitution on this hypothesis, is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please' "

"Jefferson was for 'states rights against the Union, for county rights against the state, for township rights or village rights against the county, and for private rights against all.' "

"His comment on Christ's teaching does not sound radical today except in the Bible belt, but in his day it is no wonder that he was called anti-Christ. He said: 'I consider the doctrines of Jesus as delivered by himself to contain the outlines of the sublimest morality that has ever been taught; but I hold in the most profound detestation...the corruptions of it which have been invested by priestcraft and established by kingcraft, constituting a conspiracy of church and state against the civil and religious liberties of mankind.' "

"The essence of Jefferson's teachings is that the individual should rule himself and that the government should be minimized. With the Supreme Court in the name of Justice imposing higher standards upon reluctant states, and the welfare state upon all of us, who can fight Santa Claus? More and more the individual who speaks up will be scorned if not starved. There must be a few un-terrified Jeffersonian democrats here and there. There must be a few youngsters who will, perhaps before the magic age of thirty, work out their frustration, and expecting nothing from the Goliath of the State, try to remain individuals. To them and to the memory of Jefferson will be the heritage and the challenge of a future to be striven for eternally. Can people be made good by law? Can morality be legislated? Jefferson said:'No' "

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