Posted by Jason | Posted in Government, History | Posted on 24-04-2010
In a letter to Edward Carrington, before the Constitution was written, Jefferson talks about the up risings in America during Shay’s Rebellion.
DEAR SIR, — … The tumults in America, I expected would have produced in Europe an unfavorable opinion of our political state. But it has not. On the contrary, the small effect of these tumults seems to have given more confidence in the firmness of our governments. The interposition of the people themselves on the side of government has had a great effect on the opinion here. I am persuaded myself that the good sense of the people will always be found to be the best army. They may be led astray for a moment, but will soon correct themselves. The people are the only censors of their governors: and even their errors will tend to keep these to the true principles of their institution. To punish these errors too severely would be to suppress the only safeguard of the public liberty. The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs thro’ the channel of the public papers, & to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people. The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.
You have to love the way Jefferson puts things. “…whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” shows how Jefferson did not trust government, and that the only way for government to remain accountable was to have a press that informed the people of exactly what the government was doing on their behalf. Considering all the backroom dealings, the couple thousand page bills, and Obama shutting the press out of meetings with foreign leaders, can we say that we even have a government with newspapers (open information)? I would have to say we do not, and as such would tend to agree with Jefferson that I would prefer newspapers without a government. At least then, I could get information and make choices myself, instead of slime ball politicians making them on my behalf, and then not letting me know how those decisions were made and what those decisions entail.
But I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them.
Jefferson must have never thought about what the public schools would end up doing to our literacy rate.
I am convinced that those societies (as the Indians) which live without government enjoy in their general mass an infinitely greater degree of happiness than those who live under the European governments. Among the former, public opinion is in the place of law, & restrains morals as powerfully as laws ever did anywhere. Among the latter, under pretence of governing they have divided their nations into two classes, wolves & sheep. I do not exaggerate. This is a true picture of Europe.
Here Jefferson sure sounds like an anarchist. He argues that public opinion is just as powerful as laws. Could it be happiness is not derived by the so-called tranquility created through government, but instead by the free choice of how to live your own life? Public opinion does not require force. There is no gun pointing at you. Instead you are choosing to abide by public opinion in order to get along with your neighbor and to be accepted into society. No one is forcing you. You could just as easily choose to not abide by public opinion and either work to change the opinion or setup a society based on new public opinion. It is by this free choice that Jefferson believes that societies without government enjoy “an infinitely greater degree of happiness”.
Cherish therefore the spirit of our people, and keep alive their attention. Do not be too severe upon their errors, but reclaim them by enlightening them. If once they become inattentive to the public affairs, you & I, & Congress & Assemblies, judges & governors shall all become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature, in spite of individual exceptions; and experience declares that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to the governments of Europe, and to the general prey of the rich on the poor. The want of news has led me into disquisition instead of narration, forgetting you have every day enough of that. I shall be happy to hear from you sometimes, only observing that whatever passes thro’ the post is read, & that when you write what should be read by myself only, you must be so good as to confide your letter to some passenger or officer of the packet. I will ask your permission to write to you sometimes, and to assure you of the esteem & respect with which I have honour to be Dear Sir your most obedient & most humble servt.
Wonder what Jefferson would think of our government today? Would he consider a government who runs up a $13 trillion debt that will enslave it’s citizens wolves? Would the people who are looted to pay for enslavement programs for the poor and the poor who are enslaved be considered sheep? How about the money stolen from tax payers to hand over to wealthy bankers? Does that qualify our governors as wolves? And are we sheep when our governors stick guns to our heads and tell us what we must buy?
Surely, Jefferson would see that our government has become the wolves, and we the people have become the sheep.
But, he would speak glowingly of the people who are now rising up and becoming attentive once again, for it is this spirit that Jefferson cherished.