Comments on Thomas Jefferson’s Inaugural Address

Thomas JeffersonIn 1801, Thomas Jefferson gave his inaugural address, ushering him into the office of President of the United States, the third man to hold the position. As one of the architects of our country and government, his views and ideas are extremely important for us to understand.  His entire address can be found here,  My intent is to comment on some of the things he says. Keeping this from turning into a full-blown essay on every word he wrote may prove a challenge, but I’ll try. The language is what we might call ‘flowery’, and it can be a bit of a task to understand everything he’s saying, but I invite you to open that link in another window (clicking the link will open it in a new tab or window), and follow along with me. Jefferson’s words are shown below in blue.

“To you, then, gentlemen, who are charged with the sovereign functions of legislation, and to those associated with you, I look with encouragement for that guidance and support which may enable us to steer with safety the vessel in which we are all embarked amidst the conflicting elements of a troubled world.” – Jefferson looked to the legislators and others to provide counsel as he strove to steer our nation forward on the world stage. All of them, having passed through the strife of the Revolutionary War, would, he hoped, help pull the country in the direction of growth and advancement.

“…all will, of course, arrange themselves under the will of the law, and unite in common efforts for the common good.” – Sadly, our nation presently seems as divided as it has ever been since the Civil War. Not divided sharply in two, but fractured into many sparring factions. I have no argument with differing opinions. They drive us on, and in an arena of civil discourse, they cause each party to assess their own viewpoints carefully. I’m not confident that all of the aforementioned factions have the true good of our country in mind, however. Special interest groups, political action committees and the like tend to have the mindset of “Mine! Mine! Mine! And the rest of you be damned.” And we know for a fact that the president does not look to all legislators for counsel, blaming, as he does, one party repeatedly for a variety of crimes. This happens with every president, but for Obama to flatly state “We could do a lot more if Republicans…” clearly points out the real bull-headed gridlock mentality we all suffer under.

“…let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions.” – As a fairly conservative Christian, it feels as if the gains that have been fought for are surely slipping away. Our nation fought for religious freedom. Now almost daily I read of religious freedom, MY religious freedom, being stolen, stamped out. In this I am quite Libertarian in my leaning, I guess. I support the owner of a bakery who declined making a wedding cake for a gay wedding. I see it as his right. Equally, I see that couple as having the right to spend their money somewhere that would be glad to accommodate them. Why should they feel a need to force their money on someone who, due to heart-felt conviction, doesn’t want that money, other than to prove a point, or hurt that person? Why does it have to be a point of contention? “I don’t support what you’re doing, but I don’t intend to harm you.” “OK, we’ll go to a vendor who does support us and will give us the kind of service we want.” How could that type of exchange be a problem?

I think Thomas Jefferson would be shocked to see the extent to which this freedom has been eroded. Secularists and humanists have successfully distorted the concept of separation of church and state to such a degree, it’s no challenge to find headlines regarding someone suing someone else for praying, or placing a cross, or using the name of God in any manner other than cursing. Don’t say Merry Christmas, it’s Happy Holidays! Are there really a majority of Jews, for example, who are truly mad that Merry Christmas is a common phrase when it gets to be late December? Are there really that many who observe Kwanzaa who are oppressed and angered by the word Christmas? Again, true tolerance would seem the most advisable path here. You practice your religion as you see fit, and I’ll practice mine as I see fit, as long as neither of us harm the other. And when it comes to assessing any damage, let’s all pick up a big grain of salt, let’s take on a little thicker skin. Society, quit being such a litigious cry-baby.

“If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.” – This is a brilliant statement. You want tolerance, that’s tolerance. If anyone wants to dismantle the United States, to change its fundamental structure and workings, leave them alone, leave them as examples, as long as reason holds sufficient sway to protect the nation. This assumed, of course, a general agreement, a commonality of purpose, that being the betterment of this nation, among those he addressed, along with a preponderance of common sense or reason. Watching the news any day of the week often makes me think real common sense is less and less common a thing, to the harm and detriment of our country.

“a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government” – This is not the government we have, there can be no argument about that. The founding fathers wanted government to stay out of the people’s lives as much as possible, to have as little impact and intrusion as possible, to be mainly a common safe-guard. The NSA scandal, overly intrusive medical insurance policy, the seemingly endless list of restrictions on what you can do (whether or not you can have a garden in certain locations, the legality of collecting rain water, etc., etc.) proves the current government is neither wise nor frugal, and does not leave us truly free to regulate our own pursuits.

“the support of the State governments in all their rights, as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns and the surest bulwarks against antirepublican tendencies” – There has been a terrible decay of State government power and autonomy in recent years. The dreadful train wreck that is the Affordable Care Act, and The Common Core State Standards Initiative are two current examples of federal government attempting to force restrictions and courses of action on states that many states do not agree is for their good. I am encouraged to see some states pushing back against Common Core. The federal government has grown into a ponderous behemoth that seeks to micromanage the governance of the people. Jefferson’s statement shows his intent was the exact opposite. He wanted states to be as autonomous and self-directing as possible. By attempting to usurp that autonomy, the federal government clearly shows its truly antirepublican tendencies. If the federal government does not support maintenance of a republic, what do they support?

“absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority, the vital principle of republics…” – The founding fathers devised a system of government that balanced representation with pure majority-rule democracy, and the spirit of the mechanism they designed was that the voice of the people would be the guide for policies and governance. Again, two current examples of the opposite of this are Obamacare and Common Core, things that many people do not want, but which big government is trying to impose regardless. If “absolute acquiescence” in these matters is in fact a vital principle of a republic, and that acquiescence is fading or gone, the terrifying question must be asked, do we still live in a republic?

“economy in the public expense, that labor may be lightly burthened” – First off, that’s not a typo. “burthened” is the old-fashioned way of spelling burdened.

In the 1970s, our national debt was around 20% of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product), “the market value of all officially recognized final goods and services produced within a country in a year, or over a given period of time.” Today it is around 70%.  What does that tell you? It tells me there is no attempt to achieve economy in the public expense, and our labor is not lightly burdened. We are taxed at every turn, and there is often little sense that our money is being used carefully by those that take it.

Final Thoughts

Those men who laid the foundation of this country had a strong vision for it. They couldn’t see the future, but many had studied the past and had a good idea of how government could grow into a greedy, self-centered monster. They designed the structure of our government as best they could to avoid that scenario. We see many evidences of those safeguards being breached, unfortunately.

This republic, and it’s people, are indeed great. To keep it that way, each one of us needs to take these things seriously. We need to know where we came from and how we got where we are. If we’re not concerned with the trajectory of our nation, others will take care of that for us. The United States of America is not the government, it is the people. It often seems, however, that the government does not want you to know that. When a country is the government, that is totalitarianism. We do not want that! We were established as a republic, “a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch.” Big government hates that opening statement. “People don’t know what’s best, we do”, “People can’t be trusted with power, we must take it all.” When those who govern think that way, the governed need to put new representatives in place.

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