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Thread: Tom Jefferson on a Liberty Question

  1. #1
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    Tom Jefferson on a Liberty Question

    Its a little quiet around here. Since we're generally about liberty and freedom around here, I figured I would kick off another discussion.

    You can skip the commentary and go straight to indented excerpts below of a letter from Jefferson to James Madison if you don't want to read the commentary. Do follow the link and read the whole letter; its pretty impressive.



    Thomas Jefferson was no angel.

    During the revolution, he urged a Bill of Attainder against a Brit accused of raiding in VA. (A bill of attainder is a legislative declaration of outlawry: the victim is not only pushed outside the protection of the law, he was to be killed by whoever found him. Such is an utter violation of the right to due process and jury trial. Used in England, they often included "corruption of blood"--heirs could not inherit the property after the victim was killed. Bills of Attainder were so hated, they are expressly prohibited in the constitution.)

    He made the Louisiana Purchase without a shred of constitutional authority. He also forced northern ports to observe an embargo, almost bankrupting them, and failing in his goal to put economic pressure on (England? France?).

    He held slaves.

    But, among the Founders he was about the most liberty-minded of all. Although a member of the aristocracy, he sided for the common man.

    He did believe in the necessity of compulsory government. And, I kinda wondered about his commitment to liberty in light of being a slave holder (some real contradictions in that area of his life which are not easily explained away). Until I read the letter excerpted below.

    English political history until 1776 is one long story of the people getting government under control. That history can be viewed as rising toward more and more freedom across twelve or thirteen centuries. It was John Locke's ideas written in 1689 about unalienable rights and consent of the governed that Jefferson used in the Declaration of Independence. But, if you're rising toward more and more freedom, why stop there? Why not make consent of the governed genuine? What rational basis is there for one equal to just up and govern another without his actual genuine consent?

    Well, Thomas Jefferson didn't stop at the Declaration of Independence's basis for political authority after all. He explored the question further. In a letter to James Madison in 1789.

    There is a word in that letter: usufruct. It means the right to enjoy the use and profits of property belonging to another.

    Below are some excerpts from the letter. I included them really just to spark your interest; I'm thinking you will actually need to read the whole letter for things to make sense. That is to say, to get the whole context:

    "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...

    ...What is true of every member of the society individually, is true of them all collectively, since the rights of the whole can be no more than the sum of the rights of the individuals...

    ...On similar ground it may be proved that no society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation..."



    http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/found.../v1ch2s23.html


    Its almost as though Jefferson knew or suspected that consent to be governed had to be genuine for government to be truly legitimate. You can't ask the questions he's asking without quickly arriving there--it only takes a little more looking or questioning at the premises. You can't undermine the authority of the US constitution as he does in the letter without missing that point by much in your own mind.

    Was Jefferson trying to inject some food for thought to Madison on something Jefferson already knew or suspected went deeper, perhaps to prompt Madison to work hard on the national debt issue? Why did he mention it at all to Madison? Rather than just ask Madison to work hard on the national debt question?
    Last edited by Citizen; 07-12-2015 at 08:04 PM.
    I'll make you an offer: I will argue and fight for all of your rights, if you will do the same for me. That is the only way freedom can work. We have to respect all rights, all the time--and strive to win the rights of the other guy as much as for ourselves.

    If I am equal to another, how can I legitimately govern him without his express individual consent?

    There is no human being on earth I hate so much I would actually vote to inflict government upon him.

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    Regular Member stealthyeliminator's Avatar
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    Sometimes when reading Thomas Jefferson's words, I have come under the impression that he may have been a closet anarchist. At least, it seems he toyed with the idea, heavily enough to in some circumstances introduce questions into discussions that obviously and naturally lead to anarchistic conclusions.
    Last edited by stealthyeliminator; 07-12-2015 at 07:40 PM.
    Advocate freedom please

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    Likely note previously, in other threads, the feds, from the first day, ignored the wishes of about half the citizens, loyalists to be specific. Nope, consent of the governed, while a nice book learnin discussion, has not ever, and will never be, a legitimate premise to hang ones individual liberty on, the state just give a rip about your individual liberty.

    The state is only concerned with you properly rendering tribute unto Caesar.
    "I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it." - Thomas Jefferson.

    "Better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer" - English jurist William Blackstone.
    It is AFAIK original to me. Compromise is failure on the installment plan, particularly when dealing with so intractable an opponent as ignorance. - Nightmare

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    In the 21st century the term "USUFRUCT" means, Taxes and welfare, eminent domain.

    CCJ
    " I detest hypocrites and their Hypocrisy" I support Liberty for each, for all, and forever".
    Ask yourself, Do you own Yourself?

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    Quote Originally Posted by stealthyeliminator View Post
    Sometimes when reading Thomas Jefferson's words, I have come under the impression that he may have been a closet anarchist. At least, it seems he toyed with the idea, heavily enough to in some circumstances introduce questions into discussions that obviously and naturally lead to anarchistic conclusions.
    I'd love to hear any examples you can recall.

    Jefferson was a master politician: he out-maneuvered the federalists on the Alien and Sedition Acts. The federalists as a party started to disappear with the next election. Also, he was pretty much universally recognized as an excellent diplomat--very good at manners and respecting the other fellow's viewpoint. Thus, it is entirely plausible to me that what he said might be one thing, and what he privately thought might be something else entirely.

    Also, his letters home from France pulled no punches about the wretchedness of the peasants' lives, and his blame on the political system.

    I can't help but wonder just how far he got in his thinking on government and freedom.

    We know for sure he personally owned a copy of John Locke's Second Treatise on Government. Among his papers is an invoice for an order of books from England. On that invoice is Second Treatise. While he probably learned about Second Treatise earlier--say college at the latest--historians know to a certainty that he owned a copy of the book himself. As if his easy familiarity with the ideas when writing the second paragraph of Declaration of Independence were not enough.

    I am no Jefferson. But, if I can spot the disconnect between the theory and the actual practice with regard to equality and consent of the governed, I can't imagine an intellect like his missed it.
    I'll make you an offer: I will argue and fight for all of your rights, if you will do the same for me. That is the only way freedom can work. We have to respect all rights, all the time--and strive to win the rights of the other guy as much as for ourselves.

    If I am equal to another, how can I legitimately govern him without his express individual consent?

    There is no human being on earth I hate so much I would actually vote to inflict government upon him.

  6. #6
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    I think the genius of the constitution is that it incorporated ideas from so many, very different perspectives.

    Where would we be if Jefferson had gotten everything he wanted? Or if the federalists had not had to make concessions?

    The constitution isn't perfect, and our government certainly isn't either. But under that constitution this nation has flourished in ways and to extents no other nation has. Consider the notion of intellectual property and the constitutional language for patents and copyright.

    On the one hand, if there is no individual right to keep others from using a good idea (did one caveman actually think no other caveman could rightfully emulate him to make fire by striking stones together), by what right does the federal government prevent all of society from using an idea for 17 years unless they can work out mutually agreeable terms with the inventor. On the other hand, is there is some natural right to keep others from using your ideas, by what right does government whose job it is to defend those rights, ignore your rights after 17 years?

    And yet, despite the imperfections in our IP laws, it is not hard to see what they have fostered, better than in any other nation. Unless one presumes that Americans are better than other peoples, one must look to such things as our social order, our government and laws to explain why we prosper compared to so many other nations and peoples.

    In an anarchist society, how does one man keep all the others from emulating his invention? How does he profit from his invention if it isn't something that can be reasonably kept a trade secret? And lacking the ability to profit, where is the motive to spend the time, money, and other resources to develop that idea?

    In so many ways the constitution works because is was focused on working rather than trying to maintain purity of any single social theory.

    Jefferson wasn't a fan of the constitution, wasn't in the nation as it was being drafted, debated, or ratified. He was in France and it seems was a supporter of the French Revolution. What a cluster that turned out to be. Thankfully, in that matter, clearer heads such as Washington's prevailed regarding US involvement or support.

    I do not denigrate Jefferson, nor Washington, nor Hamilton. Without the ideas and contributions of each, and many others we would not have the form of government we do. And I can find no better form anywhere. That especially includes lack of functioning government.

    Charles
    All experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. Thank heaven we do not permit a few to impose anarchy.

    "With Anarchy as an aim and as a means, Communism becomes possible."
    --Marxist.org

    "Communism and Anarchy [are], a necessary complement to one another. "
    --PETER KROPOTKIN, "Anarchism: its philosophy and ideal." 1898.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by utbagpiper View Post
    SNIP Jefferson wasn't a fan of the constitution, wasn't in the nation as it was being drafted, debated, or ratified. He was in France and it seems was a supporter of the French Revolution. What a cluster that turned out to be. Thankfully, in that matter, clearer heads such as Washington's prevailed regarding US involvement or support.

    I do not denigrate Jefferson, nor Washington, nor Hamilton.
    Suuuuuure. You don't denigrate him; you just take a veiled swipe at him for supporting the French Revolution, and calling the thing you say he supported a cluster.

    Ever hear of a straw man argument? That's your comment about Jefferson's support of the French Revolution. You first say he supported it, without distinguishing whether he supported The Terror into which it morphed. Then you call it a cluster. You attribute to him a position you invented, then argue with it.

    We all know your reliability on historical facts--for example your assertion in an earlier thread that political history for this country extended back 5000 years: to the late Neolithic Stone Age!! I'm still waiting for that stone carving giving the basis for political authority. Why it would make the archeologist who found it world-famous. Silly Brits--they celebrated Magna Carta at only 800 years old this past June while you've known all along of a 5000 year old stone carving laying out the basis for political authority.

    So, why don't you edify us with some of Jefferson's writings to show us exactly which aspects of the French Revolution he supported, which he aspects he disliked, which aspects he thought foolish?

    Oh, and do be a little bit careful. I own two biographies on him.
    Last edited by Citizen; 07-14-2015 at 12:23 AM.
    I'll make you an offer: I will argue and fight for all of your rights, if you will do the same for me. That is the only way freedom can work. We have to respect all rights, all the time--and strive to win the rights of the other guy as much as for ourselves.

    If I am equal to another, how can I legitimately govern him without his express individual consent?

    There is no human being on earth I hate so much I would actually vote to inflict government upon him.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Citizen View Post
    Suuuuuure. You don't denigrate him; you just take a veiled swipe at him for supporting the French Revolution, and calling the thing you say he supported a cluster.
    Do you disagree that the French Revolution turned into a cluster? A blood bath that caught up far too many innocents?

    The French Revolution is one of many revolutions that bolsters the words Jefferson himself penned in the DoI: "Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed"

    Quote Originally Posted by Citizen View Post
    We all know your reliability on historical facts--for example your assertion in an earlier thread that political history for this country extended back 5000 years:
    Citation welcome.

    Quote Originally Posted by Citizen View Post
    So, why don't you edify us with some of Jefferson's writings to show us exactly which aspects of the French Revolution he supported, which he aspects he disliked, which aspects he thought foolish?

    Oh, and do be a little bit careful. I own two biographies on him.
    Why don't you let go of your **** **** and be half way polite and respectful even when someone disagrees with you or you dislike them or their sig? Or is it the fact that I use Jefferson's writing differently than you do that causes you such consternation? The reminder that your view of the world, history, and even Jefferson's writings are not the only view to be held?

    From a quick library of congress excerpt:

    Quote Originally Posted by Library of Congress
    Recognized in Europe as the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson quickly became a focal point or lightning rod for revolutionaries in Europe and the Americas. As United States minister to France when revolutionary fervor was rising toward the storming of the Bastille in 1789, Jefferson became an ardent supporter of the French Revolution, even allowing his residence to be used as a meeting place for the rebels led by Lafayette. Jefferson maintained his support for the French Revolution, although he wavered during the most violent and bloody stages. This became a key policy of his opposition political party. A revolution led by blacks in St. Domingue (Haiti) proved to be a crucible for testing the Jeffersonian right of revolution. Jefferson did not applaud the successful revolt, though he did propose that black rebels and convicts from the United States be relocated to the new nation. Jefferson reached the limits of his influence when he attempted to intrude republican principles in Russia, Poland, Greece, and the emerging South American nations. Until his death Jefferson was convinced that "this ball of liberty . . . will roll round the world" aided by the beacon of the Declaration of Independence.
    His support of revolution seems a bit at odds with his words of warning in the DoI, suggesting at least as complex a view as would his ownership of slaves while penning the DoI's assertions of all men being created equal.

    I revere Jefferson as one of the inspired founders of this nation. That is not merely a social or political view, but a religious view perhaps unique to my Mormon faith.

    But in doing so, I recognize him as mortal. I recognize the contributions of those who opposed Jefferson's ideals in many instances. I do not believe either anarchy nor totalitarianism, pure democracy nor aristocracy, federal control nor full States control, leads to the most prosperous society nor even the greatest degree of usable personal liberty.

    The French Revolution was a mistake. Washington prudently kept our nation out despite a certain debt to the French people. I suspect had he been able to predict what it would become, Jefferson would have avoided support as well.

    Charles
    Last edited by Grapeshot; 07-19-2015 at 07:37 PM.
    All experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. Thank heaven we do not permit a few to impose anarchy.

    "With Anarchy as an aim and as a means, Communism becomes possible."
    --Marxist.org

    "Communism and Anarchy [are], a necessary complement to one another. "
    --PETER KROPOTKIN, "Anarchism: its philosophy and ideal." 1898.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by utbagpiper View Post
    Do you disagree that the French Revolution turned into a cluster?
    This is a dodge. Even a 7th-grader can figure out the cluster comment was a part of the swipe taken at Jefferson in post #7. It wouldn't have been mentioned as a cluster if it hadn't been part of attacking Jefferson, the point I called out. I didn't call out whether the French Revolution was a cluster.

    So, lets have a look at something else that should put some holes in the walk-it-back post just above (#9) where it is suddenly claimed to religiously revere the fella at who a veiled swipe was taken.

    The following comes from Chapter Nine, Spectator, of Jefferson, a biography on the man by Saul K. Padover. Original hardback 1942. I have the author-abridged paperback which seems to have been copyrighted in 1970.

    Jefferson's insight into political drifts is well illustrated by his advice to Lafayete against imitating the United states. Every society must follow its own patterns, based upon its background and culture, and Jefferson was convinced that it would be a tragedy for France...to plunge precipitously into an antiroyalist revolution....Jefferson urged upon Lafayette the need for gradual reforms...rather than impetuous revolution...It was cheaper to buy off the French King...than to fight him. "If every advance is to be purchased by filling the royal coffers with gold, it will be gold well employed."

    So much for the veiled swipe at Jefferson for supporting the cluster of the French Revolution. Clearly, Jeffreson advocated against revolution, at least in the early days--something somehow omitted in the veiled swipe at Jefferson in post #7. Also, omitted was Jefferson's reaction to The Terror, when the guillotine's came into use.
    Last edited by Citizen; 07-19-2015 at 04:56 PM.
    I'll make you an offer: I will argue and fight for all of your rights, if you will do the same for me. That is the only way freedom can work. We have to respect all rights, all the time--and strive to win the rights of the other guy as much as for ourselves.

    If I am equal to another, how can I legitimately govern him without his express individual consent?

    There is no human being on earth I hate so much I would actually vote to inflict government upon him.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by utbagpiper View Post
    SNIP Why don't you let go of your butt hurt and be half way polite and respectful even when someone disagrees with you or you dislike them or their sig?
    Thank you for bring up your signature line; it gives me a chance to respond. Your signature line reads in part, "Thank heaven we do not permit a few to impose anarchy on the rest of us."

    You know very well no modern anarchist would impose any such thing on others. Modern anarchists are about consent, not imposing it on others--you know this after tons and tons of discussion on this forum with advocates of consent. You've also been repeatedly told no anarchist would stop you from getting together with like-minded people and forming a coercive government to rule yourselves--again, no imposing of anarchy.

    My opposition to your signature line is based on its factual misrepresentation.

    Thus, I find it very interesting you would characterize my opposition to your sig line as mere "disagreement" and/or mere "dislike".
    Last edited by Citizen; 07-19-2015 at 05:17 PM.
    I'll make you an offer: I will argue and fight for all of your rights, if you will do the same for me. That is the only way freedom can work. We have to respect all rights, all the time--and strive to win the rights of the other guy as much as for ourselves.

    If I am equal to another, how can I legitimately govern him without his express individual consent?

    There is no human being on earth I hate so much I would actually vote to inflict government upon him.

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    So, back to Jefferson and one generation having standing to bind a later generation with a constitution or laws.

    It occurs to me that the public education system and social structure spends a lot of effort convincing the young that the constitution is the best thing since sliced bread. Why bother if you're not trying to get them to agree to the constitution?
    I'll make you an offer: I will argue and fight for all of your rights, if you will do the same for me. That is the only way freedom can work. We have to respect all rights, all the time--and strive to win the rights of the other guy as much as for ourselves.

    If I am equal to another, how can I legitimately govern him without his express individual consent?

    There is no human being on earth I hate so much I would actually vote to inflict government upon him.

  12. #12
    Regular Member sudden valley gunner's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Citizen View Post
    So, back to Jefferson and one generation having standing to bind a later generation with a constitution or laws.

    It occurs to me that the public education system and social structure spends a lot of effort convincing the young that the constitution is the best thing since sliced bread. Why bother if you're not trying to get them to agree to the constitution?
    They then ironically teach its ok to ignore it on the grounds its a living breathing document and open for interpretation.

    Even some posters here insist that somehow the first amendment grants churches leeway to discriminate but that doesn't apply to a store. Even though both are private institutions and the first A applies solely to the government.
    I am not anti Cop I am just pro Citizen.

    U.S. v. Minker, 350 US 179, at page 187
    "Because of what appears to be a lawful command on the surface, many citizens, because
    of their respect for what only appears to be a law, are cunningly coerced into waiving their
    rights, due to ignorance." (Paraphrased)

  13. #13
    Regular Member stealthyeliminator's Avatar
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    Grapey, can I get one of the buttons that bagpiper has that can magically get posts deleted??? \_(ツ)_/\_(ツ)_/\_(ツ)_/
    Advocate freedom please

  14. #14
    Regular Member stealthyeliminator's Avatar
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    I think that Jefferson did argue for occasional amendment to the constitution to meet the needs of the current generation, but that doesn't really equate to "interpretation", rather it would mean explicit amendment via convention, or whatever. While he did argue that the constitution should be amendable by the current generation, it seems clear to me that he believed certain principles and rights were self-evident and so, I would think that he would strongly oppose any changes that would compromise any of those principles or rights.

    I also believe that Jefferson believed the only thing that could ever possibly and truly keep tyranny in check is eternal vigilance by the people, so having a constitution that could or should be amended from time to time by the current generation wouldn't necessarily endanger the country any more than it'd be in danger anyway.

    And pondering this the other day, I did begin to wonder if much of the country sees what's going on in our government and nearly the whole country suffers from the bystander effect, or some other effect similar. They stand in shock but they don't jump in and do anything about it, or they believe that someone else must be doing something about it, or just just bury their head in sand and hope that stronger people might do something about it.
    Last edited by stealthyeliminator; 07-20-2015 at 07:51 AM.
    Advocate freedom please

  15. #15
    Regular Member sudden valley gunner's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stealthyeliminator View Post
    Grapey, can I get one of the buttons that bagpiper has that can magically get posts deleted??? \_(ツ)_/\_(ツ)_/\_(ツ)_/
    You operate on a higher moral level. I doubt you'd use your magic button as a tool against those you disagree with.
    I am not anti Cop I am just pro Citizen.

    U.S. v. Minker, 350 US 179, at page 187
    "Because of what appears to be a lawful command on the surface, many citizens, because
    of their respect for what only appears to be a law, are cunningly coerced into waiving their
    rights, due to ignorance." (Paraphrased)

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