What Would Jefferson Do? Today is the day before the 4th of July. Yes, every country in the world has a 4th of July. However, in America it is a special day that represents the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Therefore, I have to wonder if Thomas Jefferson and the other founding fathers of this country were alive today, would they be proud of what has happened since they risked their lives by signing that document, or would they hang their heads in shame over what they saw has become of their great experiment.
Of course, it is impossible to ask them, but we can ask ourselves. Yes, we have made great technological achievements over those two hundred years, even to the point of landing a man on the moon, which would make Benjamin Franklin proud. We have also made great strides in improving human rights and dignity, but we still have some ways to go. We have become a major player in world politics and the world economy, a leader amongst nations. However, there are cracks forming in the walls. In fact, Jefferson warned of the dangers of these cracks in the following quote:
“I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”
I wonder what he would say about the national debt? Maybe it would be something like:
“Never spend your money before you have earned it.”
You see, Jefferson and most of the founding fathers believed in minimal government interference. That was their definition of independence and freedom. Today however, we see the government wanting to regulate every aspect of our lives. Just one example is when the government decides whether a person can say a prayer or not say a prayer. That type of interference is exactly what Jefferson warned about in these quotes:
“It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God.”
“I never will, by any word or act, bow to the shrine of intolerance or admit a right of inquiry into the religious opinions of others.”
Of course, Jefferson was a realist and in writing the Declaration of Independence knew that changes would occur. He knew that the natural tendency for humans is to use power to dominate other humans and the only way to prevent that was through knowledge and the use of checks and balances throughout government to prevent that concentration of power:
“Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms (of government) those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny”
However, he had faith that the people could prevent that from happening if only they remain attentive to what was happening in government and kept the ideals of the founding fathers alive.
“If once the people become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, Judges and Governors, shall all become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature, in spite of individual exceptions.”
In fact, he had faith that no matter what happened, the people, as long as they are well informed, would eventually right any abuses of power in the government as shown in this quote:
“Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”
Are you well informed? This is an election year. Do you just listen to the political ads on the TV where each candidate criticizes the integrity of the other? To that, Jefferson might say:
“He who knows nothing is closer to the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors”
This process is nothing new and if you think the mud slinging is bad now, go back and read the Federalist papers. Nevertheless, perhaps the main difference between politics of Jefferson’s day and today is that the Jefferson politics were not about making a name for themselves. In fact, Jefferson never took it personally.
“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”
These unique Americans were idealists in some ways with a passion for the country they created. Passion is not necessarily a bad thing when directed toward achieving higher goals. In fact, I would suggest that a politician without passion for his beliefs has no beliefs at all and will readily change his or her position to match the political winds of their electing public.
Few people today understand what the original founding fathers really stood for. So with tomorrow being the anniversary of the 4th of July especially this year being an election year, it might be a good time to reflect on what Jefferson and his colleagues believed in and whether any of the current politicians come close to representing that ideal. Even Bill Clinton once said of Thomas Jefferson:
“If Thomas Jefferson were alive today, I would appoint him secretary of state, and then Al Gore and I would resign so he could become president.”
Happy 4th of July and remember to think WWJD.
C’ya next time.