[Vision2020] Happy 273rd birthday, Thomas Jefferson
thansen at moscow.com
Thu Apr 14 03:40:49 PDT 2016
Courtesy of today's (April 14, 2016) Moscow-Pullman Daily News with special thanks to Nick Gier.
His View: Happy 273rd birthday, Thomas Jefferson
By Nick Gier
Since we celebrated Thomas Jefferson's 273rd birthday Wednesday, we need to be reminded about what a controversial figure he was. In the election of 1800 he was called "that atheist and leveler from Virginia."
Alexander Hamilton was so committed to preventing "an atheist in religion and a fanatic in politics from getting possession of the helm of state" that he urged New York Gov. John Jay to block Jefferson's election.
During the 1800 election campaign, rumors were spread that, if elected president, Jefferson would confiscate all Bibles in the land and replace them with his own version, in which all references to miracles and the resurrection were deleted. Jefferson was confident the early church had added supernatural events to Jesus' life and teachings.
Some conservatives promote Jefferson's "God given rights" assuming that the reference is to the God of the Bible. When Jefferson referred to "Laws of Nature and Nature's God" in the Declaration of Independence, he was not referring to a deity who intervenes in history and hardens the hearts of world leaders. Rights are inalienable only if they are guaranteed by the immutable laws found in human nature, immune from even divine veto.
Jefferson was convinced the English Common Law he studied in law school was by far the best reflection of this natural law. If abortion had been an issue at that time, Jefferson would have supported jurist William Blackstone, who believed that the fetus was not a person until the third trimester.
I sometimes call myself a classical liberal. I define that in terms of the motto of the French Revolution, which I revise as "liberty, equality, and community." The American Revolution was far less violent than the French Revolution, primarily because our founders realized the importance of the traditional values embedded in our diverse communities.
Jefferson was called a radical in politics and a "leveler" because of his sympathy for the French Revolution. Dictionary
.com defines "leveler" as "one who would remove social inequalities or distinctions; a socialist."
But of course Jefferson was no more a socialist than President Barack Obama is, but both of them are classical liberals because, while holding traditional values dear, they believed that equality was just as important as liberty.
Without equal opportunity and equality of rights, individual personal liberty will be fulfilled by some but denied to many. It used to be that Americans could, by dint of their efforts, move from the bottom of society to the very top. But now only 25 percent of Americans born in the lowest economic 20th percentile move out of the bottom. (In contrast 40 percent of Danes do.) Only 7 percent of Americans now make it from the bottom to the top 20th percentile.
One aspect of Jefferson's views is actually way out of line with classical liberal philosophy, based as it is on international free markets. Jefferson's ideal America was a nation of small farmers living virtuously on the fruits of their own labor. True Americans would avoid manufacturing, a market economy and wage labor, which he thought was degrading to the human soul.
Jefferson disliked the Federalists partly because they "all lived in cities," but Federalists such as Alexander Hamilton encouraged manufacture, banking and the wise management of debt. Had it not been for Hamilton's successful plan to nationalize the Revolutionary War debt and build up the nation's credit in the world economy, President Jefferson would not have been able to purchase the Louisiana Territory from France.
Republicans praise a man with an odd and anachronistic view of the American economy, so we should commend both Hamilton and Obama for realizing that government and private interests must always work together in truly successful human societies.
Seeya 'round town, Moscow, because . . .
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