Today is Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, and given the state of American politics, with neither major party really putting Jeffersonian ideals into action, wouldn’t it be great if we could resurrect the Sage of Monticello and get his take on current affairs?
Unfortunately, Jurassic Park technology cannot yet be used to reproduce a Founding Father. But we do have Jefferson’s writings. Since I cannot interview him, I’ve combed through a great deal of Jefferson’s papers to try to find how he might answer questions about today’s politics. Jefferson was complex and somewhat contradictory, and doubtlessly the answers to some of these questions could differ depending on Jefferson’s age and state of mind. I’ve tried to come up with passages that most accurately reflect his views. All quotations can be found at the University of Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson quotations page:
Q: The Republican Party claims to be the party of fiscal responsibility, but under a Republican President and Republican Congress federal spending has risen from 18.5 percent of GDP to 20.8 percent, the largest percentage increase in more than half a century, and Congress had to raise the debt ceiling so the government could borrow more money. What do you make of this?
Jefferson: “Warring against [the principles] of the people there is no length to which [the delusion of the people] may not be pushed by a party in possession of the revenues and the legal authorities of the United States, for a short time indeed, but yet long enough to admit much particular mischief. There is no event, therefore, however atrocious which may not be expected.” (Letter to Samuel Smith, 1798.)
“I am for a government rigorously frugal and simple, applying all the possible savings of the public revenue to the discharge of the national debt; and not for a multiplication of officers and salaries merely to make partisans, and for increasing by every device the public debt on the principle of its being a public blessing.” (Letter to Elbridge Gerry, 1799.)
“To preserve the faith of the nation by an exact discharge of its debts and contracts, expend the public money with the same care and economy we would practice with our own, and impose on our citizens no unnecessary burden… are the landmarks by which we are to guide ourselves in all our proceedings.” (2nd Annual Message, 1802.)
“I… place economy among the first and most important of republican virtues, and public debt as the greatest of the dangers to be feared.” (Letter to William Plumer, 1816.)
“I sincerely believe… that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity under the name of funding is but swindling futurity on a large scale.” (Letter to John Taylor, 1816.)
Q: April 15 is Tax Day. Americans pay 31.6 percent of their income in taxes, up from 5.9 percent in 1900, according to the Tax Foundation. Do you think Americans are overtaxed?
Jefferson: “Economy in the public expense, that labor may be lightly burdened, I deem [one of] the essential principles of our government, and consequently [one of] those which ought to shape its administration.” (1st Inaugural Address, 1801.)
“Private fortunes are destroyed by public as well as by private extravagance. And this is the tendency of all human governments.” (Letter to Samuel Kercheval, 1816.)
“Taxes should be proportioned to what may be annually spared by the individual.” (Letter to James Madison, 1784.)
“The suppression of unnecessary offices, of useless establishments and expenses enabled us to discontinue internal taxes. These covering our land with officers and opening our doors to their intrusions, had already begun that process of domiciliary vexation which, once entered, is scarcely to be restrained from reaching successively every article of produce and property.” (2nd Inaugural, 1805.)
“‘A capitation is more natural to slavery; a duty on merchandise is more natural to liberty, by reason it has not so direct a relation to the person.’” “A quote in Jefferson’s Commonplace Book.)
Q: Illegal immigration is a huge issue right now, with estimates that between 11 million and 20 million aliens reside in the United States illegally. How should the United States approach immigration?
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online