Generations from today, two of the most influential figures in American history will be Barack Obama and Chief Justice John Roberts. As concerns the 44th president, the explanation will be that he was the man whose policies were so shockingly statist and government-empowering at the expense of the liberties of the free American people that the citizenry of a sleeping superpower were jolted awake and mobilized in an effort to defend themselves. He will be the man who will someday be identified as the one who either took us to the razor-thin edge of collapse or the one who took us over it. My opinion is that it’s pretty clear which one of those two that he would prefer to be his legacy.
As concerns Chief Justice John Roberts, well, that’s a bit more curious. Having had the opportunity to spend time with Jeff Schreiber and his family during the better part of last week, especially during those all-important days during and after the healthcare decision’s being handed down, I tend to see more and more of Jeff’s view of things, in that all Roberts did was swap an all-purpose Commerce Clause for the unlimited taxing power of the state. I totally get it. I’ll admit, however, that I’m still intrigued by what some of the conservative pundits had to say about the potentially positive, long-term effects of the decision for the conservative, freedom-loving advocates throughout our country. In the end, Roberts’s decision will have – one way or another – incredible ramifications for our children’s future. Those ramifications may not be fully realized for a couple of generations.
I’ll say this – given the magnitude and potential turning point of this decision for all Americans, I can’t help but think about the staunch resistance of John Dickinson from Pennsylvania during the intense congressional deliberations about whether to dissolve our political connection to England. Until the last possible moment, Dickinson felt that Independence was a lost cause, that the colonies would be annihilated in the coming war, and that if they continued to prevail upon the conscience of George III, he would eventually see the light and return to the colonists their natural rights as Englishmen. Once the congress received the final reply from the King, which, in essence, told them to “step off”, even Dickinson saw their quickly-approaching destiny.
On more than several occasions during my time here at America’s Right, I’ve mentioned the fact that I’m an assistant principal for an all-boys’, Catholic college preparatory high school. Obviously, this affords me a great deal of time during the summer months to get in the reading that I love, most of which is usually devoted to American history and that, for reasons that need little explanation, during the past four years or so has been nearly exclusively dedicated to the Revolutionary period at the dawn of our Republic.
About a week or so past I began reading an extensive biography on Thomas Jefferson, entitled American Sphinx, by Joseph J. Ellis, a man who has written other noteworthy volumes on the period in question. Given the timing and significance of last week’s landmark decision on healthcare, there were passages about Jefferson’s political character and make-up that, quite honestly, jumped off the page as I read them.
Without going back in an effort to try to develop some type of “new” perspective on Jefferson’s life – a subject into which so much digging has been done that I highly doubt that there’s any real fertile soil remaining, and being merely an armchair historian, I certainly deem myself uniquely unqualified to try – let’s just say that the man was a brilliant enigma. While Liberals and hard-leftists throughout the country – especially those in academia – will stridently defend the idea that Jefferson was a leftist, the simple and very clear evidence tells us otherwise.
Jefferson didn’t want a big government. He didn’t want any government. He had a nearly complete aversion to anything that smacked of real political authority over the people. That said, he did envision a utopian society in which certain things could only be possible with a large, powerful, government apparatus that could dictate right and wrong for the people. Obviously, though, our modern conceptions of what we might call communism or National Socialism would have been completely foreign to the founders’ way of thinking and completely antithetical to Jefferson’s visions. I suppose, if we were to plop a modern context onto Thomas Jefferson in order to better understand him, the man in our national political scene who would probably most resemble him would be Ron Paul. Is it any wonder that there are a lot of people on the left who love the venerable old congressman?
Whether those who advocate for a strong, powerful, federal government choose to see or believe this, however, the founding father who most resembles the goals of Barack Obama was Alexander Hamilton. I think, though, that even Hamilton – who, when push came to shove, was ultimately a patriot – would be shocked at the conduct of the 44th president.
(An interesting historical footnote on Alexander Hamilton is also this little-known point, something that I once pointed out in a comment here on the site: Hamilton was the singular reason for the founders’ inclusion of the now-infamous “natural born” clause. Hamilton was, without question, the most brilliant of the founders, as there are historians today who make the claim that he would have been routinely capable of a perfect score on today’s SAT’s. That said, the intensity of his personal and political ambition matched his power of his intellect, so much so that the rest of the leaders of the revolutionary generation were quite fully aware of that of which he was capable. As he was the illegitimate son of a mother from the West Indies, they found a way to keep him from taking complete power. History can sometimes have a funny way of laughing at us.)
Thomas Jefferson’s vision of America was a truly Republican vision, in which the federal government was essentially a bystander and the people dictated domestic policy, and to an extent, even foreign policy (sounds like Ron Paul, no?). His idea of this new “utopia” was one in which people would instinctively understand right and wrong and that personal and/or political conflicts would be digested naturally by the new form of government. As John Adams repeatedly pointed out to him, however, mankind was far from perfect, would never be perfect, and that Jefferson routinely chose to ignore the messier realities of life.
Jefferson even referred to himself as a Republican.
Jefferson’s nemesis, Alexander Hamilton, was the man who essentially singlehandedly designed our economic system. He was, however, a man who was an advocate for a powerful, active centralized government that was, in large part, based on running a large national debt, a debt that would enable the government to dictate the course of the economy and to control markets (who does that sound like?). In fact, there are more than a few historians who see the Hamiltonian vision as the nascent stage of FDR’s New Deal (hmmmm…..). A passage from Ellis’s work reads,
For Jefferson’s congenital suspicion of Hamilton’s cavalier way with budgets merely hinted at his much deeper suspicion that Hamilton’s real intention was to increase the national debt in order to justify expanding federal power over the economy, including the power to tax, manipulate credit rates, and establish all the accouterments of a modern nation-state along English lines (on this score he was not entirely wrong.) Debt, then, was the key device that made the whole Hamiltonian scheme possible. (pg. 156)
Couple Jefferson’s view of Hamilton with the passage of the controversial Jay Treaty in 1795. That the Jay Treaty and the landmark healthcare decision are completely and entirely unrelated, both in the chasm of history and in legislative substance, matters not at all for the purposes of this article; the comparison does matter conceptually, however, merely because both acts were highly controversial, bitterly contested, and came to re-define the bounds and limitations of the federal government. The Hamiltonian faction staunchly advocated the treaty, while the Jeffersonian Republicans were dead-set against it, as it was the first major act that legitimized an already-growing federal government and, from their point-of-view, completely broke from the revolutionary ideals of 1776. The following passage from American Sphinx could well be speaking about the manner in which the controversy surrounding nationalized healthcare has unfolded, but obviously, it speaks to Jefferson’s view of the eventual fate of the Jay Treaty:
The passage of the Jay Treaty was a great victory for the Federalists, but it was Jefferson who understood, more than anyone else, that it was a victory from which his enemies would never fully recover. It turned out to be the launching site of his eventually successful campaign for the presidency. (pg. 157)
In order to fully understand Jefferson’s view of the American potential, then, one must understand who it was that he actually referred to as “the people”. His vision for America was essentially one of domestic bliss, a country in which people were free from the centralized authority of the state and could simply work their own farms and be with their families, a utopian concept in which all decisions and conflicts were absorbed by the abstraction of the political system. Given the tenor of the political divisions in our country today, in which those who forcefully march for the power of the state against those who simply want to return America to her first, more simple principles, the following rather lengthy passage clearly shows not only where Jefferson stood on the debate but that he also, in a sense, could see what was coming in his country’s future.
When he was asked to describe the social composition of the two parties, for example, his list of “anti-republicans” consisted of former loyalists and tories, American merchants trading with England…
…think General Electric doing business with our enemies in the Middle East…
stock speculators and banking officials…
…geez, if only the current president would do something to reign in the guys on Wall Street in addition to the ones artificially driving up oil prices…
federal employees and other office seekers…
…which speaks for itself…
and – an all-purpose category – “nervous persons, whose languid fibers have more analogy with a passive rather than an active state of things.
In other words, insecure people who are more concerned with public appearances, as well as those who don’t really want to take an active interest in their own well-being.
The list of “republicans”, on the other hand, was much shorter but included the vast majority of American voters. It was comprised of “the entire body of landowners throughout the United States”…
…the modern equivalents, of course, would be business owners (large or small)…
as well as “the body of labourers, not being landowners, whether in husbanding or the arts.”
…those who are actively and gainfully employed.
Jefferson estimated that “the latter (republicans) is to the aggregate of the former party probably as 500 to one.”
Point taken, especially in that polls almost universally show that people who conclusively identify themselves as “liberal”constitute 20% of the population, give or take. The rest are either conservative or independent, which should a) send the alarm out to all people who are decidedly not liberal to get out to vote, those who want Barack Obama removed from office and b) tell us even more about why the current president has arbitrarily opted not to enforce our deportation laws with regard to people aged 16-30 as well as why he is currently engaged in a frontal assault against one of his own states over illegal immigration.
Ellis continues –
Here one gets an early whiff of the distinctively democratic odor with which Jefferson’s name would eventually be associated. In the traditional Whig formulation the Country Party was an elite group of landowners who opposed the policies of the Court Party…
…successful businessmen, i.e., the Chamber of Commerce, who are virulently opposed to the sledgehammer-like, anti-business policies of the current administration. It should also be noted here that Jefferson was an extremely vocal proponent of the free market, often desperately trying to point out to political leaders both in America and Europe the potential for exponentially growing wealth for everyone once the burdens of taxation were lifted.
and the two competing elites offered different prescriptions for what was in the best interest of the public. But Jefferson had come to see himself as the leader of a popular majority doing battle with an elite minority.
BINGO. Elitists. Self-appointed aristocrats – dukes, duchesses, et al.
This was a new way of thinking about politics in the late eighteenth century. True, it drew upon traditional notions of conspiracy long associated with Whig ideology. The “anti-republican” supporters of Hamilton’s policies, for example, though a mere minority, enjoyed “circumstances which give them an appearance of strength and numbers.”
Thank you, mainstream media.
…Their chief advantage, Jefferson thought, was that “they all live in cities, together, and can act in a body readily and at all times”….
Can you say bussed-in union protesters and Occupy Wall Street?
…whereas his constituency was “dispersed over a great extent of the country, and have little means of intercommunication with each other.”
This point is very interesting. Conservatives are generally people who by nature keep to themselves, their families, and their neighbors, and they devote the majority of their daily life to their work and trying to better their families’ lives. They’re hardly every truly politically active and are not pre-disposed to be. They assume that people are just people and that we take care of ourselves and help out the ones that we can. Given that we largely choose to remain “isolated”, so to speak, we rarely speak to one another about politics and what we do know about the developments that impact our lives has been – up until the past five years or so – limited to what passes for a mainstream media opts to tell us. The radical policies of the current administration has jolted nearly all of these “isolated” conservatives into political action, and the internet – particularly Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere – has changed forever the lack of communication between members of the silent majority. We can now be politically active in our offices. In fact, I’m sitting on my couch right now.
…But the novel feature of Jefferson’s formulation of American political life was that it essentially a matter of numbers. He regarded himself as the spokesman for a latent majority of Americans, who, if they could ever be mobilized, would assume their rightful place as the true heirs to “the spirit of ’76.” And instead of talking about them as “the public”, he began in the 1790’s to speak in the more dramatic idiom of “the people.” These were prophetic tendencies. (pg. 133)
It’s no wonder that liberals, by and large, detest the internet, because it’s the last, true bastion of free speech, and given that free speech is a concept that they loathe – since they can never, ever win the battle of ideas on a level playing field – they’re now trying to cripple it, either by regulating it, through measures such as “Net Neutrality”, or, as has been mentioned here and there during the course of the past several years, the dreaded “kill switch”. After all, the government has to protect us from terrorists. To use the current president’s own words, “it’d probably easier to use a sledgehammer rather than a scalpel.”
I think that Thomas Jefferson, if he were alive today, would be incredibly invigorated by the sharpened edge of political battle taking place in America right now, especially since the people for whom he saw himself as spokesman have, indeed, been mobilized. The self-appointed aristocracy in Washington – Democrats and Republicans both – are doing their level best to push back against the coming tsunami.
Only time will tell if it is, in fact, too late.