Politics / We The People

Letter from Thomas Jefferson – to Our Time

Thomas Jefferson

Exactly 210 years ago this month, a recently retired president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, found himself being asked advice – by a future governor of Virginia, one William Nicholas.  The answer Jefferson offered to his political colleague – is fascinating, in context of current events.

While we think of Jefferson as the iconic author of our Declaration of Independence and America’s esteemed third president, he was controversial in his time.  The reasons were diverse.  They included his innate belief in the good sense of average Americans, unshakable trust in their ability to see the truth.

He stirred controversy by opposing an indebted federal government (which Hamilton favored), seeking to avoid international entanglements – especially with Great Britain, constructing America’s first naval ships, including the USS Constitution, and opposing slavery. 

In short, Jefferson felt individual responsibility, lower taxes and a smaller, accountable federal government took precedence over whatever good might come of federal debt, higher taxes, and lure of material benefits from Congress.  I think he was onto something.

He would be shocked at America’s 23 trillion-dollar debt, taxes which consume half a worker’s wages, federal “entitlements,” and glib promises by presidential candidates to “forgive” – that is, assume to taxpayers – every citizen’s (and non-citizen’s) debt for medical care, education and altering weather.

He believed strongly in education – and making the Constitution a centerpiece of every citizen’s education.  He would defend America’s borders – and did in his time.  He would defend an accurate teaching of US and global history.  He would defend civic duties and first principles, including free speech and free exercise of religion.  After all, he put God and those principles into the Declaration.   

At heart, he was a fiscal conservative – cautious on public debt, resistant to taxes.  Contrary to current thinking, he wrote:  “I consider the fortunes of our country as depending, in an eminent degree, on the extinguishment of the public debt … because that done, we shall have revenue enough to improve our country in peace and defend it in war, without recurring either to new taxes or loans.” 

While a product of his time, he was troubled by the clash of morals and slavery. No coincidence, inside the Jefferson Memorial, you read: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.” 

He also wrote: “There is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would, to relieve us from this heavy reproach,” slavery.  While he understood the stain could not be removed in his time, he shouted the contradiction – and was condemned.

Beyond strengthening our defense, he confronted the Middle East, beating the Barbary Pirates.  He did that with naval ships many did not want him to build.  While he opposed entanglements, his USS Constitution ended up critical in securing victory over Great Britain in the War of 1812 – under his successor.  

The main point:  While we today revere Jefferson’s boldness, tenacity, constitutional and small government convictions, emphasis on individual liberty and responsibility, smaller government, lower taxes, national defense, and distaste for foreign entanglements, these were not popular positions.

Perhaps most we honor his trust in the good sense of average Americans, their penetrating instincts, willingness to work hard, hunger for facts, belief in the future, no matter their critics – and his. 

That brings me – as we think on current controversies – to what Jefferson wrote to that inquiring colleague, Mr. William Nicholas, 210 years ago this month.  Perusing Jefferson’s many letters, I found this one especially heartening. 

How did Jefferson handle critics?  Well, this is how: “I laid it down as a law to myself, to take no notice of the thousand calumnies issued against me, but to trust my character to my own conduct, and the good sense and candor of my fellow citizens.” 

In short, critics and controversies, calumnies and crisis-mongers are as old as Mankind.  They were in the days of Jefferson – and are still.  You can let them get to you, or take stock of your own views, belief in America, and “good sense” of like-minded American citizens.  Jefferson suggests the latter, and – as Congress heaps a “thousand calumnies” – I tend to agree.   My faith is still in “We, The People.”

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Bob Greenhow
2 years ago

FINE ARTICLE,, BUT I HAVE ALWAYS UNDERSTOOD THA THE WAR OF 1812 WAS A STALEMATE.. RIGHT OR WRONG?

Gary
2 years ago

Great article! President Trump, KEEP America Great, DRAIN the swamp.
We the People are with You!

Enough of Washington elites and insiders taking advantage through their lies and corruption.
They work for US, the Citizens of this Great Country, WE WIIL NOT ALLOW THEIR SELF SERVING, DO NOTHING, ESTABLISHMENT CORRUPTION ANY LONGER!
TRUMP 2020 save America for our Children , Grandchildren and Great Grandchildren.

Scott Davis
2 years ago

The debts we’ve piled up remain our most dangerous problem with our lifetime. Although the political elites just wink and nod as they continue to grow further into the abyss. For a long time, I’ve tried to push for a balance budget amendment. It’s been a fools errand I’ve come to find. Our grandchildren and their families will suffer from our leaders inept financial stupidity. How much deeper than where we are now do we allow them to put us in debt? The unfunded liability for our country is like 5 times the actual debt they’ve accumulated already; and, there’s no plans to balance it.
In 2010, the 912 project came out with a 5 point pledge for all politicians to sign up for. The first one is “I believe in a balanced budget and will therefore vote for a freeze in spending until that goal is realized.” My Rep. Fred Upton signed it on May 29, 2010. He made it until Aug of the same year before he broke it. Yes, he’s not followed through yet either.

Coco
2 years ago

And they’re removing his statues! Ignorants.

Cleita Thomas Carter
2 years ago

Thank God, for Thomas Jefferson who had some good common sense, and wisdom enough to use it. By the way Thomas Jefferson is one of my ancestors that I am very proud of.

Robert Andersen
2 years ago

I believe, Thomas Jefferson had the forsight, wisdom, & understanding that this new society would not eliminate the class of people that are not willing to earn their own way, but they would continue to creat diverersions or disruption, so they could take what others had worked so hard create.
God bless President Donald Trump.

Pat R
2 years ago

AMEN. We still have Jeffersons today. They get shouted down, attacked verbally and sometimes physically. But that treatment inspires more to take up the fight with them because it is a fight for truth and freedom. Thank God.

wandamurline
2 years ago

He believed in freedom not a communist regime that is running for president on the left….

Rexford O Ames
2 years ago

I am 76 years old and this “ letter” was never presented to and yet I knew my country was headed for some serious storms. There is the right way and a wrong way to get this issue(s) resolved. Do not get sucked into another “Civil War“. The Democrat controlled congress back then pulled the same crap. If one reads any history. The same party pushed to impeach President Lincoln. History does not need to be repeated!

michael failla
2 years ago

WE, THE PEOPLE. we have the real power. We get to use it. We get to vote overwhelmingly to throw the bums out. WE THE PEOPLE!b We the people have had enough of the skullduggery on the left, the inaction on the right and the general assault on the man we the people put in office to set things right. THATS RIGHT, WE the people have to get off our collective duffs and make it happen. WE THE PEOPLE!

Jack Thomas
2 years ago

“THE TWO ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE ARE CRIMINALS AND THE GOVERNMENT, SO LET US TIE THE SECOND DOWN WITH THE CHAINS OF THE CONSTITUTION, SO THE SECOND WILL NOT BECOME THE LEGALIZED VERSION OF THE FIRST.” ——- Thomas Jefferson

Gordon Grochau
2 years ago

Excellent!! I hope someone forwards this to our President. I’m sure he would like to see it.

Linda Taaffe
2 years ago

Very well written, thank you. All Americans need to hear this & our President needs to be reminded so that he spends more time on his priorities & promises to the American people and less time on verbal bantering with those seeking to distract him & give the media more to report on to distract the American people.

Greg Russell
2 years ago

My faith is not in “We the People”, since, as we`ve seen, too many can be bought at the alter of government with “free things”.

My faith is eternally in our Lord and Savior: Jesus Christ.

c.statler
2 years ago

A wise and honorable founding father. No surprise the left hates and vilifies him

Karen Nicholas Treanton
2 years ago

There was never a governor of Virginia named William Nicholas. In fact, Wilson Cary Nicholas was governor from December 1, 1814 to December 1, 1816.

Concerned Citizen
2 years ago

Good eyes Karen, maybe a typo, or computer “corrected” and author didn’t realize it.

Matt Chancey
2 years ago

I don’t see the letter anywhere in or attached to the article.

Anne Marie Pender
2 years ago

Well said! Can we find that in “our representatives” today? What a mess they are making of our country! Hang strong Mr. Trump!! I personally want to help you hang on. You are a fabulous breath of fresh air!

Phil Caiazzo
2 years ago

Fantastic article I hope President Trump gets a chance to read it.

Hshfgdbdgsg
2 years ago
Reply to  Phil Caiazzo

Agree completely

Brenda Blunt
2 years ago

We need today to reflect upon the earlier history of our former presidents and the lessons learned so that it may help us today!

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