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Thomas Jefferson

The first founder I will discuss is Thomas Jefferson. I feel that Thomas Jefferson, who many times has been hijacked by Conservatives and Tea Partyers, in my opinion spoke to the essence that is the Occupy movement. While, the right holds Jefferson as their anti-tax, anti-Federal government hero that Glenn Beck has claimed to be his favorite founding father. However, through a wanton misrepresentation of certain quotes, writings and beliefs of this founder, I fear that the right has misconstrued Thomas Jefferson, who in my opinion would have championed the Occupy Movement.

Where would Thomas Jefferson stand on the issue of economic inequality that our nation is currently dealing with? The economy that Thomas Jefferson envisioned would have been a more agrarian based one, and little could have prepared him to envision the massive industrialization and change in the American landscape that we have today. Yet, I feel that as the individual farmer was paramount to Thomas Jefferson, the workers of our nation would have been just as important to him.

The economic inequalities that could arise in the United States was something of great concern to Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to James Madison stated:

 

"I am conscious that an equal division of property is impracticable, but the consequences of this enormous inequality producing so much misery to the bulk of mankind, legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property…Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions or property in geometrical progression as they rise.” (http://observationalepidemiology.blogspot.com/...)

 Glenn Beck’s favorite founder can clearer be seen favoring a progressive tax rate to help ease inequality in property. Inequality cannot be removed from an economy. With 43% of the national wealth being controlled by 1% of the population we are seeing an inequality that border lines on tyranny of the 1%. Economic inequality is at times is an unavoidable outcome of reality, however, how much inequality because a greater burden on the next subject that we face; civil liberties.

Thomas Jefferson views on civil rights, even though he was a slave owner, would match the Occupiers more closely than the tea party and conservatives. In his legal argument of 1770, Thomas Jefferson stated:

“Under the law of nature, all men are born free, every one comes into the world with a right to his own person”

 In these twenty-three words we can sum up nearly any response Thomas Jefferson would have as far as civil rights were concerned. If everyone comes into this world with the right to be his own person, how can we limit the rights of persons? How can we dictate who can, or can’t marry; How can we justify who can, or can’t have health care; How can we justify holding certain rights from certain populations of society that are afforded to others. Now I know that the fact that Thomas Jefferson owned human property, he is not the greatest choice to use to explain civil liberties. However, in his original draft of the Declaration of Independence he attempted to distance the newly forming American from slavery. Unfortunately, for the sake of compromise and creating this great nation that distancing would have to be pushed off for young American men who came of military age in the 1860’s. Insofar as religion would come into the context of Civil Rights, Thomas Jefferson in his A bill for Establishing Religious Freedom of 1777, which would be adopted by Congress in 1786 stated:

“Our civil rights have no dependance on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.”

Thomas Jefferson and his close compatriot, author of the United States Constitution James Madison who would  bring this bill for religious freedom to the floor of Congress in late 1785 saw the separation of Church and State to be paramount to the existence of a Republic, such as ours.

Now we reach the topic, which I believe is one of the major grievances of the Occupiers, which are the existence of special interest and corporate money pervading our election process. Jefferson stated:

“I hope we crush in its birth the aristocracies of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country” Furthermore referred to the merchants of his day as “the least virtuous of citizens (who) possess the least of the amore patriae.”

 These merchants and corporations are the greatest threat to our democracy that we have. Seeking only profits, with little concern for the American people they have purchased our legislature and ignore the regulations placed on them to protect the people and the market. While, I agree that Thomas Jefferson mistrusted government just as much as corporations, I cannot picture Jefferson being in favor of the crony capitalism, legalized bribery that lobbying has become would not have been tolerated by Jefferson. In his notes on Virginia, Jefferson stated:
“The time to guard against corruption and tyranny is before they shall have gotten hold of us”

Unfortunately we have failed to respond in a timely manner and the corruption and tyranny has appeared in the sense of corporate personhood.

In all my readings of Thomas Jefferson, I find it hard to believe that he would have found a corporation as being a person. He so guarded, and demanded the respect for individual liberty, that the tyranny that corporate personhood has forced on the individuals is not a tyranny that Jefferson would protect. Whether or not the answer is from through government, I speculate that Jefferson would feel that doing nothing to protect the individual from the corporation would be a greater evil than intervening for the good of the people.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (8+ / 0-)

    I have been thinking that I would make a proposition to my Republican friends... that if they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them. (Adlai Stevenson)

    by ProgressMoShuffle on Mon Dec 19, 2011 at 07:25:03 AM PST

  •  This is an excellent Diary. There are several (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    IreGyre

    things I would like to see taken back from the tea-idiots.  They misuse the ideas and statements of our Founding Fathers all too frequently.  Thomas Jefferson would not have wanted anything to do with them.

    Can we have our Tri-Corner hats back too?  They were cool until these teahadists started wearing them.

    #OccupyOMC - "We have a permit, its called The Constitution".

    by Evolutionary on Mon Dec 19, 2011 at 07:53:19 AM PST

    •  It just takes a little common sense to reclhistory (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      nzanne, Evolutionary, Chitown Kev

      History from the right. Yes at time we have had gross injustices, but we have confronted them. The colonists were not a bunch of bumbling idiots running around terrified of each other. They were well educated and embraced and considered new theories that called into question the way things were done for centuries. We owe a great deal to them, and must protect our history from all enemies foreign and domestic.

      I have been thinking that I would make a proposition to my Republican friends... that if they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them. (Adlai Stevenson)

      by ProgressMoShuffle on Mon Dec 19, 2011 at 08:31:43 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I know! The teahadists of today (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Evolutionary

        were the REDCOATS of yesterday.

        They would have been at the original tea party, but on the other side!

        My new favorite RIGHT WING website: NewtCantWin.com It's what the RIGHT thinks of Newt! Enjoy!

        by pucklady on Mon Dec 19, 2011 at 09:30:12 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I refer to them as the modern day Tories (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Chitown Kev, pucklady

          In an article I wrote on the 235th Anniversary of Thomas Paine's American Crisis #1 that could be found at Counter Punch, I make the comparison to the Tories of the revolution loyal to the ways of old and the economic royalists refusing to give up on exploiting the working people.

          I have been thinking that I would make a proposition to my Republican friends... that if they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them. (Adlai Stevenson)

          by ProgressMoShuffle on Mon Dec 19, 2011 at 12:53:22 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Looking forward to the rest of this series. (0+ / 0-)

    Can you perhaps give us some indication of your interest in this? - are you a historian, amateur history buff, a guy on a mission, etc?

    thanks!

    •  All of the above (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      nzanne

      I have a degree in history and currently applying to pursue q masters in political science or American Studies.
      I can't afford to be a full time historian at the present, nor could many Americans :).
      I do have a mission. That mission is to remove the death grip that conservatives have on our history.  America was given birth by the ideals of the enlightenment, not rhetoric of fear. We are an experiment in self governance that I fear, if the right has it's way will fail on the altar of divide and conquer. You can see a majority of my writings on http://progressmoshuffle.org
      I welcome all comments and criticisms as well. Intellectual debate drives republics, not fear of thought.

      I have been thinking that I would make a proposition to my Republican friends... that if they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them. (Adlai Stevenson)

      by ProgressMoShuffle on Mon Dec 19, 2011 at 08:40:04 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Tipped and recced (0+ / 0-)

    Thomas Jefferson is one fascinating and complicated historical figure for many reasons.

    I, too, am a bit of a amateur historian, although my BA is in classics.

    But I have studied a number of the writings of the Fouding Fathers, including John Witherspoon, a minister and a signatory to the Declaration of Independence (i have a paper that I did on him somewhere or another).

    And yes, we do need to fight back against the conservative appropriation (and wild mis-usage) of American history and the Founders.

    •  There was once a series here on DKos (0+ / 0-)

      about Forgotten Founding Fathers and another one on Founding Mothers.

      I hope that between the two of you, we can get something like this going again.

      My new favorite RIGHT WING website: NewtCantWin.com It's what the RIGHT thinks of Newt! Enjoy!

      by pucklady on Mon Dec 19, 2011 at 09:48:12 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  If you have a link I'd appreciate it (0+ / 0-)

        Id appreciate it if you had a link for it. I'd be interested in reading and maybe getting in contact with be author.

        I have been thinking that I would make a proposition to my Republican friends... that if they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them. (Adlai Stevenson)

        by ProgressMoShuffle on Mon Dec 19, 2011 at 01:06:10 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I recommended this, but . . . (0+ / 0-)

    There is always a but.

    There are dangers in attempting to rescue an historical personage for the purposes of a modern political dispute, and Thomas Jefferson is especially fraught with peril for modern day liberals and progressives.

    Jefferson, like Franklin before him and other Founders who imbibed from the body of writings characterized today as the "Republican synthesis" viewed factory workers as being unfit for citizenship.  Women should submit to the household patriarch.  His and Madison's solution to America's race problem was to "colonize" the "free blacks" back to Africa, and Native Americans should assimilate into the white Anglo-American, agrarian culture and even own slaves.  Jefferson to his credit did advocate that all adult white males should receive a freehold in his proposed 1776 Virginia state constitution, he never advocated universal manhood suffrage.

    Civil liberties and Jefferson is another minefield.  How does the modern liberal square his desire to uphold the ideal of civil liberty with the Jeffersonian record.  Jefferson supported ex post facto laws while Governor.  Madison tabled antislavery petitions from the 1st Congress on.  Jefferson supported the "censoring" of Hume at the University of Virginian and utilized federal troops using general search warrants to enforce his Embargo and Non-Intercourse policies of his second presidential term.

    As to crony capitalism, one needs to look to no farther than when the Bank of Baltimore wanted federal deposits ( a bank bailout) and Jefferson wrote to Treasury Secretary Gallatin:

    "It is certainly for the public good to keep all the banks competitors for our favors by a judicious distribution of them and thus engage the individuals  who belong to them in support of the reformed order of things or at least in acquiescence under it."

    And:

    ". . . I am decidedly in favor of making all banks Republican by sharing deposits among them in proportion to the disposition they show . . ."

    The record is decidedly mixed.

    Jefferson's racism, agrarianism,and anti-statism except under Jeffersonian control are an integral part of his political philosophy.  There isn't really much to recommend for modern liberals.

    You write that Jefferson would support Occupy Wall Street because the "tyranny that corporate personhood has forced on the individuals is not a tyranny that Jefferson would protect."  Jefferson owed close to 200 people at any one time including his own offspring, selling them to satisfy his debts caused by his profligate lifestyle, and forcing children to work in the one enterprise that was profitable, his nail mill.

    I applaud your desire to rehabilitate Jefferson.  Good luck in grad school.  Stay out of debt, and maybe Jesse Lemisch's call for a federal WPA project for historians will lead to a job for you some day.

    Best,

    •  My thing is (0+ / 0-)

      (and I speak for myself)

      I'm not terribly interested in rescuing Jefferson (or anyone other historical figure) "for liberals and progressives" (i.e. in my line, I could easily do this with Cicero...)

      But conservatives do engage in outright distortions of the record. So I would be more interested in the decidedly mixed record than anthing else.

      •  Exactly my point (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Chitown Kev

        I know our founders were not in the least bit perfect, however, they came together to make a more perfect (not a perfect) union. Conservatives have claimed in essence a mandate on American History. They claim everything the left does is un-American, they distort history for partisan gains and create the factions that Madison warned of in Federalist 10.
        I know all about the paradox of American history from my studies; slave owners who wanted to be free. However twisted at times, we can't hide from our history and we especially cannot allow conservatives to claim our history.
        Thomas Jefferson might not have the record of a champion in civil liberties at times, however, he was not this no government, theologically driven, corporate personhood defender that the right claims of our Founders.

        I have been thinking that I would make a proposition to my Republican friends... that if they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them. (Adlai Stevenson)

        by ProgressMoShuffle on Mon Dec 19, 2011 at 01:04:15 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

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