Thursday, January 5, 2012

What Would Thomas Jefferson Tell Us Today?

At our local 9/12 group meeting tonight, we were studying the Preamble to the Constitution and the seven provisions provided in its words. In discussion of the second provision, to provide a more perfect union, some words from Thomas Jefferson were shared that I think are very pertinent for today (emphasis mine):
We owe every other sacrifice to ourselves, to our federal brethren, and to the world at large to pursue with temper and perseverance the great experiment which shall prove that man is capable of living in [a] society governing itself by laws self-imposed, and securing to its members the enjoyment of life, liberty, property, and peace; and further, to show that even when the government of its choice shall manifest a tendency to degeneracy, we are not at once to despair, but that the will and the watchfulness of its sounder parts will reform its aberrations, recall it to original and legitimate principles, and restrain it within the rightful limits of self-government.
Thomas Jefferson was a minister to France when the Constitution was written in Philadelphia, and I am not sure the context of these words. However, his words are basic building block in the foundation of our nation. The Founders knew that our nation would never be truly "perfect". Men are fallible. In The Federalist Papers, James Madison noted, "if men were angels, no government would be necessary". This is in part why our Founders framed the Constitution as calling for a "more perfect union". The "more" indicates that true perfection can never be achieved. In fact, Jefferson knew that government ultimately had a "tendency to degeneracy". Our nation has not been in the black financially since President Jackson's administration. Our courts are legislating from the bench and thus twisting the branches of government. Our executive branch is defying the balance of powers by ignoring a Senate recess and appointing an essentially unaccountable bureaucrat. Our states are being sued for trying to enforce laws that the federal government should be enforcing themselves in reality. Individuals are being forced to purchase services, like health insurance, when there is no Constitutional authority to do so. The limited federal government has turned into a limitless oligarchy. The state's are losing their Constitutionally provided power. Individuals are losing their rights. What does Jefferson tell us?

Jefferson says, "do not despair" and be a "sounder part". Be willing to be watchful. Call for reform. Return to the first principles and restraint and limits of government. This is indeed what many have been doing for many, many decades, and indeed, what the Tea Party movement has been focused on in recent years. However, it seems like there is some despair. To be sure, for many of us, there are individuals we wish were running for higher office. There are people whom  we thought we could trust in government who have let us down and who have strayed from the platform which they supposedly espoused. However, Thomas Jefferson makes no direct mention of elected leaders in his statement here when he says "we". The "we" seems to be broader than that. The "we" that established the Constitution was not "we" as in the delegates at the Constitutional convention, nor was it we the states as had been the basis for the failed Articles of Confederation. It was "we the people".

 Perhaps too often, we put our trust in leaders and project our hopes onto them. To be sure, elected leaders do possess the powers and the mandate for change or restoration. They can influence policy, institute reform, and shape a message and an attitude towards our nation and the world. However, if we begin to place our hopes for our nation only on those people or those whom we hope will pursue such leadership roles, we will ultimately be despaired, which our Founders did not wish for us. With an overly powerful government, we can feel powerless, but we are not. We have the opportunity and the right to continue to call for reform and a return to first principles for those leaders, but also for ourselves. We can continue to educate ourselves on those first principles. Perhaps the reason we have strayed so far from those principles is that we haven't remained vigilant from generation to generation to pass knowledge of those principles down to younger generations or even across to our own generation. As  Ronald Reagan once said, "freedom is never one generation from extinction".  Reagan did not despair, just as Jefferson did not despair when government became degenerate. The went to action, not only as elected leaders, but also as citizen leaders. We have opportunity to do the same.

No comments:

Post a Comment