Thomas Jefferson

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Opposites for Independence

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

Could any two men be more different than John Adams and Thomas Jefferson? And yet, I doubt if the United States would exist were it not for both. Somehow, they worked together when it counted. And worked against each other, when it seemed necessary.

Yet they respected each other (in their different ways), and before the end, after a long estrangement, became close friends.Thomas Jefferson

The story is well known: on his deathbed on July 4, 1826, Adams whispered, “Thomas Jefferson survives!” He was wrong. Jefferson had died earlier that day, on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

Adams was also wrong about Independence Day. On July 2, 1776, after the Lee Resolution for independence passed the Continental Congress, he wrote that “the second day of July” would become the day of “a great anniversary festival.” But “by 1777,” Steve Tally noted in Bland Ambition, his jovial history of the vice presidency, “people were already celebrating the Fourth of July.”

John AdamsBut give him his due: it was Adams who insisted that Jefferson write the Declaration, and it was indeed its words — especially that of its “mission statement” preamble — that resonate almost universally to this day. And gave birth to the annual festivities.

Adams, Tally tells us, was “short, round, peevish, a loudmouth, and frequently a bore.” Jefferson, on the other hand, was tall, handsome, polite, and much more popular. And a much better writer. Which is why he was given his great job, to produce the Declaration.

Great writer or no, it’s not as if the tall redhead’s initial draft was acceptable as it flowed from the pen. Adams, Franklin, and the whole congress got in on the editing job. “Jefferson liked to recall that his document survived further [extensive] editing,” Tally explains, “because of the meeting hall’s proximity to a livery stable.” Still, it’s obvious that Jefferson wasn’t the only genius in the room, and that without Adams’s tireless work, independence might not have gotten off the ground.Declaration of Independence

The later history of both men, in service to the country they helped found, is riddled with ambiguities and even horrible moral and political lapses. Adams was the kind of politician who not only opposed term limits, but opposed terms: he thought men raised to office should be kept there forever. Jefferson leaned not merely the other direction, but flirted with the notion of a revolution every generation.

I adhere to the anti-federalist slogan of their day, “that where annual elections end, tyranny begins.”

Between the two extremes of these two great men, somehow, the republic survived. And thrived. Their correspondence is a mine of great wisdom, their biographies well worth reading.

Most of all, their legacy — of July 2 and July 4, 1776, and the universal rights of man — remains worth fighting for.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Nullification Today

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013

As the federal government lurches further out of control, wildly grasping to increase control over our lives, an old and controversial method of reining in our central government gains popularity: State nullification of federal law.

A recent Rasmussen survey asked whether “states have the right to block any federal laws they disagree with on legal grounds,” and 38 percent of likely voters surveyed said “Yes.”

Cutting to the quick of the Commerce Clause, a new Kansas law — Senate Bill 102, the Second Amendment Protection Act, signed by Governor Sam Brownback last month — states that firearms manufactured and owned in Kansas that do not cross state lines are not subject to federal law.

Of course, the Supreme Court thinks otherwise. In Wickard v. Filburn, the Court allowed the federal government to regulate darn near anything on the grounds that any conceivable act of consumption affects demand, and thus “commerce.” Goofy ruling? Yes. But by tradition it’s the Supreme Court justices who get the final word.

Yet even that has been denied by many constitutional theorists, including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison — “Mr. Constitution” himself — both of whom supported nullification, as recently explained by historian Tom Woods. No compact joined into by multiple parties may only be interpreted by one of the parties alone, unless specified to that effect. The Constitution doesn’t even mention judicial review, so the tradition of the Supreme Court’s final word is itself a matter of dispute.

Standing up for the status quo, Attorney General Eric Holder has written to Brownback against the new Kansas law, citing the Supremacy Clause. Problematic? Yes. But not easily dismissed.

Brownback has volleyed back.

At least we can expect the old issues of constitutional law to gain a new and lively hearing.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Townhall: Want Milk?

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

This weekend’s contribution to Townhall.com by Yours Truly concerns another one of those automated congressional time bombs. You know, like the “fiscal cliff” but less cliffy and more bomby. Head on over, and then back here, for a few links:

  • Thomas Jefferson’s pithy contribution to the socialist calculation debate, here.
  • The Washington Post’s “dairy cliff” article, here.
  • What Jia Lynn Yang said, here.

 

Romney-Biden 2012?

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

The most interesting presidential election in U.S. history may have been the fourth, wherein Thomas Jefferson won. Sort of. How Jefferson got to be president may be relevant in this election, which is now so close that some wonder what would happen if there were an Electoral College stalemate, 269 votes for Romney and 269 for Obama. (Remember, it’s the electors who count, not the popular vote.)

In 1800, because of a constitutional glitch, Jefferson and his running mate Aaron Burr got the same number of electors, and the whole issue went to the House, which the Federalists still controlled, and it took a lot of negotiations and in-fighting to put Jefferson in office as the president.

The 12th Amendment settled the VP glitch, and cooked up a solution to the possibility of an Electoral College tie, as well. It’s never been used.

If, this Tuesday, the distribution of the popular vote forces the Electoral College into stalemate, the 12th Amendment would kick in, and the House would vote in a peculiar fashion (one vote per state), to select the President — Romney, considering the complexion of that body. Then the Senate would select the Vice President — Biden, considering the complexion of that body.

A wild finish, but it could get even wilder. In 1972, an elector jumped ship, voting for the Libertarian Party’s John Hospers/Tonie Nathan ticket (making Nathan the first woman to receive an electoral vote). Even against state laws forbidding it, a similar jump for Libertarian Gary Johnson or the Green Party’s Jill Stein — or Ron Paul — might complicate further. Or simplify.

Happy voting.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

A Caricature Worth 25 Lashes?

Monday, May 14th, 2012

One hallmark of a free society is the legal right to make fun of our leaders. Several times per week I engage in ridicule as well as argument against the folks who think they know what they are doing when they attempt to rule us.

We should wear this freedom to ridicule like a badge.

Iranians, alas, can’t say the same.

Mahmoud Shokraye was tried and found guilty for insulting Nameye Amir, a member of parliament. Shokraye drew a mildly funny caricature of Amir, in a colorful post-Nastian style (the kind most major papers now fall back on), and for his trouble got 25 lashes.

Heroically, a number of cartoonists have upped the ante and created even less flattering caricatures, as you can see at the Cartoon Blog. (I sample some of them, here.) Amir got more than he bargained for. I hope it stings — more than 25 lashes’ worth.

There are several lessons to draw from this.

First, “taking offense” is not the basis of any legal action. Or any violent action. In the west, we’re centuries away from duels and other deadly fights of “honor.” The Islamic east is, alas, still embedded in old honor cultures. The faster they can shuffle off that obsession and move to a rule of law, instead, the better.

Second, as Thomas Jefferson put it, governments should fear the people, not the other way around. That’s part of what it means to live in a free society.

Politicians who don’t like it are free to seek a less public job. Really.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Down and Out and California

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Barring drastic action, the Golden State will run out of cash in March.

There is no provision in the Constitution for dealing with a bankrupt state. But then, there’s nothing explicit dealing with federal bankruptcy, either. The founding fathers didn’t expect their republic to permanently accumulate debt. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson wished to foreswear all sovereign debt. He considered the practice parasitic.California's Direction

Our leaders are supposed to run our governments so to avoid debt crises.

But, because politicians do just the opposite, they run into cash flow crunches. Last year, California’s statesmen borrowed $5.4 billion to cover the lean time before Spring’s tax revenues flowed in. They had figured they would be good through June, but miscalculated. Now they’re scrambling for an extra $3.3 billion.

Time to fudge the books! Pay late. Not answer the phone or respond to dunning notices.

Of course, the real problem is over-spending. California’s politicians spend too much.

Alas, it doesn’t look like they are about to reform.

Gov. Jerry Brown still pushes the huge “investment” of high-speed rail, for the grandest example. The project’s supporters have over-estimated ridership, underestimated costs (the most realistic official accounting now puts the system at $98 billion), and have been forced to restrict the extent of the line, excluding both San Diego and the state capital. Brown’s response? Making up for cost overruns by hijacking funds from the state’s “cap-and-trade” (the nation’s only carbon-footprint-based) tax.

Ah, politicians: Spend, spend, spend, even as the institutions they are responsible for lurch into insolvency.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Video of the Week: Attack Ads, Circa 1800

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

Every election you hear the same old mantra: Declining civility and nasty campaigning. And it’s getting worse!

Well, if you have some knowledge of history . . .

You might find a lot of interesting stuff from the video source, Reason TV.