• Tag Archives: Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson Had The Right Idea

Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton did not see eye to eye on many things. Jefferson, together with James Madison, assembled the Democratic-Republican Party “…as a means of opposing Hamilton and the Federalists.” (Cummings, 155) Clearly the two did not get along and it was because they both had strong, opposite-thinking opinions.

Hamilton believed in a strong central government. He believed that the economy could be helped and boosted by more government intervention. “Hamilton had stood ready to make conscious and deliberate use of government wherever it could be a useful instrument for advancing commerce and…for serving the interests of the business people, financiers, and incipient manufacturers whose success Hamilton so desired.” (Cummings, 143) Hamilton sought to improve the national wealth and promoted the national bank. This was very far from Jefferson’s view.

Jefferson was an avid supporter of civil liberties and the rights of the individual. When he was president he constantly fought to decentralize. “Jefferson saw Hamilton’s policies as enriching the wealthy through paper profits and speculation rather than through productive effort.” (Cummings, 154) Jefferson fought for the rights of the individual. Though Jefferson clearly did not think all people, whether that be race or gender, were created equal, he at the very least understood that the right of the individual was more important than the power of the government. Jefferson certainly had his faults, but he had the right idea.

This debate still goes on in today’s politics. Some prefer a strong central government, yet others prefer a decentralized government with more power in the hands of the individual. I think that a decentralized government with with more power in the hands of an individual is by far the best way. Nothing is more important than individual rights, our freedom is everything. thomas_jefferson_quote_2

Thomas Jefferson the Hypocrite

Thomas Jefferson embodies a contradiction that is easy to see in many people today, regardless of political leaning but especially prominent on the right. That is, the contradiction between extolling a love for self-rule and democratic norms while also longing for a more ‘educated’ electorate. I’ve encountered it in both college students and grandmothers. Allow me to elaborate.

Thomas Jefferson is rather unique in this contradiction. Most of his contemporaries were explicitly hostile to democracy, while Jefferson was at least sympathetic to it in principle. He believed that, generally speaking, the dangers of letting society run itself were outweighed by the dangers of the ‘false’ (as opposed to natural) aristocrats seizing power. Indeed, he claimed in his letter to John Adams that allowing the masses suffrage is the best method for elevating those “natural” aristoi to positions of power.

“It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.”

His leanings towards democracy are also evident elsewhere. In his letter to Samuel Kercheval, he states that “This corporeal globe, and everything upon it, belongs to its present corporeal inhabitants, during their generation. They alone have a right to direct what is the concern of themselves, alone, and to declare the law of that direction; and this declaration can only be made by the majority.” Of course, later in the letter he clarifies that this “majority” consists strictly of adult freemen. Still, his musings on the ideal society remain decidedly more democratic than any of his far less egalitarian colleagues.

However, in his letter to Pierre Samuel he shows great enthusiasm for a different sort of principle, originally proposed in Spain, “that no person born after that day should ever acquire the rights of citizenship until he could read and write. It is impossible sufficiently to estimate the wisdom of this provision.” His longing for an educated electorate can also be seen in his “ward” scheme, laid out in his letter to the Abbe Arnoux. In addition to being radically democratic and autonomous “little republics,” the wards would also include extensive public education.

Jefferson only wanted democracy for an electorate well suited and prepared for it. That is, an agrarian, educated, propertied, adult, male electorate organized in a highly decentralized fashion. And there are certainly some people in politics today who agree with suppressing the franchise only to those they deem appropriately equipped for it.


Of course, the problem with believing in the principle of self-rule while stipulating the conditions for who gets to participate is self-defeating. ALL members of society get to participate by being members of that society. That is the entire point. Anything less is injustice.