by Gerald Boerner


JerryPhoto_8x8_P1010031 As we approach the celebration of the 4th of July American Independence Day festivities, we believe that this is a good time to reflect on how and why we became a new nation over two hundred years ago. To a great extent, it had to do with the abuses of the British colonial system AND the presence at that point in time of great men of vision — the Founding Fathers.

Last year we posted an extensive series on the American Revolution. We will draw upon some of those posts again this year, but with more emphasis on the specific roles selected Founding Fathers played in the quest for independence. Today we will examine the contributions of that writer, idealist, diplomat, and politician — Thomas Jefferson. Not only was he the chief author of the Declaration of Independence, but he defined the function of the State Department, served as the third President of the U.S., and the leader of the Jeffersonian-Republican party.

We hope that you will follow us through this exploration and come out with a renewed respect for our great struggle in those years in the 18th century. GLB

[ This is Part 9 of 10. ]

[ 3887 Words ]


“Our political differences, now matter how sharply they are debated, are really quite narrow in comparison to the remarkably durable national consensus on our founding convictions.”
— John McCain

“We grew up founding our dreams on the infinite promise of American advertising. I still believe that one can learn to play the piano by mail and that mud will give you a perfect complexion.”
— Zelda Fitzgerald

“What has made America great have been the opportunities given to everyone in this country. Since our founding, individuals and families have come to America to seek freedom, opportunity and the choice for a better life.”
— Cathy McMorris

“You need only reflect that one of the best ways to get yourself a reputation as a dangerous citizen these days is to go about repeating the very phrases which our founding fathers used in the struggle for independence.”
— Charles A. Beard

“We have seen a central government promote the power of labor-union bosses, and in turn be supported by that power, until it has become entirely too much a government of and for one class, which is exactly what our Founding Fathers wanted most to prevent.”
— Robert Welch


America’s Founding Fathers: Thomas Jefferson, Idealist and Writer

I want to start looking at some of the Founding Fathers of the American Revolutionary War. We will continue with that great orator of the colonies — Thomas Jefferson. When the new country needed a military leader, Washington was there. When the Continental Congress needed a document to declare our independence from British rule, Jefferson was there. When a diplomat was needed in France, Jefferson was there. When Washington needed a strong personality to head the new State Department, Jefferson was there. And, when our country needed its third president, Jefferson was there. Beyond that, his purchase of the Louisiana Territory and greatly expand this nation’s land, Jefferson was there. GLB

(The following Thomas Jefferson: Thinking About the American Revolution to this blog on Saturday, July 4, 2009)

George Washington:
Thinking About the American Revolution

Copyright©2009 Gerald L. Boerner
All Rights Reserved

“When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
— Thomas Jefferson, 1776 in the Declaration of Independence

image26 Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, was one of the most influential of the founding fathers. He was the third President, the first Secretary of State, and the second Vice President of this new republic under the United States Constitution. He was a brilliant diplomat, serving as minister to the court of King Louie XVI. He doubled the size of this new nation with the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and commissioned the exploration of this new territory with the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806). Furthermore, he was a political philosopher, a member of the Enlightenment, including a friendship with John Locke, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton.

“I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent and of human knowledge that has ever been gathered together at the White House – with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”
— President John F. Kennedy about Thomas Jefferson during a White House meeting with forty-nine Nobel Prize Laureates

During the Revolutionary War period, Jefferson was a member of the House of Burgesses and the 1st and 2nd Continental Congresses. He wrote the Summary View of the Rights of British America in response to the Coercive Acts of 1774. While his ideas were too radical for the 2nd Continental Congress, they designated Jefferson to the five member committee to write a formal declaration that would reflect the congress’ deliberations; this Declaration of Independence was primarily the work of Jefferson. It was presented to the congress on June 28th, and approved on July 4th in 1776. Following this task, he returned to Virginia where he served as Governor from 1785 to 1781.

Following that milestone, Jefferson served as minister to the court of Louis XVI. He was in that assignment during the Constitutional Convention where the Constitution was written; even though he was directly involved in the writing process, he supported this new Constitution. Upon its ratification, he served the national government as Secretary of State, Vice President and became the 3rd President. During this formative period of our country, Jefferson formed the Democratic-Republican Party to oppose Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Party. This led to numerous confrontations between the two founding fathers over the interpretation of this new form of Government.

“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”
— Thomas Jefferson

So, let’s take a closer look at Jefferson’s ideas and how they helped to shape our new nation…

Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826)

 “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable Rights; that among these, are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness; that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
— Thomas Jefferson, 1776 in the Declaration of Independence

image31 Despite his birth into a well-bred, land-owning family, Jefferson was a believer in the common man. He believed in Locke’s philosophy that every man was born with certain rights at birth and that governments were formed by the people giving up some of these rights in order to form a civil society. And, as long as the government continued to serve the needs of the people, it should be allowed to continue; when the government became tyrannical, the people had the right, and even the obligation, to overthrow that government and re-form it to again serve their needs.

This was a very democratic view and was opposed to the highly centralized views of other founding fathers like Hamilton. Jefferson went even farther than that: he believed that this power to govern should be limited to a single generation, after which the next generation should recreate the government to start out unencumbered with the debt of the previous generation. This notion was not adopted by the framers of the Constitution!

“Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law,’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual.”
— Thomas Jefferson

image32 He also was a believer in the equality of man, and was against slavery. His attempts to get antislavery legislation adopted failed, but he was philosophically committed to this ideal. While he himself was a slave owner, he treated his slaves with more humanely and provided a basic education for his household workers. After the death of his wife, he did not remarry, but did take one of his slaves, Sally Heming, became his companion; he fathered several more children by Sally. When each of these children reached twenty-one, they were given their freedom. He was a landowner by birth, but a public servant by choice. Most of his latter adult life was lived away from his beloved Monticello home.

“The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object.”
— Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson excelled as a diplomat, but unlike Franklin, he was also a politician. He held many positions in state and federal legislatures, the Governor’s mansion, and in the capitol of our new country. He campaigned for a real democracy and believed in state’s rights; this was inherent in his narrow interpretation of the Constitution. As President, he expanded the territory of the United States and sought to create a balanced government of the people and by the people. He was a real believer in “We the People…” as stated in the preamble of the United States Constitution.

“For the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
— Thomas Jefferson, 1776 in the Declaration of Independence

He was instrumental in getting the election of the President and Vice President transformed to become congruent with the two-party system that evolved after the ratification of the Constitution. Prior to the inclusion of the twelfth Amendment, the President and Vice President were given to the two highest vote getters by the electors in the House. This led to the election of men to the two top offices from opposing parties: The Federalist Party (of Hamilton) and the Democratic-Republican Party (of Jefferson and Madison). After finishing his second term, the President and Vice President were elected from the same party. This enabled the executive branch to function in a more harmonious manner, thanks to the efforts of Jefferson.

As we celebrate this 4th of July, we can thank Thomas Jefferson for helping to create our guiding document — the Declaration of Independence. So, we offer a big THANK YOU to you, Thomas Jefferson.


Adding Perspective on Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson_Memorial_with_Declaration_preamble Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826) was the third President of the United States (1801–1809), and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776). Jefferson was one of the most influential Founding Fathers, known for his promotion of the ideals of republicanism in the United States. Jefferson envisioned America as the force behind a great "Empire of Liberty" that would promote republicanism and counter the imperialism of the British Empire.

Major events during his presidency include the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–1806), as well as escalating tensions with both Britain and France that led to war with Britain in 1812, after he left office.

As a political philosopher, Jefferson was a man of the Enlightenment and knew many intellectual leaders in Britain and France. He idealized the independent yeoman farmer as exemplar of republican virtues, distrusted cities and financiers, and favored states’ rights and a strictly limited federal government. Jefferson supported the separation of church and state and was the author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1779, 1786). He was the eponym of Jeffersonian democracy and the cofounder and leader of the Democratic-Republican Party, which dominated American politics for 25 years. Jefferson served as the wartime Governor of Virginia (1779–1781), first United States Secretary of State (1789–1793), and second Vice President of the United States (1797–1801).

A polymath, Jefferson achieved distinction as, among other things, a horticulturist, political leader, architect, archaeologist, paleontologist, musician, inventor, and founder of the University of Virginia. When President John F. Kennedy welcomed 49 Nobel Prize winners to the White House in 1962 he said, "I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent and of human knowledge that has ever been gathered together at the White House – with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone." To date, Jefferson is the only president to serve two full terms in office without vetoing a single bill of Congress. Jefferson has been consistently ranked by scholars as one of the greatest of U.S. presidents.

Political philosophy and views

1818_letter_Jefferson_to_Mordecai_Noah In his May 28, 1818,
letter to Mordecai Manuel Noah,
Jefferson expressed his faith in
humanity and his views on the nature of democracy.

Jefferson was a leader in developing republicanism in the United States. He insisted that the British aristocratic system was inherently corrupt and that Americans’ devotion to civic virtue required independence. In the 1790s he repeatedly warned that Hamilton and Adams were trying to impose a British-like monarchical system that threatened republicanism. He supported the War of 1812, hoping it would drive away the British military and ideological threat from Canada.

Jefferson’s vision for American virtue was that of an agricultural nation of yeoman farmers minding their own affairs. His agrarianism stood in contrast to the vision of Alexander Hamilton of a nation of commerce and manufacturing, which Jefferson said offered too many temptations to corruption. Jefferson’s deep belief in the uniqueness and the potential of America made him the father of American exceptionalism. In particular, he was confident that an underpopulated America could avoid what he considered the horrors of class-divided, industrialized Europe.

Jefferson’s republican political principles were heavily influenced by the Country Party of 18th century British opposition writers. He was influenced by John Locke (particularly relating to the principle of inalienable rights). Historians find few traces of any influence by his French contemporary, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Individual rights

Jefferson believed that each individual has "certain inalienable rights". That is, these rights exist with or without government; man cannot create, take, or give them away. It is the right of "liberty" on which Jefferson is most notable for expounding. He defines it by saying, "Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law,’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual." Hence, for Jefferson, though government cannot create a right to liberty, it can indeed violate it. The limit of an individual’s rightful liberty is not what law says it is but is simply a matter of stopping short of prohibiting other individuals from having the same liberty. A proper government, for Jefferson, is one that not only prohibits individuals in society from infringing on the liberty of other individuals, but also restrains itself from diminishing individual liberty.

Jefferson’s commitment to equality was expressed in his successful efforts to abolish primogeniture in Virginia, the rule by which the first born son inherited all the land.

Jefferson believed that individuals have an innate sense of morality that prescribes right from wrong when dealing with other individuals—that whether they choose to restrain themselves or not, they have an innate sense of the natural rights of others. He even believed that moral sense to be reliable enough that an anarchist society could function well, provided that it was reasonably small. On several occasions, he expressed admiration for the tribal, communal way of living of Native Americans: Jefferson is sometimes seen as a philosophical anarchist.

He said in a letter to Colonel Carrington: "I am convinced that those societies (as the Indians) which live without government, enjoy in their general mass an infinitely greater degree of happiness than those who live under the European governments." However, Jefferson believed anarchism to be "inconsistent with any great degree of population". Hence, he did advocate government for the American expanse provided that it exists by "consent of the governed".

In the Preamble to his original draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote:

We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these ends, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government shall become destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, & to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles & organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety & happiness.

Jefferson’s dedication to "consent of the governed" was so thorough that he believed that individuals could not be morally bound by the actions of preceding generations. This included debts as well as law. He said that "no society can make a perpetual constitution or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation." He even calculated what he believed to be the proper cycle of legal revolution: "Every constitution then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of nineteen years. If it is to be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right." He arrived at 19 years through calculations with expectancy of life tables, taking into account what he believed to be the age of "maturity"—when an individual is able to reason for himself. He also advocated that the national debt should be eliminated. He did not believe that living individuals had a moral obligation to repay the debts of previous generations. He said that repaying such debts was "a question of generosity and not of right."

States’ Rights

Jefferson’s very strong defense of States’ rights, especially in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798, set the tone for hostility to expansion of federal powers. However, some of his foreign policies did strengthen the government. Most important was the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, when he used the implied powers to annex a huge foreign territory and all its French and Indian inhabitants. The population was estimated to be 97,000 as of the 1810 census. His enforcement of the Embargo Act of 1807, while it failed in terms of foreign policy, demonstrated that the federal government could intervene with great force at the local level in controlling trade that might lead to war.

Carrying of Arms

Jefferson copied many excerpts from the various books he read into his "Legal Commonplace Book." One passage he copied which touches on gun control was from Cesare Beccaria’s Essay on Crimes and Punishments. The passage, which is written in Italian, discusses the "false idea of utility” (false idee di utilità) which Beccaria saw as underlying some laws. It can be translated, in part, as:

A principal source of errors and injustice are false ideas of utility. For example: that legislator has false ideas of utility … who would deprive men of the use of fire for fear of their being burnt, and of water for fear of their being drowned; and who knows of no means of preventing evil but by destroying it.

The laws of this nature are those which forbid to wear arms, disarming those only who are not disposed to commit the crime which the laws mean to prevent. … It certainly makes the situation of the assaulted worse, and of the assailants better, and rather encourages than prevents murder, as it requires less courage to attack unarmed than armed persons.

Jefferson’s only notation was, "False idee di utilità." It isn’t known whether Jefferson agreed with the example Beccaria used, or with the general idea, or if he had some other reason for copying the passage.


Trained as a lawyer, Jefferson was a gifted writer but never a good speaker or advocate and was never comfortable in court. He believed that judges should be technical specialists but should not set policy. He privately felt the 1803 Supreme Court ruling in Marbury v. Madison was a violation of democracy, for it made the Supreme Court the final decision-maker on the Constitution. He lacked enough support in Congress to propose a Constitutional amendment to overturn it. Jefferson continued to oppose the doctrine of judicial review:

To consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions [is] a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy. Our judges are as honest as other men and not more so. They have with others the same passions for party, for power, and the privilege of their corps. Their maxim is boni judicis est ampliare jurisdictionem [good justice is broad jurisdiction], and their power the more dangerous as they are in office for life and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the elective control. The Constitution has erected no such single tribunal, knowing that to whatever hands confided, with the corruptions of time and party, its members would become despots. It has more wisely made all the departments co-equal and co-sovereign within themselves.

Rebellion to Restrain Government and Retain Individual Rights

After the Revolutionary War, Jefferson advocated restraining government via rebellion and violence when necessary, in order to protect individual freedoms. In a letter to James Madison on January 30, 1787, Jefferson wrote, "A little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical…It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government." Similarly, in a letter to Abigail Adams on February 22, 1787 he wrote, "The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all." Concerning Shays’ Rebellion after he had heard of the bloodshed, on November 13, 1787 Jefferson wrote to William S. Smith, John Adams’ son-in-law, "What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must from time to time be refreshed with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure." In another letter to William S. Smith during 1787, Jefferson wrote: And what country can preserve its liberties, if the rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.


Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Wikipedia: American Revolution…

Wikipedia: Thomas Jefferson…

Brainy Quote: Founding Quotes…