[Rushtalk] The Real Jefferson

Carl Spitzer lynux at keepandbeararms.com
Sat May 21 17:51:26 MDT 2016

                           The Real Jefferson

                         by Thomas J. DiLorenzo

                        by Thomas J. DiLorenzo 

 Recently by Thomas DiLorenzo: The Culture of Violence in the American
                       West: Myth versus Reality

The power of every state ultimately depends on a statist ideology that
glorifies the state and its functionaries while denigrating and
attacking the civil society, private property, and private enterprise.
This is as true of democracy as it is of totalitarian socialism. For as
Murray Rothbard pointed out, every state is managed by a relatively few
individuals who are greatly outnumbered by the masses, who can overthrow
the rulers at any time. The state can use violence and terror to keep
the masses in line, as was the case with socialism all throughout the
twentieth century, but propaganda and brainwashing can be more
cost-effective. Thus, the state and its army of court historians
endlessly glorify its "heroes" such as Abe Lincoln and Teddy and
Franklin Roosevelt, while attacking, smearing, distorting, vilifying, or
ignoring the more effective champions of a free society. 

For more than two hundred years, Thomas Jefferson has been considered to
be America's prophet of liberty. He was the author of the Declaration of
Independence; of the Kentucky Resolve of 1798; the Virginia Statute of
Religious Liberty; and countless speeches and letters that articulated
his view that that government is best which governs least. He opposed
central banking, corporate welfare, protectionist tariffs, and the
Hamiltonian subversion of the Constitution with its theories of "implied
powers" and its expansive interpretations of the plain language of the
General Welfare and Commerce Clauses.

All of this is why, for decades, leftist academics have grossly
misrepresented Jefferson's views in their writings, so much so that
entire books have been written arguing that he was a precursor of Marx
and Engels! If they are not distorting Jefferson's libertarian
philosophy they are blowing the reputations of his critics, such as
Hamilton, way out of proportion. If that doesn't work, then they resort
to personal, ad hominem attacks in hopes that such attacks will
encourage younger Americans who have not yet educated themselves in the
ideas of the founders will ignore Jefferson completely. He was a
Southerner and a slave owner, after all (as opposed to the benighted
Hamilton, the Northern slave owner).

Thankfully for the advocates of a free society, Luigi Marco Bassani has
just published a wonderful new book on Jefferson entitled Liberty,
State, & Union: The Political Theory of Thomas Jefferson, that sets the
record straight. Bassani names names and documents how certain leftist
academics have ridiculously portrayed Jefferson as "a
nonindividualistic, antiproperty Jefferson, with possible communitarian
if not even protosocialist overtones." There are even some, Bassani
writes, "who have presented the third president as a forerunner of Karl
Marx and Fredrich Engels." 

Because of his well-known affinity for French culture, Jefferson's
enemies, during his time and ours, have accused him of having favored
the violent, revolutionary ideology of the French Jacobins, based on the
ideas of the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. But as Bassani,
an American-born professor of political philosophy at the University of
Milan, proves: "In fact, there is no reference at all to the political
thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau" in Jefferson's voluminous writings,
"not even during Thomas Jefferson's French years" when he was the
American Minister to France. 

It is well known that Jefferson thought very highly of the philosopher
John Locke, an important figure in the history of classical liberal
thought. He famously stated that, during his time, the three greatest
men that civilization had produced were Locke, Francis Bacon, and Isaac
Newton. (Hamilton responded by saying Julius Caesar would be his pick
for "greatest human"). Despite the well-documented fact of Locke's
influence on Jefferson, especially on the issue of private property,
leftist academics such as Garry Wills "have devoted much time and effort
trying to prove that Jefferson was not a Lockean." Bassani explains why
Wills' book on the subject should have been entitled "Inventing

Another way in which leftist academics have perverted Jefferson's
writings is to banish Christianity from them. The purpose here is to
attack the idea that human rights are natural rights granted to us by
God, and not by any government. According to this view, as Bassani
explains, "[M]an is a brute beast bereft of individual rights who can
only be saved by the state . . . " Believing otherwise (i.e., agreeing
with Jefferson) is like believing in witches and unicorns according to
one Alasdair MacIntyre.

In his third chapter, which contains 156 footnotes, Bassani destroys the
nutty idea that Jefferson was some kind of communistic opponent of
private property rights, as some of the more absurd leftist academics
have argued. In his chapter on Jefferson's constitutionalism Bassani
expertly presents Jefferson's states' rights vision of the federal
government serving as the agent of the free, independent, and sovereign
states, almost exclusively for foreign policy purposes. As Jefferson
stated during his 1800 presidential campaign, "The true theory of our
constitution is surely the wisest and best, that the States are
independent as to everything within themselves, and united as to
everything respecting foreign nations. " Twenty-four years later,
Jefferson reiterated this view in a letter in which he said, "the best
general key for the solution of questions of power between our
governments, is the fact that every foreign and federal power is given
to the federal government, and to the States every power purely
domestic . . . . The federal is, in truth, our foreign government, which
department alone is taken from the sovereignty of the separate States." 

Another myth about Jefferson that Bassani disproves is the myth that he
had an antipathy toward trade, banks, and commerce. "There is in
Jefferson no political bias against trade and commerce or finance," he
writes. What Jefferson opposed was the oppressive policy of government
in taxing American farmers in order to subsidize politically-connected
businesses. He opposed Hamiltonian mercantilism, in other words, while
championing Smithian capitalism. "He who is against domestic
manufacture," Jefferson once said, "must be for reducing us either to
dependence on that foreign nation [England], or to be clothed in skins,
and to live like wild beasts in dens and caverns. I am not one of

Bassani also does an admirable job of explaining how Jefferson smoked
out the true intentions of his nemesis, Alexander Hamilton, who
essentially wanted to import the corrupt system of British Mercantilism
to America. This is the very system that the Revolution was fought in
opposition to. Jefferson and his followers believed it would be an
outrage and destructive of liberty and prosperity to adopt such a
system. Jefferson formed this opinion because he was well educated in
the economics of his day, especially the writings of Adam Smith and the
French physiocrats. Hamilton, by contrast, was somewhat of an economic
ignoramus who articulated all of the propagandistic superstitions that
had been employed to prop up British mercantilism.

The most important chapter of Liberty, State, & Union is Chapter 6, "The
Nature of the American Union: Jefferson and States' Rights." The core of
Jefferson's idea here is what Jefferson wrote in the Kentucky Resolve of
1798, which explained why the state of Kentucky was nullifying the
federal Sedition Act, which effectively outlawed free political speech
in America. Jefferson defined political tyranny as "the consolidation of
power in a single center" and, consequently, he believed that under the
American system of government, it was essential that the citizens of the
states be acknowledged as the true sovereigns, and as having such rights
as nullification and secession as means of asserting that sovereignty
and defending themselves against a consolidated tyranny. As Bassani
writes, "Jefferson asserted that the states, inasmuch as they were
sovereign parties entering into the constitutional compact, had created
the federal government simply as their agent, subordinate to their own
power, and designed to carry our limited and well-defined functions. As
a result, the federal government had no right to expand its own sphere
of authority without the agreement of the contracting parties."

Unlike Lincoln, who espoused a totally false theory of the American
founding (that the federal union created the states, not the other way
around), "the author of the Declaration of Independence no more valued
union for its own sake than he did government. He judged it . . . by the
ends it served. For Jefferson, as for many political thinkers of the
period prior to the Civil War, the union was an experiment in liberty
and in no way constituted an end in its own right."

This, and other parts of Liberty, State, & Union, gives the lie to
another bizarre reinvention of American history — the false notion
peddled by Harry Jaffa and his fellow Straussians that Lincoln was a
Jeffersonian. Nothing could be further from the truth. As Bassani shows,
it was power-hungry nationalist politicians like Daniel Webster, Joseph
Story, and Abraham Lincoln who created and perpetuated the ridiculous
myth that the "whole people" of America somehow created the federal
union in some kind of national plebiscite, and that the union therefore
had some sort of "mystical" value (Lincoln's word). These men did this
as part of their political crusade for consolidated and monopolistic
political power vested in the central government. The purveyors of this
myth today are the Straussian Lincoln cultists on the "right," who favor
a powerful central government than act as the world's policeman
militarily, along with leftist Lincoln cultists such as Garry Wills and
most other "Lincoln scholars" who favor a powerful central government
that can enlarge the welfare state if not adopt full-blown socialism.

The Jeffersonian view of the Constitution was all but whitewashed out of
existence after the conclusion of the War to Prevent Southern
Independence. It was a hundred years before another book would be
written about the Kentucky and Virginia Resolves of 1798, for example
(William J. Watkins, Reclaiming the American Revolution). The Kentucky
Resolve is the best illustration of Jefferson's thinking about

American history was rewritten by the victorious and newly-dominant New
England Yankees, just as Russian history was rewritten by the Soviets
after their revolution. That is why public schools, which had primarily
existed only in the North prior to the war, were imposed on the Southern
states during Reconstruction and in the succeeding decades. Liberty,
State, & Union is the best book on Jefferson's political thought to be
published in the past half century. It is essential reading for anyone
who wants to understand why it is that Americans continue to be enslaved
by a monstrously bloated, monopolistic government that plunders every
productive person in the society mostly for the benefit of the state's
corporate benefactors and its supportive welfare state parasites.

                                                        November 6, 2010

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