I have been reading “The Young Jefferson, 1743-1789” by Claude G. Bowers, written in 1945. Most of us should know that Thomas Jefferson was pretty much the author of the Declaration of Independence, even though there was a panel of 5 men appointed to draft such a document.
It certainly was not smooth sailing during those days of fighting the revolution and convincing the people that the sacrifices for freedom were well worth it.
It seems that only a few months prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, that Thomas Jefferson had quite a fight on his hands to quell a movement to form a dictatorship and it is believed that those who presented such an act wanted Patrick Henry to lead them. This was not the only time that some wanted to be led by such. It was during the second movement to appoint a dictator that Jefferson showed us his passion for liberty.
One would have to gain an understanding of the colonialists who came to America. They were timid, not used to a life of freedom, one not ruled by the king. They found comfort in appointing a ruler because they lacked knowledge of life in freedom.
During this fight, Jefferson wrote harshly and passionately about why his fellow Americans should not succumb to the throes of a dictator. The author of the book believes what Jefferson writes exemplifies the political principles and philosophy of the young Jefferson. This is what he writes:
Nothing that Jefferson has passed down to his countrymen and the friends of liberty everywhere is of more priceless value than these observations, and nothing more vividly sets forth the political principles and philosophy that guided his life.
Here are excerpts of what Jefferson wrote to those who thought a dictatorship was the answer to their problems. You may find similarities in our country of today.
One who entered into this contest from a pure love of liberty and a sense of injured rights, who determined to make every sacrifice, to meet every danger for the re-establishment of those rights on a firm basis, who did not mean to expend his love and substance for the wretched purpose of changing this master for that, but to place the powers of governing him in a plurality of hands of his own choice, so that the corrupt will of no one man might in future oppress him, must stand dumbfounded and dismayed when he is told that a considerable portion of that plurality had meditated the surrender of them into a single hand; and, in lieu of a limited monarchy, to deliver him over to a despotic one. How must we find his efforts and sacrifices abused and baffled if he may still, by a single vote, be laid prostrate at the feet of one man.
In God’s name, from whence have they derived this power? Is it from your ancient laws? None such can be produced.
Is it from any principle in our new Constitution, expressed or implied? Every lineament of that, expressed or implied, is in full opposition to it….. It provides a republican organization, proscribes under the name of prerogatives the exercise of all powers undefined by the laws…..
Or was this proposition moved on a supposed right, in the movers, of abandoning their posts in a moment of distress? The same laws forbid the abandonment of that post even on ordinary occasions; and much more a transfer of their powers into other hands and other forms without consulting the people. They never admit the idea that these, like sheep and cattle, may be driven from hand to hand without an appeal to their own will.
Was it from the necessity of the case? Necessities which dissolve a government do not convey its authority to an oligarchy or a monarchy. They throw back into the hand of the people the powers they had delegated and leave them, as individuals, to shift for themselves. A leader may offer, but not impose himself, nor be imposed by them. Much less can their necks be submitted to his sword, their breath to be taken at his will or caprice.
During this time, the revolution had not been going well. There were military disasters in Pennsylvania, New York, Rhode Island and New Jersey. Jefferson continues:
In this state alone did there exist so little virtue that fear was to be fixed in the hearts of the people, and to become the motive of their exertions, the principle of their governing? The very thought alone was treason against the people; was treason against mankind in general, as riveting forever the chains which bow down their necks, by giving to their oppressors a proof, which they would have trumpeted throughout the universe, of the imbecility of republican governments in times of pressing danger…………………………………….
Those who assume the right of giving away the reins of government in any case must be sure that the herd whom they hand on to the rods and hatchet of the dictator will lay their heads on the block when he shall nod to them…. What a cruel moment was this for creating such an embarrassment, for putting to the proof the attachment of our countrymen to republican government……………………………………..
Those who meant well, of the advocates of this measure – and most of them meant well, for I know them personally and had been their fellow laborer in the common cause, and had often proved the purity of their principles – had been seduced in their judgment by the example of an ancient republic, whose constitution and circumstances were fundamentally different. They had sought this precedent in the history of Rome, where alone it was to be found, and where at length, too, it proved fatal. They had taken it from a republic rent by the most bitter factions and tumults where the government was of a heavy-handed unfeeling aristocracy, over a people ferocious and rendered desperate by poverty and wretchedness…. Their constitution, therefore, allowed a temporary tyrant to be erected under the name of dictator; and that temporary tyrant, after a few examples, become perpetual.
Fortunately for us, the focus of independence and the belief that complete freedom from tyranny was how human beings were supposed to live.
Our Declaration of Independence, the holiday for which we celebrate on July the Fourth, informed the King of England that America wanted to be free; free from the tyranny of the King. The people wanted a different life but that is not why they came to America. It was not until after having been here for some time and through the leadership of those like Jefferson, were the people convinced that liberty was something worth fighting for. The King wanted their taxes, he wanted to control how they worshiped, who could get an education, who could own land and what you could do with that land.
Once the Declaration of Independence was signed, the Constitution was written. This document was the guiding force, that if followed, even 200 or more years later, would ensure that every American would live free.
We should celebrate Independence Day with the renewed thought that freedom is not something that is handed over to one man, to one administration, to one government. It is a freedom granted to us by God. It is “We the People” who control our destiny. We the people celebrate our independence. We the people should be free!