By Nathan Barton
“…Enlightened by a benign religion, professed, indeed, and practiced in various forms, yet all of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man, acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter — with all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people?
Still one thing more… a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.
This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.”
— Thomas Jefferson
This is part of his second inaugural address, and bears some serious study. As do all of Jefferson’s words and writings.
Thomas Jefferson has long been a hero of libertarians and Libertarians, of both Democrats and Republicans. His words resonate down the centuries. His writings and his actions inspire many.
But today, various regressives (Antifa and others) attack him and his words. He is condemned as hypocritical, as racist. He is “just another dead white man” or “another English-Virginian aristocrat.” Even some Libertarians join with this crowd in criticizing Jefferson.
But his words are well worth considering and applying to our 21st Century nations and society.
For those of us who now understand that government is never anything but an evil servant seeking to become our master, Jefferson’s words in his second inaugural address frustrate us.
We can see today, looking back more than 2 centuries, that the problems in government that Jefferson faced were nothing more than the opening moves of the monster, government, as it sought to end all but a hologram of liberty in what was then fifteen states. We can be cynical about “a wise and frugal Government.” We know that such is very unlikely, if not impossible, to enjoy. At least not for very long.
Since then, Jefferson’s words surely come back to haunt him.
A frugal government does not, of course, suck the economic life from the nations it serves. It does not in all but name enslave people by use of taxes. Not just the income tax but every sort of taxes imposed upon every activity of life. And it does not borrow money which will be nearly impossible to pay, creating debts which enslave future generations even more. And at the same time squander that money in foolishness and to enrich its favorites and the very members of that government in every imaginable way. While spending more money for needless killings and maimings of its own people and the peoples of other lands and nations.
And we see all around us, and in the annals of history, the complete lack of wisdom in government. Indeed, our history is littered with the proof of governmental foolishness. Our conversations are “lightened” by humor about the lack of intelligence, understanding, and reason on the part of governmental bodies and institutions. Especially that of Congress, the legislatures of the Fifty States, and the councils and commissions and assemblies that lord it over local government.
Not only has government failed to be either wise or frugal. Increasingly it has failed “to restrain men from injuring one another” in ways physical and economic. Indeed, the opposite has happened. Government has become a common (if not favorite) tool which some men use to injure other men financially, physically, and socially. And those “some men” most especially include many of those in government, elected, appointed, or hired.
So Jefferson’s words condemn very strongly modern American governments. Indeed, they are three strikes against government.
I do not believe that Jefferson would find much of modern government very amusing or admirable – if indeed he would find ANY of it acceptable.
More of Jefferson’s thoughts – and how we might benefit from them and act on them, later.