Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Jeffersonian Legacy

A few months ago I posted an essay that I called "the flower of revolt" in which I hinted at the possible political/philosophical parallels between the 1960's Flower-Power youth revolt with the 1860's revolt of the Southern Confederacy that resulted in the War of the Northern Aggression. In this composition, I attempted to establish what I believe is a bonafide ideological link between the two events that is part of an inward expression of the original spirit of "76" In this respect, it has its root in the most seminal thinking of of perhaps the most quinessential American mind, Thomas Jefferson. Viewed thus, it then becomes the ongoing, and evolving present embodiment of the American Revolution that began in the minds, and hearts of the people with the Declaration of Independence.

At the time of my initial post, my blogging partner, and friend RWR asked for what proof that I might offer to substantiate this premise. In this document I will attempt to offer what I believe is evidence of the continued presence of what I have come to call "the Jeffersonian Legacy" in American History.

What, then, is the historically correct Jeffersonian legacy? What, if any, are the values that the real person who was Thomas Jefferson embodied in his life that remain vital, and viable over two centuries after he, and the other founders declared American independence? What is still living of the political philosophy of Thomas Jefferson? Historian Carl Becker said of Jefferson that his ideas "come to birth too easily, and rest too precariously on the aspirirations and ideals of good, and moral men, and not sufficiently on the brute concrete facts of the world as it is." When John Adams spoke his last, and perhaps his most prophetic words-"Thomas Jefferson survives"- he had no way of knowing how these words would be transmuted to us in this modern era- the 21st century. He had no way of knowing about cyberspace. But there is more "talk" about Jeffersonian topics on America Online than any other historical figure. There is even a place where you can take a "virtual" tour of a typical day in the life of Jefferson at Monticello in the early 1800's!

So, to revisit the former question of "what remains...?" is to strike up a question that most people seem to have forgotten, or have avoided mentioning. And, might in fact, be better approached from the standpoint of posing the question of rather what has been lost between 1826 and now, to get the best perspective. Just what then of the Jeffersonian legacy has been lost to us in the tide of time that has raked the shoreline of the American experiment since then?

I have come to view a series of historical events that have taken place over these years as offering the best proof positive for my thesis. For the sake of description, I will refer to these events as likened to a series of historical waves such as those that precede an incoming tide. To understand what has taken place, we must try to imagine a line of sand castles on a beach, each located a different distance from the present high water mark, but all of them vulnerable to the incomng tide of time.

The first wave to strike was the American Civil War, which ended slavery, destroyed the political power of the South, and with it, the ideal that the states were sovereign in their relationship to the federal government. After 1865, Jefferson's Tenth amendment version of the United States was gone, and along with that went all of his notions of the correct distribution of power between the states, and federal government. One might argue that they were not completely washed away, but at the very least, it must be acknowledged they were permanently put on the defensive.

The second wave, which I believe was really a series of waves, arrived between the era of the Robber Barons, and the end of WW I; essentially taking place between the years of 1880 and 1920. In 1890 the census of the US revealed that the frontier stage of US history had ended, and with its going closed the end of the first period of American history. By the time of the 1920 census, it was reported that for the first time in our history a majority of Americans lived in urban as opposed to rural areas. Add to this the fact that the US received a huge influx of European, and Asian immigrants that forever altered the Anglo-Saxon fabric of the American character, and its population. When these events are viewed together, we have a picture of a very changed demographic that kicked the agrarian vision of the middle class yeomanry of Jefferson into the realm of nostalgia.

The third wave washed the American shore between the 1920's, and 30's with the coming of age of the USA as a global power, and the arrival of Roosevelt's "New Deal". One can see it's coming in retrospect from about the turn of the 20th century, and the rise of the wealthy class. During this period urbanization, industrial power, and increased population along with the control of corporations over the economy came together to create a movement among the people for more centralized government involvement in the attempt to regulate the burgeoning energies of 20th century industry, and prosperity. This government involvement, of course, had to be "framed" within, and viewed as a natural outgrowth of the vision of the Founders as an original part of the American experiment. Roosevelt's naming of Jefferson as a New Deal Democrat was perhaps the most sanguine act of political thievery in American history. This was especially true when one considers that the exponential growth of Federal power during the New Deal represented the antithesis of Jeffersonian philosophy in terms of its solidifying, and consolidating federal over state government control. This, in fact, was the final nail in the coffin of Jefferson's ideal of minimalist government.

The fourth, and final wave to hit the beach arrived at the end of WW2 with the coming of the Cold War. The government of the USA during this period used an essentially Jefferson morality to bolster American public policy/opinion in the campaign against the Soviet Union. This came with the consequent build up of the kind of massive military establishment that Jefferson would have abhorred. Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" followed with its entrenched military elitism, its dedication to the welfare state, the extension of full citizenship to blacks, and women representing the height of political disorder in the Jefferson scheme of things, as well as the complete,and full repudiation of the kind of racial, and gender differences that Jefferson considered to be "fixed principles of nature".

We have attempted in these few lines to postulate what we have lost of Jefferson to the ravages of time, and the concurrent impositions of change. Ironically, what of the thinking of "Sage of Monticello" that in fact has not been lost, and remains very much alive is the strand of steadfast refusal to accept the political implications of these impositions of change.

This is the point in time where the influences of "flower power" begin to make its case, I believe, as part of the Jefferson Legacy. The youth revolt of the 60's had its roots in the growing awareness of the general population that the federal government was becoming increasingly omnipotent, and omniscient in its control over the individual liberties of the people. There were many things going on at the federal level that would not "stand the light of day". To much of the youth it was an out of control bureaucracy that was feeding itself with the money, and blood of the American people. As this bureaucracy was not accountable to the average citizen, and its work was couched in the jargon of a legal profession that was neither wanted, or trusted by the people, it was not long before the critcism of its failure to follow its own laws burst forth on the streets in the form of the violent rebellion that was promised, and even encouraged by the Founders of the Republic, Jefferson especially among them."The tree of liberty is watered with the blood of patriots, and tyrants alike".

A strange twist in this potent story of Jeffersonian nostalgia takes place at this juncture. One that I believe has not been well articulated by the writers, and pundits, and that being the superimposition of the legacy, and its consequent political thievery... again on the rebirth of the American socialist movement led by the demegogues of Hollywood, the "limousine liberals", in league with the musicians of the "European invasion" the Beatles, the Stones et al. Together, this "American Communist Party" found a voice in government through the willing accomplice of the Democrat Party, which used this instant to advocate more of the poison of "big government" in a classic display of Hegelianism, to solve the problems that it had created. Unfortunately, the minds of the youth of that period had already given over to indulgence in the mind altering drugs that prevented them from seeing the sleight of hand that they were being dealt. This was evidenced by the fact that the "real thing" of the Jeffersonian Legacy to be found in the conservative wing of the Republican party was in fact founded in the 1960's by Barry Goldwater. The conservative movement with Goldwater as its standard bearer railed against the encroaching character of the federal government, much as did Jefferson against the consolidation of power in post-revolutionary America.This movement was viewed by the molders of the mainstream as a very dangerous digression from the lock-step march toward the quasi-national/global political mindset that had been the ongoing trend in America since the end of WW2. As a youth, I well remember that there was no small number of other like-minded young "conservatives" who supported Goldwater's failed bid for the presidency(AuH20 "64"). However, the CFR/globalist masters have never been interested in the constraints placed on them by American national sovereignty especially as it pertained to economics , no matter what the American Constitution had to say about that subject. They were quite prepared to implement damage control by the assertion that Goldwater's notions of less government, and a strong America would, in fact, "create world instability", and not provide any real solution to the problems of those times, but rather that Johnson's "Great Society" military elitism ad infinitum was the necessary antidote to moving the nation, and the world toward forward progress. Note the use of the wording "great society" to describe its intentions of largesse for all. The Democratic Party became the repository for this new focus with a mantra of "peace,love, and power to the people". Goldwater's continued railings against this "international" policy was painted by the media as giving further example of his being out of touch with reality, and the will of all of the people. Some even went as far as describing his "rants" as being the froth, and venom of a truly dangerous "mad man" that if elected President, would be the cause of WW3. By Election Day 1964, Goldwater's American conservative minimalist government emphasis was viewed by most Americans as a dangerous regression into the failed politics of the past. Lyndon Johnson won the presidency in a landslide ending the influence of conservatism on American politics for a generation. It would not be until the rise of Ronald Reagan in the 80's, who, for the record, was a Goldwater supporter, that the voice of conservatism would be the prevailing voice again in American politics. Of course, the Jeffersonian legacy was once more the rally cry for the further encroachments of the Federal government in the many forms of addional blood, and money that would be necessary to carry out its provisions "in the name of the people". Talk about a twisting of the truth! The "flower power" revolt of the 60's was in fact a counter revolution of the Jeffersonian Legacy archetype. It was a grassroots expression of revolt against an ever expanding, and encroaching federal power that has been aggressively on the march toward the destruction of the bill of rights of the Constitution covertly since its beginnings in 1787. I believe that if Jefferson had been present in the 1960's, he would have been one of the loudest voices in support of the "youth rebellion", led by Goldwater whose philosophy would eventually be stolen from "conservatives", before being mislabeled, and resold as "liberal" in its intent, and handed over to the "American Communist Party"(Democrats) for its propagation. I also believe that he, along with the then Sen. Goldwater, would have been the champions of the liberties of the people as they were rightly represented by the "flower power revolt", much as he was at the time of the Constitutional Convention.

This unshaking faith, and belief that the true ideals of freedom can only be reposed in the heart of the people was the bedrock of the Jeffersonian Legacy. It is the one true, living, breathing body of thought that yet remains from the Founders, and yet also resides so deeply in the soul of the people. It is the sole reason for the time honored,continued practice of saluting the American flag. How appropriate a thought to be in possession of on this "Flag Day 2011"! This belief has survived, even as Thomas Jefferson has, and has been present in every truly "American" expression of "WE THE PEOPLE from the 1860's, to the 1960's, even unto its present embodiment in the "Tea Party Nation". To quote John Adams: "Thomas Jefferson survives"


  1. Great account of the history of Jeffersonian conservatism. Looks like the history books left out some really important stuff.

    Important things to acknowledge: 1. That full citizenship for blacks and women are ultimately consistent with the Jeffersonian concept of all being created equal, even if he may have taken a different position in his day, and 2. Let's not forget the assault Mr. Reagan faced during his campaign, in which many of the crazy assertions faced by Goldwater were subsequently leveled at him.

    Jeffersonian concepts like small government and little or no taxation, as well as the respect for the natural liberties with which everyone is endowed, form the basis of our modern Federalist movement. Who was the only president in the history of our nation to completely do away with taxes on the American people? I don't think anyone but Jefferson ever did that.

    Ironically, modern Federalism has an interesting twist: It is rooted in both the Federalist AND Anti-Federalist movements of the 18th Century. The spirit and ideals of the Federalists have been neatly brought together with the humble recognition of the undeniable truth that the warnings set forth by the Anti-Federalists have largely come to fruition. With this humble recognition comes the acknowledgement that things must be changed in order to first reestablish Constitutional supremacy, then to create safeguards against this all happening again.

    Sadly, it is clear that our efforts will not be enough. Over time, some flaw in our solution will be found, as was found in the work of the Founders, and this process will need to be repeated. We must forge forward in our hope that our safeguards will take as long to"crack"as possible for the good of ourselves and our posterity.


  2. Sadly, I have suggested to my children that this may be the only way to restore America to it's former greatness and exceptionalism is through a revolution. It seems that the ideals that made this country great are no longer taught in schools and is no longer respected by our legislators.

    Unlike the Cultural Revolution that Mao and his despotic government ruled over to instill communism in China through brute force....we need a Constituional Revolution to apprise people of what greatness they have let slip through their fingers

  3. "Looks like the books left out some really important stuff". They usually do, which is why I used to tell my students when they would ask me how I knew so much; "I pay attention"!!!