I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.
–Thomas Jefferson, letter to Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800
I wonder: when did it become sedition and treason to advocate the sentiment in those words? Somehow, by doing nothing more than trying to enlighten people to the threats of growing tyranny in all corners of our government and society, I and others like me find ourselves being accused of all manner of crimes against both country and liberty; things for which I neither advocated nor defended. Because I advocate original intent, small government and I am Christian, my government says I should be considered as a potential domestic terrorist. Because I reject the notion that we can trust a system that has repeatedly proven it feels no constitutional constraints on the reach of its authority, I am considered to be advocating anarchy and/or rebellion. Very well then, if I am to stand accused of terrorism, sedition and treason because I seek to enlighten others as to the very foundation of individual rights and liberty, then let me stand with Mr. Jefferson and allow him to speak – through me – as a co-defendant in this cause:
Man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the spot of every wind. With such persons, gullability, which they call faith, takes the helm from the hand of reason and the mind becomes a wreck.
–Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Smith, December 8, 1822
So, when I try to explain the philosophy that guided our founders so that others might better understand what was meant to be as opposed to what has become, I consider myself as trying to follow the teachings of my mentor. Education is all I have really tried to achieve:
It is the manners and spirit of a people which preserve a republic in vigor. A degeneracy in these is a canker which soon eats to the heart of its laws and constitution.
–Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia Query 19, 1781
Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day.
–Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dupont de Nemours, April 24, 1816
And again, when I try to explain that our government is acting entirely outside of its constitutional authority, I again count myself as firmly within the mind of Jefferson when I appeal to the people as the final defense of liberty:
But of all the views of this law none is more important, none more legitimate, than that of rendering the people the safe, as they are the ultimate, guardians of their own liberty. For this purpose the reading in the first stage, where they will receive their whole education, is proposed, as has been said, to be chiefly historical. History by apprising them of the past will enable them to judge of the future; it will avail them of the experience of other times and other nations; it will qualify them as judges of the actions and designs of men; it will enable them to know ambition under every disguise it may assume; and knowing it, to defeat its views.
–Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 14, 1781
I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.
–Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Charles Jarvis, September 28, 1820
How many times have I said that the solution is to teach the people; to win their hearts and minds back to the ideals and principles that founded this nation? And how many times have my pleas for the same been labeled as calls for lawlessness, sedition and treason? And why is it that these same accusations are not pointed at a government that has clearly and repeatedly exceeded its rightful authority to the point of tyranny? After all, when the government assumes powers it was not specifically granted, it ceases to be a just government, does it not?
I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground that ‘all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states or to the people.’ To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specially drawn around the powers of Congress, is to take possession of a boundless field of power, not longer susceptible of any definition.
–Thomas Jefferson, Opinion on the Constitutionality of a National Bank, February 15, 1791
Who is to decide what is constitutional and what is not? Is it the judiciary alone, as is so often asserted in our time? I think not. In fact, I happen to agree with Jefferson on this point, as well:
My construction of the constitution is very different from that you quote. It is that each department is truly independent of the others, and has an equal right to decide for itself what is the meaning of the constitution in the cases submitted to its action; and especially, where it is to act ultimately and without appeal.
–Thomas Jefferson, letter to Samuel Adams Wells, May 12, 1819
It has long, however, been my opinion, and I have never shrunk from its expression… that the germ of dissolution of our federal government is in the constitution of the federal Judiciary;… working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief, over the field of jurisdiction, until all shall be usurped.
–Thomas Jefferson, letter to Charles Hammond, August 18, 1821
If I assert that I have as much right to interpret the laws as any other – including those members of the Legislature and Judiciary – am I guilty of sedition and treason, or of lunacy? If so, then I stand in good company once again:
Laws are made for men of ordinary understanding and should, therefore, be construed by the ordinary rules of common sense. Their meaning is not to be sought for in metaphysical subtleties which may make anything mean everything or nothing at pleasure.
–Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Johnson, June 12, 1823
And if I insist on what we now call an original intent interpretation of the Constitution, should I again be found guilty of advocating for sedition or treason when Jefferson, himself, agreed:
On every question of construction carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.
–Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Johnson, June 12, 1823
So, in my mind, anyway, when I tell people that they do not have to sit by and allow the government to tell them what is and is not constitutional, or that they have to allow all manner of trampling on their natural rights unless and until the government agrees to stop, I do not see myself as seditious or treasonous, but only as encouraging my fellow citizen to remember his or her role in maintaining a free and self-governing society where the government remains a servant to the people rather than an institutor of slavery. It isn’t that one violation of the constitution has destroyed our constitution, but that the three branches are in collusion and now wage a systematic and prolonged campaign against the rights of the people that has destroyed our government:
Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of the day, but a series of oppressions, begun at a distinguished period, unalterable through every change of ministers, too plainly prove a deliberate, systematical plan of reducing us to slavery.”
I submit that this systematic reduction into slavery began with the early days of the Progressive movement.
Now, let’s look to the notion of interposition as one possible means of correcting the abuses of our government. In principle, I not only agree with this idea, I like it. Unfortunately, changes since the founding make this approach so unlikely as to be next to impossible. As I said, changes to the Constitution, and even more changes to the way we interpret it and the laws have made it very unlikely that the people will support such an approach, and even less likely that the States will allow them to do so. The recent Supreme Court ruling over the Arizona immigration laws is an example of the people of a State trying to correct what they see as a collapse of federal law only to be struck down by the Supreme Court. But the use of federal welfare – both in individual and State applications – has served to make the people and their States dependent upon the federal government, which further empowers the federal government to trample the rights of both the States and the people:
Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition.
–Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 19, 1787
There have been other changes that further support the federal government’s ability to restrain and control the States, like the direct election of the President and the Senators – both of which were intended to be checks on the Federal government’s power. The ability to levy taxes on the individual is another such control that has subverted the original protections in the founders’ constitution. And all of these were done by political parties claiming to be working in the best interest of the People.
And this gets us to another problem I see and against which I try to warn people: that of the dependence upon a political Party through the transferring one’s trust from the government to the Party. Here again, this is the surrendering of one’s personal duties to a free and self-governing society and is contrary to the spirit that supports it:
“I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to Heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”
- – Thomas Jefferson
So, what are we to do? I honestly don’t know. Another point that has been made on this blog and with which I wholeheartedly agree is that there are those of us who understand philosophy (i.e. the proper direction of liberty), and those who understand how to get people moving in that direction. I readily admit that I am not the person to even suggest how we do it, but I do believe that I understand the philosophical foundation upon which liberty is built. And because I understand it, I understand that we must never lose sight of from where it is our rights come:
Natural rights [are] the objects for the protection of which society is formed and municipal laws established.
–Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Monroe, 1791
The Declaration of Independence… [is the] declaratory charter of our rights, and the rights of man.
–Thomas Jefferson, letter to Samuel Adams Wells, May 12, 1821
On these points, I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Jefferson when I assert:
When right, I shall often be thought wrong by those whose positions will not command a view of the whole ground.
–Thomas Jefferson, Second Inaugural Address, 1805