November 1, 2011 at 7:39 am, by Carl
My students know that I am no fan of Thomas Jefferson. I think that stems mostly from my love and appreciation for Adams and Washington. That Jefferson attacked, lied about and betrayed both men for some principles turns my stomach. He, along with Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton were indeed our first politicians. However, my distaste for the man doesn’t change the fact that he could express himself well.
For his first Inaugural Address, Jefferson was confronted with trying to unify a nation. Now, realize that the bitter division in the country was his own fault, so perhaps to some, his words sounded fake. But, regardless, the ideas are worth looking at, particularly as our political leaders continue to find new lows of vitriol.
Let us then, with courage and confidence, pursue our own federal and republican principles; our attachment to union and representative government.
Kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean from the exterminating havoc of one quarter of the globe; too high minded to endure the degradations of the others, possessing a chosen country, with room enough for our descendants to the thousandth and thousandth generation, entertaining a due sense of our equal right to the use of our own faculties, to the acquisitions of our own industry, to honor and confidence from our fellow citizens, resulting not from birth, but from our actions and their sense of them, enlightened by a benign religion, professed indeed and practised 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, fellow citizens, 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. . .
And may that infinite power, which rules the destinies of the universe, lead our councils to what is best, and give them a favorable issue for your peace and prosperity.
Please read it again. I know the language contains late 18th century sentences, which seemingly go on forever. Clearly, these people would have died on Twitter. But if you dig into his words, he is describing the country:
- room enough for our descendants
- due sense of our equal right to the use of our own faculties
- acquisitions of our own industry
- honor and confidence from our actions
- enlightened by a benign religion [Jefferson means the various denominations of Christianity and the small Jewish community]
- acknowledging and adoring an overruling providence [Providence was a typical term for God]
- government used to restrain men from injuring one another
- government leaving the citizens alone and free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement
- government NOT taxing us to take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned
- Believing and Leaning on God ["the infinite power"] to lead our leaders, and help our national choices lead to our own peace and prosperity.
Yeah, that works! Here’s hoping our own current national leaders will re-read that list and move us back that direction.