Thursday, October 02, 2008

Reconsidering Jefferson

I have posted a few things over at my Myspace site, but due to frequent loading issues on Myspace in general, I am moving my more general thought stuff back over here. It's more readable, and I like the formatting better.

I've been doing some thinking about Thomas Jefferson. I've always thought of myself as more allied with the Jeffersonian party, certainly more so than the Hamiltonian party, which I regard as the great villains of the American drama. But the more I think about the things he actually did when the had the power to do more than just speak and write--when he had actual choices to make--the more I realize that he was, at the very least, inconsistent in terms of principle.

He spoke and wrote eloquently on the matter of freedom. But over those whose freedom he had power, what was his action? He freed only those slaves he himself fathered, while the others were sold upon his death, families divided among many estates.

The Declaration of Independence was a masterpiece, declaring the rights of men with regard to sovereignty, the right to abolish governments that do not suit them. He also declared that there should not be a public debt, and that he would retire the whole thing during his administration. But when offered the opportunity, he put the federal government further into debt, in recognition of the sovereignty of a military dictator over a full third of a continent which properly should have been regarded as both the property and the dominion of the myriad peoples who inhabited the region, and had little relation to the French monarchy, let alone the revolutionary government that deposed it.

Thomas Jefferson also recommended, and eventually achieved, the separation of the Anglican church and the State of Virginia. At the same time, he advocated a state supported educational system designed to cultivate a "natural aristocracy." It is clear that he didn't so much intend to separate the State from the dispensation of knowledge in general, but rather favored one system over another, and was prepared to use the means of the state (force) to dispense that favor.

All of these errors, particularly that second one, may stem from the error of factional loyalty. It is one thing to oppose Alexander Hamilton and his ilk for the exceedingly erroneous social, fiscal, and monetary policies pursued by that party. But it is another to compromise principles, one's sense of right and wrong, for the sake of factional loyalty. Consider the second item I listed.

Jefferson was motivated by loyalty to break from his opposition to the continuance of public debt. First was his loyalty to agrarian interests (as opposed to mere opposition to public aggrandizement of commercial and financial interests), which demanded that he ensure white farmers a steady, ready supply of free land to found ever more small farms on, producing what was, to him, a more desirable electorate (the Indians be damned). Second was loyalty to Left Wing politics in Europe, chiefly the French Revolution, which though it had long since degenerated into mass executions, death squads, and military dictatorship, still commanded the loyalty of so-called "liberals" everywhere.

For Jefferson's act, an opportunity was lost to deal a potential death blow to the financial interests that stood to benefit from perennial debt financed by perpetual taxation, a subsidy for bankers upon the backs of working men (that continues today in a very big way). Had Jefferson managed to retire the debt that began with the Revolutionary War, a very good precedent may well have been set. In addition, Napoleon Bonaparte was given a bit more money to play with, extending a dark chapter in European history that may otherwise have been cut short... possibly even averting the War of 1812.