Monday, April 7, 2014

What is Good Government? Thomas Jefferson Explains

The 1800 presidential election was full of surprises.  The growing rift between the Federalists and the Republicans brought forth Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, knocking down John Adams from the equation.  Jefferson and Burr both received 73 electoral votes and the tie was only broken following a heavy debate in the House of Representatives (and with some help from Alexander Hamilton).  Jefferson finally emerged victorious as the third president of the United States and gave his inaugural address on March 4, 1801 where he famously stated, “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”  Below is an excerpt from Jefferson’s speech where he discusses the best form of government:

“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.”

Jefferson further explains the basic principles of good government-note for Jefferson republican principles and good government is interchangeable:

“Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious, or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none; the support of the state governments in all their rights, as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns and the surest bulwarks against antirepublican tendencies; the preservation of the general government in its whole constitutional vigor, as the sheet anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad; a jealous care of the right of election by the people – a mild and safe corrective of abuses which are lopped by the sword of revolution where peaceable remedies are unprovided; absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority, the vital principles of republics, from which is no appeal but to force, the vital principle and immediate parent of despotism; a well disciplined militia, our best reliance in peace and for the first moments of war, till regulars may relieve them; the supremacy of the civil over the military authority; economy in the public expense, that labor may be lightly burthened; the honest payment of our debts and sacred preservation of the public faith; encouragement of agriculture, and of commerce as its handmaid; the diffusion of information and arraignment of all abuses at the bar of the public reason; freedom of religion; freedom of the press; and freedom of person under the protection of the habeas corpus, and trial by juries impartially selected

Jefferson closes by adding that these republican principles of good government formed our nation and must guide us in the future because only through them can we sustain America’s greatness:

“These principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation.  The wisdom of our sages and blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment.  They should be the creed of our political faith, the text of civic instruction, the touchstone by which to try the services of those we trust; and should we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety.”

*My emphasis added.

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