REFLECTIONS ON THE LIFE OF THOMAS JEFFERSON
By Jan Scandella Hankins and Jim Jess
Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence, the
third President of the United States, the founder of the University
of Virginia, and the individual who made the greatest contribution in
establishing our nation's firm protection of religious freedom.
Jefferson and his partisans established what became the Republican
Party, called the Democratic-Republican Party by some, and later
called the Democratic Party. Jefferson's commitment to the principles
of limited government and the protection of individual rights
influences our political life today. Certainly his ideas concerning
the Constitution, the rights of property, and economy, if heeded
today, would produce much better results than the welfare state
experiments that have dominated since the 1930s. His basic approach
to foreign policy, if seriously considered by policy makers over the
past century, would likely have contributed to a more favorable
course in our international relations.
article is not intended as a biography, but rather a glimpse of
various aspects of Thomas Jefferson's life and work. First of all, we
will look at the impact of his fight for religious freedom in
Virginia, culminating in the enactment of the first statute on
religious freedom in North America. His ideas on religion, which
provided the backdrop for this effort, are also instructive. Second,
Jefferson's lifestyle and ethics provide some insight into how he
lived and the extent to which his life exhibited the principles of
true public service. Third, his views on the legitimate purposes of
government, the Constitution and public debt are full of insight.
Finally, his national defense and foreign policy ideas are worth
examination. They underscore what are the truly vital national
interests of this nation or any other.
Freedom and Ideas on Christianity
the earliest days of his involvement in politics, Jefferson
established a record of opposition to state-supported churches. In
his day this meant he opposed the generally accepted practice of
providing public funds to maintain the official, state-sanctioned
churches and their clergy. Furthermore, Jefferson sought to protect
the rights of those of any creed. Jefferson considered one of his
greatest achievements his authorship of the Virginia Statute for
Religious Freedom. The statute, passed in 1786 by the Virginia
General Assembly, provided a model for the protection of religious
liberty, which was later guaranteed to all Americans in the First
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The final clause of Jefferson's
statute recognized and protected this freedom of conscience.
it therefore enacted by the General Assembly,
no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious
worship, place or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced,
restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall
otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but
that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain,
their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no
wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was ratified in
1791, captured this same concept in its own language.
shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .
significance of establishing religious freedom is that our nation,
for the most part, has protected the right to study and teach the
Bible, God's Word, and thereby secured the true foundation of
1799 Jefferson wrote of his support for religious freedom.
am for freedom of religion, & against all maneuvres to bring
about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another.
the presidential election campaign of 1800, Jefferson's record on
religious freedom prompted the rival party, the Federalists, to
label Jefferson an atheist and attack him for what was perceived to
be his disbelief of the Scriptures. They thought that because he
defended the rights of all to worship as they chose, and did not
appear to be deeply religious, he was an infidel. In defending him,
the Republican Party urged that he not be subject to such criticism
just “because he is not a fanatic, nor willing that the
Quaker, the Baptist, the Methodist, or any other denomination of
Christians, should pay the pastors of other sects...He does not
think that a [Roman] Catholic should be banished for believing in
transubstantiation, or a Jew, for believing in the God of Abraham,
Isaac, and Jacob."
did Jefferson believe about God and His Word? As we will see, he did
search the Scriptures at times, thought deeply about them, and also
made certain biblical principles part of his lifestyle.
Thought-provoking insights on his interest in biblical matters can
be garnered from a biography entitled In Pursuit of Reason: The
Life of Thomas Jefferson by historian Noble Cunningham, and a
volume by Norman Cousins, In God We Trust, which deals with
the religious beliefs of the Founding Fathers.
was deeply affected by the harsh accusations of the campaign of 1800
and, once elected to the presidency, studied the Bible with
considerable diligence so as to clarify his own spiritual beliefs.
In an interesting insight on his private life, Cunningham notes that
Jefferson accepted no social invitations in the evening, but rather
devoted that time to paperwork and personal study. His study
included extensive review of the gospels, from which he clipped
selected passages to produce an essay entitled The Philosophy of
Jesus. Based on this research, he later compiled a more
extensive work called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth,
also known as The Jefferson Bible. To answer the charges that
he was irreligious, he wrote an essay giving a summary description
of his faith, "Syllabus of an estimate of the merit of the
doctrines of Jesus, compared with those of others."
is noteworthy that a president would reflect so deeply on the
Scriptures during his term of office. Although his interest in the
Word of God and belief in parts of it was commendable, his
understanding of the Bible as a whole was not accurate. His apparent
disbelief of miracles and supernatural events in the life of Christ
is revealed by his omission of them in The Jefferson Bible.
While he was fascinated by Jesus' ethics and wisdom, it appears that
he did not believe everything God's Word teaches about Jesus Christ.
is quite possible that Jefferson's study of the Bible was not
confined to the gospels, but included the Book of Acts, given his
awareness of the first century church. Among Jefferson's writings
was praise of "the pure and unsophisticated doctrines, such as
those professed and acted on by the unlettered Apostles, the
Apostolic fathers, and the Christians of the first century."
to Cunningham, Jefferson was convinced that the early Christians
held a unitarian concept of God, not a trinitarian one. In 1822, he
wrote, "No historical fact is better established, than that the
doctrine of one God, pure and uncompounded, was that of the early
ages of Christianity; and was among the efficacious doctrines which
gave it triumph over the polytheism of the ancients."
This belief in one God was compatible with Jefferson's own views.
had the highest regard for what he considered the "authentic"
teachings of Jesus, but he clearly did not subscribe to the church
teaching that Jesus Christ was God. He once referred to the Trinity
as "an unintelligible proposition of Platonic mysticisms that
three are one, and one is three; and yet one is not three, and the
three are not one." He wrote on another occasion, "the. .
.paradox that one is three, and three but one, is so
incomprehensible to the human mind, that no candid man can say he
has any idea of it, and how can he believe what presents no idea?"
He wrote further that a man who follows this logic surrenders his
reason and "has no remaining guard against absurdities the most
monstrous, and like a ship without rudder is the sport of every
wind. With such persons, gullibility, which they call faith, takes
the helm from the hand of reason, and the mind becomes a wreck."
On one occasion he declined to be a godfather at the baptism of
friends' children because the Anglican service called for
participants to recite the Apostles' Creed, which professes belief
in the Trinity.
also wrote the following:
we shall have done away the incomprehensible jargon of the
Trinitarian arithmetic, that three are one, and one is three; when
we shall have knocked down the artificial scaffolding, reared to
mask from view the simple structure of Jesus; when, in short, we
shall have unlearned everything which has been taught since his day,
and got back to the pure and simple doctrines he inculcated, we
shall then be truly and worthily his disciples."
summed up what he called the "doctrines of Jesus" in three
principles and contrasted them with his view of Calvinism:
That there is one only God, and He all perfect.
That there is a future state of rewards and punishments.
That to love God with all thy heart and thy neighbor as thyself is
the sum of religion. . .
compare these with the demoralizing dogmas of Calvin.
1. That there are three Gods.
That good works, or the love of our neighbor, are nothing.
That faith is everything, and the more incomprehensible the
proposition, the more merit in its faith.
That reason in religion is of unlawful use.
That God, from the beginning, elected certain individuals to be
saved, and certain others to be damned; and that no crimes of the
former can damn them; no virtues of the latter save.
stated in one of his letters,
am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the
doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call me
infidel and themselves Christians and preachers of the
gospel, while they draw all their characteristic dogmas from what
its author never said nor saw. They have compounded from the heathen
mysteries a system beyond the comprehension of man. . ."
were not able to determine whether Thomas Jefferson was born again
of God's spirit. His interest in Jesus Christ appears to be out of
admiration of Jesus as a "religious reformer," and most of
Jefferson's mention of Jesus concerns his approach to moral and
ethical questions, not Jesus Christ's accomplishments as man's
redeemer and our lord and savior. We were not able to find, in the
materials we researched, much more than a casual mention of Christ's
resurrection and ascension. One reference in a letter is Jefferson's
description of what some people believed about Jesus, that he
"reversed the laws of nature at will [an apparent reference to
Jesus Christ's resurrection], and ascended bodily into heaven."
It is not clear from the context whether Jefferson believed these
events occurred or not.
lifestyle showed a high commitment to moral and ethical standards.
His life appears to have been an example of honesty and uprightness.
Although he enjoyed entertaining and did so extensively during his
presidency (and throughout his life), his expenses were paid from
his own household budget, and not the public treasury. His annual
salary was $25,000; yet his expenses for wine alone during one year
of his presidential term were $2,800, with household and office
expenses totaling $16,000. He considered entertaining essential to
the governmental process, and would often use it as a means of
reconciling congressmen and others with divergent views.
Jefferson's ethics regarding public finances and frugal government
are well known, it should be mentioned that he was not the most
skillful manager of his personal financial affairs. When he retired
from public office, he was in debt. The Library of Congress was
begun with a portion of Jefferson's personal library that he sold to
the government to pay off several large debts. He continued to be
plagued by debt, however, due to the expenses of constructing his
mansion at Monticello and other estate projects.
his presidency, Jefferson worked heartily, as evidenced by his daily
schedule. Jefferson typically rose at 5 a.m., and did paperwork
until 9 a.m. He then received Cabinet members, members of Congress
and others—without an appointment—until noon, when
Cabinet meetings were usually held. Jefferson was dedicated to a
daily horseback ride, his principal form of exercise, at 1 p.m.,
followed by dinner at 3:30 p.m. He often invited guests, and these
occasions served as his main social activity. Dinner was served at
an oval table, with no "head of the table," and rules of
formal diplomatic etiquette were abandoned. Everyone was expected to
leave by 6 p.m. so Jefferson could continue with his work until 10
was fastidious about his personal surroundings. He moved around a
great deal during his career, but was always concerned about having
a comfortable home environment for himself, his family and
visitors—even if he was living in a rented house. A library
for his extensive collection of books was of the utmost importance
exercised extraordinarily good judgment and foresight as president.
For example, one of his first acts as president was to hire
Meriwether Lewis, an army captain knowledgeable of the western
territories, as his personal secretary. In a remarkable diplomatic
feat, Jefferson later arranged to buy the western territory from
France at an incredibly low price in what became known as the
Louisiana Purchase. Lewis was part of the Lewis and Clark expedition
sent by Jefferson to explore the vast new territory.
leadership abilities served the nation well. But God was watching
over the new nation also, and because of this, in at least one
instance, the diabolical plans of dishonest men were thwarted. Aaron
Burr, Jefferson's first vice president, had initially stood by
Jefferson and assisted him in his first administration. Later, Burr
led a conspiracy to separate the western territories from the rest
of the nation and turn them over to the British in the years leading
up to the War of 1812. Somehow Jefferson learned of the plot and put
a stop to it. Even at this time, God was watching over our nation.
God knew that His Word would live in the hearts of many in our
nation and that the western territories would someday comprise the
heartland of America, an area vital to the nation's success. God
knew that these western territories would supply an abundance of our
nation's food supplies and natural resources, which were necessary
to our development as a nation.
1807, events occurred that shattered much of the national harmony
Jefferson had encouraged in the young United States. For several
years, the British had been boarding U.S. naval and commercial ships
on the high seas and seizing sailors the British claimed were
deserters from their own vessels. In numerous instances, the
arrogance of the well-armed British led them to take U.S. sailors
captive. In one instance, a U.S. Navy vessel, the Chesapeake,
was destroyed by a British warship when its captain refused to be
boarded. To complicate matters, Britain and France, who were at war,
both declared naval blockades of each other's coasts and declared
their right to search offending vessels for contraband cargo. In
order to punish Great Britain and France and to protect American
vessels and seamen, Congress passed and Jefferson signed into law an
embargo was a disaster. Thriving commerce along the Atlantic
seaboard was shut down, except for domestic shipping. Numerous
Yankee smugglers carried on transatlantic trade, however. Public
outrage was directed at Jefferson, and divisive and sometimes
violent unrest infected the nation. Some states spoke of
secession. Congress repealed the hated embargo shortly
before Jefferson left office.
1809 Jefferson finished his second term as president, concluding
eight years of service as our nation's chief executive. Including
his presidency, he had served nearly thirty years in public service.
His other offices included Virginia legislator, Continental Congress
delegate, governor of Virginia, American minister (ambassador) to
France, U.S. Secretary of State, and Vice President of the United
States. Upon returning to his beloved country estate, Monticello, to
retire from pubic life, his friends and neighbors gave him a warm
welcome. According to one account, he was moved with emotion. He
spoke to the group about leaving public service and concluded his
short speech by quoting the prophet Samuel from I Samuel 12:3.
to the scenes of my birth and early life, to the society of those
with whom I was raised, and who have been ever dear to me, I
receive, fellow citizens and neighbors, with inexpressible pleasure,
the cordial welcome you are so good as to give me. Long absent on
duties which the history of a wonderful era made incumbent on those
called to them, the pomp, the turmoil, the bustle and splendor of
office, have drawn but deeper sighs for the tranquil and
irresponsible occupations of private life, for the enjoyment of an
affectionate intercourse with you, my neighbors and friends, and the
endearments of family love, which nature has given us all, as the
sweetener of every hour. For these I gladly lay down the distressing
burthen of power, and seek, with my fellow citizens, repose and
safety under the watchful cares, the labors, and perplexities of
younger and abler minds. The anxieties you express to administer to
my happiness, do, of themselves, confer that happiness; and the
measure will be complete, if my endeavors to fulfil my duties in the
several public stations to which I have been called, have obtained
for me the approbation of my country. The part which I have acted on
the theatre of public life, has been before them; and to their
sentence I submit it; but the testimony of my native country, of the
individuals who have known me in private life, to my conduct in its
various duties and relations, is the more grateful, as proceeding
from eye witnesses and observers, from triers of the vicinage. Of
you, then, my neighbors, I may ask, in the face of the world, "whose
ox have I taken, or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed, or
of whose hand have I received a bribe to blind mine eyes therewith?"
On your verdict I rest with conscious security. Your wishes for my
happiness are received with just sensibility, and I offer sincere
prayers for your own welfare and prosperity.
quote illustrates how hard he had worked to be an honest and frugal
steward of the resources of the United States government while
serving in office. Certainly his manner of life, his personal ethic
of avoiding extravagance, and his method of paying some of the White
House’s expenses from his personal funds are testimony to his
giving nature and respect with which he conducted the public’s
Government, the Constitution and Public Debt
ideas for which Jefferson fought during his life were the ideas of
classical liberalism, which—for the most part—are based
on the biblical truth that man has freedom of will and that this
freedom should be protected. This school of thought attaches great
value to the liberty of the individual, the rights of the citizen,
and the rights of property. Classical liberalism was championed by
such thinkers as English philosopher John Locke, whose writings
Jefferson had read and studied. Classical liberalism viewed the
state as the servant of man, who was endowed by his Creator with
free will. Classical liberals sought to protect the individual from
the abuses of state power.
classical liberal ideas are still relevant today. They form much of
the basis for what has come to be called "modern conservatism."
Jefferson's first Inaugural Address is an excellent statement of
these principles of limited government, the powers of the states and
its citizens, and the rights of individuals. The following excerpt
. . 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 refrain 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 [satisfaction, or
welfare statists of the twentieth and twenty-first century would
make Thomas Jefferson cringe, especially those in the Democratic
Party who trace their political lineage back to Jefferson and the
party he founded. How could any Democrat who is committed to the
growth of governmental power (arguably, not every Democrat is)
honestly say that he or she was of the party of Jefferson? But the
public has let them get away with it. The so-called "party of
Jefferson" certainly was not the same Democratic Party on which
Franklin Delano Roosevelt relied for political support when he
launched the welfare state with his New Deal. Nor is it the same
Democratic Party that resists the shrinking of the welfare state or
the rollback of federal spending today. And although the Republican
Party may claim Jefferson’s legacy of limited government
today, it has not done much better in recent years to shrink the
size and influence of the federal government.
was one of the first proponents of the “strict
constructionist” view of the Constitution. This view affirms
that any powers not explicitly delegated to the federal government
by the Constitution, nor prohibited to the states, should be
reserved to the states and to the people. This is the essence of the
Tenth Amendment, which was part of the Constitution Jefferson swore
to uphold in his oath of office. Jefferson defended the rights of
the common man over the prerogatives of the state. His view on the
subject is stated succinctly in a letter to Elbridge Gerry, a signer
of the U.S. Constitution and one-time governor of Massachusetts. The
letter was dated 1799, a year before Jefferson won election to the
am for preserving to the States the powers not yielded by them to
the Union, & to the legislature of the Union [Congress], its
constitutional share in the division of powers; and I am not for
transferring all the powers of the States to the general government,
& all those of that government to the Executive branch.
his first Inaugural Address, Jefferson also touched on this subject
when he listed his "essential principles of our government."
. . the support of the state governments in all their rights, as the
most competent administrations for our domestic concerns and the
surest bulwarks against anti-republican tendencies. . .
would start another revolution were he alive today, for what he
opposed occurred in the twentieth century. The federal government
assumed more and more authority in every area of government policy,
from building roads to educating children. These domestic matters
Jefferson would have left at the state level; he would not have
enlarged the federal government to administer them in Washington.
Executive branch departments, such as the Department of Health and
Human Services, or so-called independent agencies, such as the
Federal Trade Commission, control all of the program delivery
systems and administrative rule-making powers that define federal
policy today. Meanwhile, state officials must go to Washington, D.C.
and lobby, horse-trade, and beg for federal money and federal
states should tell the "feds" to keep their programs and
their money, but that would be tough politically and financially.
States would have to raise state and local taxes to make up for the
loss in federal funds and the federal government would lose control
over the states and the populace. Of course, this would mean the
federal budget could be balanced and the national debt retired, over
time. This is the program of reform that Congress would enact if it
really wanted to serve the people and carefully steward the
strict constructionist view put him at odds with Alexander Hamilton,
who advocated the opposing doctrine of implied powers, which gave
the federal government a much more expansive field of authority.
Jefferson and Hamilton were both members of the Cabinet during
George Washington's presidency. Jefferson served as Secretary of
State (1790-93) and Hamilton served as Secretary of the Treasury
(1789-95). The two men sharply disagreed over the desirability of a
national central bank that would have broad powers to direct the
economy. Hamilton did prevail in this argument, however, and the
First Bank of the United States (the precursor to today's central
bank, the Federal Reserve) was established in 1791, headquartered in
Philadelphia, and given the powers to issue national currency and
serve as fiscal agent for the Treasury.
of Hamilton's motives for setting up the Bank was to spur commercial
expansion. The bank would make loans, he surmised, and give the
business community a stake in the success of the new nation.
Hamilton believed a national debt to be a blessing. Jefferson,
however, was of a different mind. He wrote to James Madison in 1789
regarding the nation of France, ". . . would it not be wise and
just for that nation to declare in the constitution they are forming
that neither the legislature, nor the nation itself can validly
contract more than they may pay within their own age, or within the
term of 19 years?"
his 1799 letter to Elbridge Gerry, Jefferson commented on frugal
government and eliminating public debt.
am for a government rigorously frugal & simple, applying all the
possible savings of the public revenue to the discharge of the
national debt; and not for a multiplication of officers &
salaries merely to make partisans, & for increasing, by every
device, the public debt, on the principle of its being a public
a letter to Samuel Kercheval, written in 1816, seven years after he
had left the presidency, Jefferson, the elder statesman, exhibited
his long held opposition to government debt.
am not among those who fear the people. They, and not the rich, are
our dependence for continued freedom. To preserve their
independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual
debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty,
or profusion and servitude. If we run into such debts, as
that we must be taxed in our meat and in our drink, in our
necessaries and our comforts, in our labors and our amusements, for
our callings and our creeds, as the people of England are, our
people, like them, must come to labor sixteen hours in the
twenty-four, give the earnings of fifteen of these to the government
for their debts and daily expenses; and the sixteenth being
insufficient to afford us bread, we must live, as they do now, on
oatmeal and potatoes; have no time to think, no means of calling the
mismanagers to account; but be glad to obtain subsistence by hiring
ourselves to rivet their chains on the necks of our
fellow-sufferers. Our land-holders, too, like theirs, retaining
indeed the title and stewardship of estates called theirs, but held
really in trust for the treasury. . . This example reads to us the
salutary lesson, that private fortunes are destroyed by public as
well as by private extravagance. And this is the tendency of all
human governments. A departure from principle in one instance
becomes a precedent for a second; that second for a third; and so
on, till the bulk of society is reduced to mere automatons of
misery, to have no sensibilities left but for sinning and suffering.
. . And the forehorse of this frightful team is public debt.
Taxation follows that, and in its train wretchedness and
getting Congress to accept all Revolutionary War debts at face
value, Hamilton obligated the government to pay for years on the
principal and interest. Hamilton convinced Congress that it was
necessary to have the government assume all of the debt to establish
good credit for the United States. In order to make payments on the
debt, several new taxes were necessary. These early taxes were
mostly from tariffs or import duties and excise taxes on such things
as alcohol, refined sugars, auctions, and licenses. Once in office,
Jefferson and his allies in the Congress worked to repeal the excise
taxes, which were internal taxes, as opposed to tariffs, which were
taxes on imports.
his presidency, Congress, at Jefferson's request, abolished the
internal revenue service, which had been established to collect the
excise taxes. This branch of the Treasury Department should not be
confused with the modern Internal Revenue Service. The agency in
Jefferson's day consisted of about five hundred employees who were
involved in collecting excise taxes. (The income tax had not yet
been established.) With the excise taxes repealed, there was no need
for this tax-collecting agency. Jefferson and Albert Gallatin also
persuaded Congress to cut government spending and make substantial
payments to reduce the war debt.
Defense and Foreign Policy
times in which Thomas Jefferson lived were quite different than
ours. As the third President of the United States, Jefferson was
very concerned with establishing the credibility of the federal
government and domestic stability and harmony within the nation. The
British Navy dominated the oceans of the world. This shielded the
U.S. from other European powers but led to conflicts with the
British over U.S. freedom to trade with other nations.
1803, Napoleon had stirred Europe to war. The Napoleonic wars went
on until 1815. The U.S. had no interest in becoming engaged in
conflicts with well trained professional armies who fought wars
for political advantage or colonial acquisition. The new nation's
citizens were interested in caring for their farms and families and
living in freedom. Jefferson and his immediate successors in the
White House were determined to keep the U.S. out of Europe's
only logical course for the young United States to pursue was one
that protected its interests. This meant a policy that focused on
establishing a strong, national government capable of protecting
individual liberty, ensuring domestic stability, and establishing a
small navy to protect U.S. coasts. Such objectives would not support
the "luxury" of wars to serve the whims of a politician.
To a certain extent, the state of the new nation dictated its
his 1799 letter to Gerry, Jefferson stated his approach to defense
and foreign policy.
am for relying, for internal defence, on our militia solely, till
actual invasion, and for such a naval force only as may protect our
coasts and harbors from such depredations as we have experienced;
and not for a standing army in time of peace, which may overawe the
public sentiment; nor for a navy, which, by its own expenses and the
eternal wars in which it will implicate us, will grind us with
public burthens, and sink us under them.
knew a strong national defense was necessary to maintain liberty. He
was, however, suspect of a standing army, perhaps rightly so.
History is filled with examples of powerful generals who, with the
backing of the army, assumed the position of head of state by force
or intimidation, as opposed to popular election. Certainly at times,
the "military industrial complex," of which President
Dwight Eisenhower warned, has exercised unwarranted influence over
the policies of our government. Most of the growth of our modern
military establishment, however, was motivated by the realities of
the twentieth century, chiefly the military adventurism and
aggression of first Adolf Hitler and the Japanese and then the
Soviet Union. It became necessary, particularly with the rise of
Soviet communism after World War II, to maintain a standing army.
though the Soviet Union no longer exists, the leaders of the nations
that have replaced Russia and the other former Soviet republics are
not beyond reproach. They will act out of their own self-interests,
which could be contrary to our own national interest. We must be
prepared to defend our interests both here at home and abroad. In
addition, the rise of China’s military prowess and the
proliferation of nuclear arms and other weapons of awesome power by
several nations require us to stay strong militarily. And of course,
the increasing potency of international terrorism makes it necessary
for us to continue to maintain not only our current conventional and
nuclear forces and capabilities, but also to develop new strategies
that will protect our nation from a wide range of threats and
conducted a "non interventionist" foreign policy and
opposed wars for the sake of geopolitical aspirations.
am for free commerce with all nations; political connection with
none; & little or no diplomatic establishment. And I am not
looking for linking ourselves by new treaties with the quarrels of
Europe; entering that field of slaughter to preserve their balance,
or joining in the confederacy of kings to war against the principles
his first Inaugural Address Jefferson stated his foreign policy
approach, part of his "essential principles."
. . peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all
nations—entangling alliances with none.
the first World War, some of our political leaders have been
obsessed with the lust to bring the U.S. under the domination of a
world government. President Woodrow Wilson tried it with the League
of Nations, which the U.S. Senate at the time wisely rejected.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife later brought us
the United Nations. The Senate ratified the United Nations treaty
and the U.S. began a diplomatic intrigue with numerous governments
from around the world, many of which did not rule by consent of the
governed and still do not to this day.
Wilson and Roosevelt claimed as their political home the political
party of Thomas Jefferson, but they both advanced the ideas of world
dominion. Since the end of World War II, our policymakers have
involved us in a number of new entanglements, which have included a
number of military adventures abroad. One wonders if our leaders, at
the time, considered whether these undertakings fulfilled what would
have been Jefferson's requirements for sending our nation's armed
services to engage hostile forces.
marked contrast to our current mode of operation, Jefferson, who had
been a diplomat himself, had contempt for diplomacy. He once wrote a
friend, "I have ever considered diplomacy as the pest of the
peace of the world, as the workshop in which nearly all the wars of
Europe are manufactured."
subtly demonstrated this contempt by ignoring all elaborate protocol
when entertaining foreign diplomats when he was President. This
infuriated the diplomats, which was part of what Jefferson had in
mind. He wanted to contrast what he would refer to as American
"republican virtues" of the common man with the pomp and
show of Europe, and, to some extent, of the previous Federalist
Administration of John Adams.
principles, his quality of life, and his contributions to our nation
certainly rank above that of just about anyone in public life today.
His life was not a perfect one, yet he allowed few of his faults to
significantly impact his public service. His public life was one of
honest service to his countrymen. The ideas for which he
fought—religious liberty, frugal and limited government, and a
non-interventionist foreign policy—he never abandoned.
had a suggestion for future political leaders in his first Inaugural
Address. After detailing in his address his "essential
principles of our government," he said the following:
. .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 the blood of our heroes
have been devoted to their attainment. . . should we wander from
them in moments of error or alarm, let us hasten to retrace our
steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty and
our political leaders of today would make an effort to retrace their
steps along the lines of Jeffersonian principles, we would be better
for it. The student of the Bible will recognize the heart of many of
these Jeffersonian principles to be, at their root, biblical ones,
even though Jefferson may not have identified them as such himself.
Among those principles are these obviously biblical ones:
liberty, which is based on the concept of free will
and frugality in government, which is an application of good
stewardship and diligence
entangling alliances, which was a standard for Israel in the Old
public debt, which is another principle from the Old Testament law
work in order to provide a genuine service, which is a principle
found in the Old and New Testaments
principles once helped to provide a sound foundation for the freest
and most prosperous nation in the world, our United States. They
would rescue our ship of state today if used again with wisdom and
Jefferson was one of those unique men of good character and right
principle who has occasionally walked onto the stage of history.
Although far from perfect, men like Jefferson have left us much for
which to be thankful. Jefferson's fight for the concepts of
individual freedom, especially religious liberty, expanded liberty
in his day and still benefits us today. A true statesman expands
liberty; a tyrant expands government. May God bless our nation with
some true statesmen in the years ahead, and show us how to recognize
the tyrants before they do us harm.
Thomas Jefferson, Writings
(New York: Literary Classics of
the United States, 1984), p. 1057.
Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., In Pursuit of Reason: The Life of
(Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State
University, 1987), p. 225.
Letter to James Smith as quoted in In God We Trust
, by Norman
Cousins (New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1958), p. 159.
Cousins, pp. 159-160.
Letter to Timothy Pickering as quoted in Cousins, p. 157.
Letter to Benjamin Waterhouse as quoted in Cousins, pp. 160-161.
Letter to Charles Thomson as quoted in Cousins, p. 145-46.
Letter to Peter Carr as quoted in Cousins, p. 128.
Page Smith, Thomas Jefferson: A Revealing Biography
York: American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc., 1976), pp. 276-283.
Smith, pp. 282-284.
, p. 550.
Clarence B. Carson, A Basic History of the United States, Volume
2: The Beginning of the Republic
(Wadley, Alabama: American
Textbook Committee, 1984), pp. 174-76.
Cunningham, pp. 247-248.
Smith, p. 270.
Smith, pp.267, 270.
Jan Scandella Hankins is
a member of the Board of Directors of the Foundation for
Jim Jess is
President of the Foundation for Constitutional Education.