Monday, July 5, 2010
Dissin' TJ ? I Don't Think So!
Someone wrote a post on Facebook today, critical of Thomas Jefferson and pointing out, his many flaws and failings as a person. Well, they do have something of a point. TJ was less than a moral paragon next to John Adams' rigid principles and Washington's effortless uprightness. He slept with his slave girl, rewrote the New Testament (leaving most of it out), chased women and bought into all kinds of goofy conspiracy theories. I, personally, have a problem with Jefferson's neglect of the fledgling U.S. Navy. His reluctant late start left us short-handed at sea during the War of 1812.
TJ, no doubt, had his problems, but his differences in character, compared to Washington and Adams and others, only accentuates what was the real source of the genius behind our new nation. The new country was not driven by personal preference, power or personalities, but by principles shared by all and those principles, it turned out, would protect the liberties of all. Left to any one of them, the result might have been just another version of the disastrous European governments. Adams, for instance, wanted a presidency that would have made him virtually an elected monarch. TJ and George talked him down from his high-handed position and made him see that such trappings of power, while they might make the French respect us, were not a good message to send to the country.
It took TJ's loose libertarianism, Washington's moral compass, Adams' principles and sheer drive and Franklin's wit and innovation to bring the nation together into a structure that while strictly ordered, left the citizens free to work, play, innovate and create without undue interference from the government that was supposed to protect them. After they wrote the constitution, it took Jefferson, returning from a debauch as Ambassador to France to remind them they needed to include the Bill of Rights.
The quality of the founders' work is evidenced by the sheer numbers of power-hungry, ego-maniacal, crackpots, crazies, racists and doofuses that have occupied the White-House, Senate, Congress and Supreme Court who failed to destroy the country despite their best efforts. Good things have happened in the U.S. like the end of slavery, women's right to vote, Child Labor Laws the protection of the rights and safety of workers and people with disabilities (at least one president thought the retarded ought to be euthanized as useless) and the protection of our freedoms from those who would have enslaved us. These good things have happened almost in spite of the efforts by our leaders to thwart them.
Bad things have, of course, happened too - like the slaughter among the Indian nations, the protection of corporate monopolies and robber barons and the provocation of war with Spain. Yet, the will of the people stopped the Indian wars and brought forth laws to protect workers and break up monopolies. We're still paying reparations to the tribes and favoring the unions almost a hundred years later. The colonies we captured from Spain were all finally liberated and became nations unto themselves if they wanted to. America's charter, has led the nation to become largely a force for good in the world. Twice in the last century, the United States prevented the rest of the world from slaughtering each other entirely and stopped many an evil tyrant from enslaving billions.
We are the dad gum good guys and largely because we share common principles as laid out in the founding documents.
Turns out we needed Jefferson with all his flaws - apparently something God knew when he He brought that group together at that time and in that place.
But then, He usually knows what He's about.