Jeffersonian Rebellion

I was reading through Clyde N Wilson’s archives at Chronicles Magazine and came across this short essay. “I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and is as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical”, is a common quote which Wilson says has been misinterpreted, or taken to an extreme that Jefferson didn’t intend and has been used to justify various revolutions throughout US history. Emphasis mine.

A Little Rebellion

Scandalously, Thomas Jefferson once wrote to James Madison, “I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and is as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”

In the same year, 1787, in regard to what is known as Shays’ Rebellion, he wrote another friend, “God forbid that we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion.”  A lack of rebelliousness among the people would demonstrate “a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. . . . And what country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance?”

The “rebellion” in Massachusetts had alarmed many, especially the masters of that commonwealth, who were imbued with a Puritan longing for regulated behavior and saw the tax revolt of Capt. Daniel Shays and his farmers as a threat to their control.  In Jefferson’s perspective, the “rebels” were merely adhering to good American practice.  What, indeed, had the recent War of Independence amounted to but resistance to heavy-handed government?  And such rebellions against unsatisfactory government officials and policies had been a regular occurrence during the long colonial history of the Americans, especially in the Southern colonies.

Persistent misrepresentation of Jefferson’s words here and elsewhere by later generations has obscured what he meant.  A dangerous radical?  A chronic upsetter of social order?  No.  Jefferson does not call for an overturn of society and its reconstruction according to some abstract plan.  Think of the root meaning of the term revolution.  Jefferson, in fact, is mostly satisfied with his society (Virginia), although he is interested in a few small reforms that might broaden its base.  So are his followers satisfied with their portions of America.  That is why they support him.  Despite the hysterical and sometimes insincere denunciations of the New England clergy, the Virginia planter is no Jacobin.  As he sees things, any government, with the passage of time and the accretion of abuses and bad precedents, becomes corrupted.  It needs to be revolved back to its original principles.

This is not a radical program but a deeply reactionary one.  What Jefferson fundamentally wants to tell us is that the people should never fear the government, but the government should always fear the people.  This is not the battle cry of a movement with a radical agenda.  President Jefferson comes to the White House with no agenda except to preserve the joint independence of the States United and their separate rights as “the best bulwark of our liberties.”  To carry out this agenda requires a rollback of the economic and judicial corruptions introduced by the Hamilton/Adams innovators.

Read the rest.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Jeffersonian Rebellion

  1. “What Jefferson fundamentally wants to tell us is that the people should never fear the government, but the government should always fear the people.”
    Darn tootin, do we not pay their salaries and benefits, not to mention overseas junkets and living high on the hog?
    Speaking of hog, I want to commend you on the NC Food producer selections. I went to Cane Creek Farm in Snow Camp today and bought some
    free-range beef, pork and sausage. I just finished grilling the pork chops with some olive oil, italian seasoning and garlic. My wife and I agree, that was the best pork we have ever eaten. We have dined
    in nearly every country that serves pork and some that don’t and that pork was the best ever.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s