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The Constitutional Thought of Thomas Jefferson (Constitutionalism and Democracy) Hardcover – March 1, 1994
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About the Author
David N. Mayer is Professor of Law and History at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. He has published numerous articles in law and history journals.
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Jefferson was familiar with Medieval English History and the implied "contract" between rulers and those who were ruled. Jefferson. Jefferson was aware of the abuses of the English Parliament during the reign of Henry VIII (1509-1547). Jefferson knew of the political conflicts between the English monarchs and the parliamentarians which led to the English Revolution and the execution of Charles I in 1649. As Mayer noted, Thomas Jefferson & co. sought to develop a political philosophy that would balance civil liberties and political authority which was difficult.
Jefferson's concern about civil liberties should be required reading at a time now when fear mongering is threatening peoples' right to conscience and the freedom to express uncomfortable/inconvenient truth. Mayer cited numerous Jefferson's work about the rights of conscience and freedom expression. Jefferson was concerned about the pomposity of Washington and Adams' administrations. Jefferson feared that such pomposity would divert attention from rights toward unnecessary ritual. Mayer quoted from one of Jefferson's letters complaining of such political ritual which, to the embarrassment of Jefferson, became public knowledge.
As noted above, Jefferson feared the unrestrained use of power. He commented that the US Government should be restrained by "the chains of the Constitution. Mayer wrote that Jefferson had a moral dilemma re the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Jefferson worried that if he made the deal that Napoleon I (1769-1821) offered, he did not have the constitutional authority to do so. Yet, continued French control was seen as a potential threat to American economic interests and security.
Jefferson made the deal which showed that he could be pragmatic in diplomatic and political affairs.
While Jefferson and his supporters were in favor of the French Revolution, they refused to get involved in wars of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars (1792-1815). Jefferson coined the phrase to avoid "entangling alliances" which is obviously a lesson lost in modern US History. Jefferson knew enough history and diplomacy that could lead to political disaster.
As previously stated, Jefferson had concerns about the rights of conscience. Jefferson penned some of the best arguments about freedom of conscience. Some of Jefferson's quotes include"...the rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit" because men are answerable for them to God alone. Jefferson wrote that he did not care if his neighbor believed in no god or twenty gods. "It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." Jefferson wrote about the history of hateful religious persecution which claimed so many lives only, "...to make one half of the world fools, and the other hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth. Part of another quote is,...for I have sworn on the alter of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." As an aside, readers may want to read the late US Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson's majority opinion in the case titled THE WEST VIRGINIA STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION VS BARNETTE (1943) which also an eloquent defense of freedom of conscience.
As Meyer and other historians admit, Thomas Jefferson was no saint. At times following John Adams actions, Jefferson tried to use criminal libel laws against his critics which Jefferson later admitted was wrong. Yet, Jefferson's work is a reminder of whom US citizens should be at a time when fear mongering and phony sensitivity have knowledge and clear thinking. Hopefully, more readers will get this book and carefully study it.
James E. Egolf
Also recommended: Alexander Hamilton and the Constitution by Clinton Rossiter.