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American History The Impact of Jeffersonian Principles

Updated on January 11, 2017


Everyone or at least the media has touched on the subject of Jeffersonian principles and how they compare to not only the government as it is today or as it should be. The principles listed below and the comments on them raise many issues regarding the function of our federal government as it was in revolutionary times and the function of it today. The principles of government as mentioned in his inaugural address on March 4, 1801 had great influence on the writing of our Constitution and in fact the principles in the federal government appear to be far different today than when our country began. This is evident by the actions/decisions of Congress and the executive department.

The first principles to present and discuss is “equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political.” The term equal justice for all men does not seem to exist within the federal government today especially at the executive department level. Today it appears whether true or not that political philosophy has placed limitations for equal justice for all men.

It should not make a difference what political party to which an individual belongs. The laws should be enforced equally and changing the language in any statement does not mean a law has not been broken. The content of any federal law as it applies to the federal government should be enforced. It should not be about the intent of an individual but the language in the law itself.

Another point to make is how any individual can determine the intent of another individual.

It would require getting into someone’s mind

The next Jeffersonian principle is “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.” The world was a much different place when these principles were introduced and yet this one has impacted the operations of the federal government at least for a time. The world we live in today required creating alliances with some nations but not all as a means to support each other when the time comes. We all want peace and this word combined with the rest of this principle makes for an interesting concept. The next word in this principle is commerce. Under the Constitution in Article 1, section 8 it reads “to regulate Commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with Indian Tribes.”

The Commerce clause and the methods associated with commerce at the beginning of our country are quite different than the world of commerce today. It is a global economy and as such Congress has not only the authority but the power to regulate commerce activity with foreign nations not the states. Regulation is a matter of words but there is such a thing as agreements. States must comply with federal regulations but it does not mean that agreements are restricted based on the language in the commerce clause in the Constitution.

The Department of Commerce today appears to have broadened its influence far above the perspective of the Jeffersonian principle with the word Commerce within it. The federal government has exerted more power some say dictatorial power over the states regarding the regulatory philosophy. Some say that the current political philosophy of the federal government is hurting businesses not helping them with the decisions and regulations that have been generated.

One of the critical principles of Thomas Jefferson is the concept of a federal government being a support mechanism for the states. The language of the principle is provided below:

“The support of the State governments in all their rights, as the most competent administration for our domestic concerns, and the surest bulwarks against anti-republican tendencies.”

The key point in this principle involves all the rights of state governments. State responsibilities and federal government responsibilities have become blurred in recent years based on the actions of the federal government. The federal government has specific authority and responsibilities engrained in the Constitution. Some additional responsibilities have been taken on by the federal government and rightly so associated with specific security issues. Other state rights stipulated in the Constitution has seen an overbearing federal government imposing their will on what states should make the decisions.

Everything is not black and white and there are cases where joint action by states and the federal government must work together to resolve issues which span across state lines. With regards to being a support function the federal government should provide monetary support to aid in states accomplishing their responsibilities to their citizens. This not only involves the federal constitution but state constitutions. States in many cases do not have the funds to meet its obligations to its citizens and in this case where possible funds should be given to the states in block grants. Strings are usually attached to any federal dollars and while it is important to keep track of where federal funds are spent strings should not be attached to federal funding. In addition each state and their respective needs should be treated equally and in some cases it appears that such is not the case.

The next principle is in place with regards to the function of the federal government and was basically engrained within the content of the Constitution. It states: “The preservation of the general government in its whole constitutional vigor, as the sheet-anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad.” The federal government has a major responsibility with regards to peace at home and safety abroad. The actions involving peace at the federal level should be limited in nature. It is not the responsibility of the federal government to get involved where issues are within the jurisdiction of state and local governments. Investigations should be completed where applicable and the federal government should not get involved by making statements before state and local processes have been completed. I understand that the federal government must ensure that the rights of individuals have not been violated when issues arise but determining whether this has occurred should not begin before investigations and court proceedings have taken place.

The government should refrain from getting involved when groups of individuals asked them to become involved. If a state or local government requests assistance the federal government it should respond but not to the point of interfering with the decisions to be made by state and local government agencies or departments.

Another principle promoted by Thomas Jefferson is “A jealous care of the right of election by the people”. The right of voters to elect individuals to represent them is critical to securing a government that makes decisions in the best interest of the country. Our elected officials at all levels of government are ordinary human beings and for years some individuals continue to be elected when they have lost their justification to hold office. We have seen it time and again where individuals have made it a career in holding public office. In the beginning of our country holing elected office was not meant to be a career but to serve the public for a limited amount of time and then return to their private lives. This philosophy or principle has long been gone but needs to see a comeback and we the voters are the only ones who can make this comeback happen. The results of the election of 2016 show the voters are angry about the current political culture.

The Jefferson principle of “economy in the public expense, that labor may be lightly burdened.” This refers to the principle of economy in the public expense and ties directly to the rampant expenditure of the tax dollars to which the government is entrusted. In addition the principle of “The honest payment of our debts, and sacred preservation of the public faith” involves the extensive public debt which keeps growing not to mention that public faith in the federal government over past administrations has been at the lowest in years, perhaps decades. This needs to change.

Today our Constitution embodies as part of the Bill of Rights the following principle “Freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom of person, under the protection of the Habeas Corpus; and trial by juries impartially selected.” These rights were part of the list of principles of Thomas Jefferson.

Other principles of Thomas Jefferson are provided below:

“A mild and safe corrective of abuses which are lopped by the sword of revolution, where peaceable remedies are un-provided.”

“ Absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority, the vital principle 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”

“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:

The principles presented above some if not all of them had an impact on our way of life and the content of the Constitution. These principles or at least some of they have been under attack not only by our court system but through legislative actions of Congress. Our Constitution is the basis of our society and needs to be honored by the federal government. The principles of Thomas Jefferson identified above points to a way of life which was simpler than that which we have today. It is true much has happed throughout our history and the world is a different place than when our country was found but the philosophy that existed in the early days needs to see resurgence. The will of the people needs to be embraced not fought. The result of the November 2016 election may be a reflection that the will of the people and the needs of our country will see a government that truly again becomes a government by the people and for the people not politicians or special interest. It remains to be seen if the problems of our country will be resolved.


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