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Jeffersonian Democracy

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SkepticalMetal posted on Tue, Oct 9 2012 5:18 PM

I recently read this about Jeffersonian Democracy (a way of running things that has often been revered):

  • The core political value of America is republicanism; citizens have a civic duty to aid the state and resist corruption, especially monarchism and aristocracy.
  • Jeffersonian values are best expressed through an organized political party. The Jeffersonian party was officially the "Republican Party" (although historians later called it the Democratic-Republican Party.
  • It was the duty of citizens to vote, and the Jeffersonians invented many modern campaign techniques designed to get out the vote. Turnout indeed soared across the country. The work of John J. Beckley, Jefferson's agent in Pennsylvania, set new standards in the 1790s. In the 1796 presidential election he blanketed the state with agents who passed out 30,000 hand-written tickets, naming all 15 electors (printed tickets were not allowed). Historians consider Beckley to be one of the first American professional campaign managers, and his techniques were quickly adopted in other states.
  • The Federalist Party, especially its leader Alexander Hamilton, was the arch-foe, because of its acceptance of aristocracy and British methods
  • The yeoman farmer best exemplifies civic virtue and independence from corrupting city influences; government policy should be for his benefit. Financiers, bankers and industrialists make cities the 'cesspools of corruption', and should be avoided.
  • The national government is a dangerous necessity to be instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation or community; it should be watched closely and circumscribed in its powers. Most Anti-Federalists from 1787–88 joined the Jeffersonians.
  • Separation of church and state is the best method to keep government free of religious disputes, and religion free from corruption by government.
  • The federal government must not violate the rights of individuals. The Bill of Rights is a central theme.
  • The federal government must not violate the rights of the states. The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798 (written secretly by Jefferson and James Madison) proclaim these principles.
  • Freedom of speech and the press are the best methods to prevent tyranny over the people by their own government. The Federalists' violation of this freedom through the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 became a major issue.
  • The United States Constitution was written in order to ensure the freedom of the people. However, "no society can make a perpetual constitution or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation."
  • All men had the right to be informed, and thus, to have a say in the government. The protection and expansion of human liberty was one of the chief goals of the Jeffersonians. They also reformed their respective state systems of education. They believed that their citizens had a right to an education no matter their circumstance or status in life.
  • The judiciary should be subservient to the elected branches and the Supreme Court should not have the power to strike down laws passed by Congress. The Jeffersonians lost this battle to Chief Justice John Marshall, a Federalist, who dominated the Court from 1801 to his death in 1835.
  • The Jeffersonians also had a distinct foreign policy:
    • Americans had a duty to spread what Jefferson called the "Empire of Liberty" to the world, but should avoid "entangling alliances."
    • Britain was the greatest threat, especially its monarchy, aristocracy, corruption, and business methods; the Jay Treaty of 1794 was much too favorable to Britain and thus threatened American values.
    • France, at least in the early stages of the French Revolution, was the ideal European nation. According to Michael Hardt, ""Jefferson's support of the French Revolution often serves in his mind as a defense of republicanism against the monarchism of the Anglophiles." Napoleon, on the other hand, was the antithesis of republicanism and could not be supported.
    • Louisiana and the Mississippi River were critical to American national interests. Control by Spain was tolerable; control by France was unacceptable. See Louisiana Purchase
    • A standing army and navy are dangerous to liberty and should be avoided; much better was to use economic coercion such as the embargo. See Embargo Act of 1807
    • The militia was adequate to defend the nation. But it proved inadequate in a major War of 1812 when militia units refused to leave their state to attack the British.

 

Aristippus and I were discussing this the other day. But...come on, an Empire of Liberty? Sounds like Jefferson formed the base of American imperialism.

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Have you read what he wrote on the 'Empire of Liberty'?  He's not talking about an overarching imperial state, but of a civilization of free peoples, much like that which libertarians desire.

"Whether we remain in one confederacy, or form Atlantic and Mississippi confederacies, I believe not very important to the happiness of either part."

Note that he doesn't even say one state or empire but rather one 'confederacy', i.e. that even if united in some way, the 'Empire of Liberty' would still be a decentralized polity.

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Was this "Empire of Liberty" a literal vision, or just some metaphor? 

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From what I read he stated that the Empire of Liberty required the United States to go overseas promoting it's "democratic values" or whatever. Sounds pretty familiar to me.

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=P No standing army?  Imperialism is probably pretty difficult in that event.

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It sounds contradictory in that regard. He talks about spreading the Empire of Liberty in one regard, and then stating that the U.S. shouldn't maintain an army or navy.

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Where does he say that?  It seemed to me that he was discussing the possibility of what is now Canada breaking away from Britain and joining the USA.

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Why don't you find where he describes the tactics of "spreading democracy."

If I remember correctly, he means "setting an example."  (Also, I forgive his distaste for the Spanish and French empires on the North American continent for obvious reasons, even though one of the most revered of U.S. Generals was a Spanish spy during the revolutionary war - and everyone knew it.)

 

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Okay, perhaps. But if I read this correctly, he is promoting the use of the embargo as a means to defense, correct?

Ron Paul himself once said that sanctions are evil.

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Dr. Paul knows sanctions don't work, in Jefferson's day his Treasury Sec. told him it wasn't a good idea.  He did repeal part of them with Macon's bill no. 2.

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I see.

It sounds however like the philosophy didn't believe in a fixed body of law. Wouldn't that effectively make the Constitution void for another generation if they so wished?

Not that I believe in the Constitution or anything.

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Wouldn't that effectively make the Constitution void for another generation if they so wished?

Jefferson is famous for saying that the Constitution was a failure before he was even President.  And yes, he said that every generation should form their own Constitution.

He wanted amendments that banned Federal borrowing and forbade official monopolies.  'Nuff said.

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Hmm. I guess I was wrong about Jefferson after all (but I still can't excuse the treatment of the Indians and the violation of their property).

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Jefferson treated the Indians well compared to Jackson, Washington, and especially the proto-Nazis Henry Clay and Sherman.

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A limited-powers democracy was a noble experiment, if a failed one ultimately.

Jefferson was the Constitution's number one enemy before it was passed. Kinda makes you wonder why he ran for president in a system he'd opposed completely, thus lending the legitimacy of his name to it, but I suppose he felt he had no choice, that this was the only way forward for Jeffersonian ideals.

But the key moment of influence was pre-Constitution, and there Jefferson was outmaneuvered when he let the pro-Constitution forces conspire to appoint him ambassador to France just to get him out of the country.

Autarchy: rule of the self by the self; the act of self ruling.
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