Tag Archives: Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson’s Birthday honors a legacy that endures and inspires

Jefferson worried that the people – and the argument goes back to Thucydides and Aristotle – are easily misled. He also stressed, passionately and repeatedly, that it was essential for the people to understand the risks and benefits of government, to educate themselves, and to involve themselves in the political process. Without that, he said, the wolves will take over. 

The words of Carl Sagan are both a mighty tribute and a warning – certainly words to consider this week as we celebrate the life lived and the principles espoused by the nation’s third president.  Though more honored in the breach than the observance,

April 13 marks the legal observance of the birthday of Thomas Jefferson, born on April 13, 1743.  The observance was declared by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937 (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=15611)  affirmed by President George W. Bush in 2007. (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=25554)  Both of these proclamations underscore in detail the life, vision and lasting legacy of Thomas Jefferson.

Biographies of Jefferson are many and massive.  They record the countless ways in which Jefferson played a decisive role in shaping the lasting contours of this nation.  In his many elected and appointed positions – as Governor, Ambassador, Secretary of State, Vice President and President he was a mighty force.  His contributions are many and lasting, as are his vision and his words.

Jefferson’s legacy is both institutional and inspirational.  Jeffersonian quotes are threads woven throughout the fabric of the nation’s laws, beliefs and spirit.  They reflect his deep faith in and commitment to liberty, an informed electorate, freedom of expression and of religion, and the power of informed people to govern their own destiny.

This week, as the nation struggles to cope with the challenges of the day, the words of Thomas Jefferson inspire hope and offer guidance.  Taking time to think about and to share the words of Jefferson honor the man and focus energy on basic principles of a vibrant and viable democracy.  Of the zillions of quotable quotes, these seem especially appropriate to the times:

  • The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive. 
  • Educate and inform the whole mass of the people…They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty. 
  • I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion. 
  • No government ought to be without censors; and where the press is free no one ever will. 
  • Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the form of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question. 
  • In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. 
  • If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.  
  • Our country is now taking so steady a course as to show by what road it will pass to destruction, to wit: by consolidation of power first, and then corruption, its necessary consequence.
    The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground. 
  • All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Thomas Jefferson 
  • I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country. 
  • That government is the strongest of which every man feels himself a part.  

 

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A Gubernatorial Debate Without Mention of Social Issues

“Don’t worry, they’ll just build a new building,” my friend assured me.  I was entering a much-vaunted auditorium at the University of St. Thomas with a cup of contraband coffee in my hand, timidly murmuring that they would have to re-carpet if I were to spill a drop.

The old anecdote crossed my mind recently as I entered an even newer auditorium, this time to hear a “debate” among gubernatorial candidates sponsored.  As I tried to listen to the spins and dodges, I kept reminding myself to think no small thoughts.  If anyone spilled the beans on the candidates’ avoidance tactics, the powers would indeed build a new building.  The reminder was pricey, painful and a prod to rethink the ways in which those who care about social issues respond to – better yet, get in front of – the issues.

Needless to say, the folks at this debate heard nary a word about social issues.  The prevailing mantra was predictable: “the economy, stupid” – writ large and arguably a little late.  Attendees could blithely stride past peaceful protesters who were not allowed to walk, talk or carry their message to the veranda of the Opus College of Business building.

The candidates are justifiably terrified that any sidelong glance at social issues will raise the hackles and open the checkbooks of those who prefer to ponder the “E” topic – taxes, job creation, the rights of the have’s, fiscal policy.  Candidates and their supporters alike have a preconceived notion of social activists.  For those who struggle to peace and justice, that’s a painful but necessary admission.  I’m reminded of Robert Burns who nailed it:  “O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us.”

This painful – not to mention expensive –  experience of the debate, now tempered by time, sharpened my focus  on the absence of social issues from the candidate debates in particular, from media coverage of the campaigns, and from public discourse in general.   Those who care about pay inequity, the rights of immigrants, domestic abuse, trafficking, the homeless, learning opportunities of poor kids, and other real life issues need to internalize the world view of the candidates.  Electoral politics, statistics, and language both shape and reflect a world view that is as real as it is unlike our own way of looking at things.  Some possible concrete steps to getting on the agenda:

  • Change the questions (priority #1) –  If the candidate is bombarded with the same question in various venues, the issue makes its way to the candidate’s and the media’s agenda.
  • Change the tone – Position yourself or your organization as  a co-conspirator against some common foe.  Invent one if necessary.
  • Load them with the numbers – This I learned from the indomitable Nina Rothchild.  Statistics talk.  Sometimes they speak the truth; in the hands of liars, they lie or obfuscate.  Consider the source and the presentation. Apply the KISS principle and be able to back it up with hard data.
  • Fact check – In the digital age it’s easy enough to track the facts.  Don’t swallow but follow the information track.
  • Craft and communicate a vision – Everybody wants to look ahead to a better world – Create a vision that embraces positive change broadly defined to include crazy ideas such as justice.
  • Listen, painful as that may be – Filter the rhetoric and get into the minds of those who echo, rather than initiate, strategies for addressing the issues.
  • Invoke the founding fathers – Everybody else does.  It was Jefferson himself who wrote that:  “whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them right.”
  • Remember that it’s not about laying new carpet  it’s about building a new building with a new foundation of social, as well economic, building blocks.
  • Speak up – you’ve got the facts, the stories,  and  TJ’s confidence in the people to back you up.

A passion for info access is the dominant thread in my DNA.  Though the sources, format, techniques and skills change with the times, information is a powerful and relentless tool which, if used with skill and a little panache, will bring about change, starting with a revised agenda.  Posts re. the power and sources of information are about to boil over in my head.  Watch for future posts here and elsewhere.