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Quotations about Liberty and Power

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Even by 1825 Jefferson was fearful that the growing central powers of the federal government were encroaching upon those of the states. In this insightful letter to his colleague and friend William Giles, Jefferson notes that Congress was twisting the intent of federal law regarding inter-state commerce to regulate all economic activity and to subsidize one group at the expense of another; and to expand the notion of promoting the “general welfare” to allow corrupt politicians to engage in costly “internal improvements”. His sad conclusion was that the net result would be the creation of “a single and splendid government of an aristocracy, founded on banking institutions, and moneyed incorporations under the guise and cloak of their favored branches of manufactures, commerce and navigation, riding and ruling over the plundered ploughman and beggared yeomanry.”

Other quotes about Presidents, Kings, Tyrants, & Despots:

15 March, 2010

Jefferson250

Jefferson on how Congress misuses the inter-state commerce and general welfare clauses to promote the centralization of power (1825)

Read the full quote in context here.

Barely 8 months before he died, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) wrote to the Virginia politician William Giles about the threat posed by the usurpation of states rights by a growing federal power. He identifies inter-state commerce and the “general welfare” clause as especially dangerous:

I see, as you do, and with the deepest affliction, the rapid strides with which the federal branch of our government is advancing towards the usurpation of all the rights reserved to the States, and the consolidation in itself of all powers, foreign and domestic; and that, too, by constructions which, if legitimate, leave no limits to their power. Take together the decisions of the federal court, the doctrines of the President, and the misconstructions of the constitutional compact acted on by the legislature of the federal branch, and it is but too evident, that the three ruling branches of that department are in combination to strip their colleagues, the State authorities, of the powers reserved by them, and to exercise themselves all functions foreign and domestic. Under the power to regulate commerce, they assume indefinitely that also over agriculture and manufactures, and call it regulation to take the earnings of one of these branches of industry, and that too the most depressed, and put them into the pockets of the other, the most flourishing of all.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

TO WILLIAM B. GILES, Monticello, December 26, 1825

Dear Sir,

You ask my opinion of the propriety of giving publicity to what is stated in your letter, as having passed between Mr. John Q. Adams and yourself. Of this no one can judge but yourself. It is one of those questions which belong to the forum of feeling. This alone can decide on the degree of confidence implied in the disclosure; whether under no circumstances it was to be communicated to others? It does not seem to be of that character, or at all to wear that aspect. They are historical facts which belong to the present, as well as future times. I doubt whether a single fact, known to the world, will carry as clear conviction to it, of the correctness of our knowledge of the treasonable views of the federal party of that day, as that disclosed by this, the most nefarious and daring attempt to dissever the Union, of which the Hartford convention was a subsequent chapter; and both of these having failed, consolidation becomes the fourth chapter of the next book of their history. But this opens with a vast accession of strength from their younger recruits, who, having nothing in them of the feelings or principles of ’76, now look to a single and splendid government of an aristocracy, founded on banking institutions, and moneyed incorporations under the guise and cloak of their favored branches of manufactures, commerce and navigation, riding and ruling over the plundered ploughman and beggared yeomanry. This will be to them a next best blessing to the monarchy of their first aim, and perhaps the surest stepping-stone to it.

[More works by Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826) and on The American Revolution and Constitution]