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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

This quotation is part of a series for “The Twelve Days of Christmas” on the theme of “Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will towards men.” [Luke 2:14]

In the economic depression which followed the ending of hostilities against Napoleon in 1815 Jefferson was convinced that the bankrupt British government was ripe for revolution. It had undertaken all manner of “follies & frauds” which had lead to massive national debt and high taxation which were squandered in “fomenting and paying the wars of the world.” Jefferson likened the warlike British state to the frog in Aesop’s fable of the frog and the ox, in which the arrogant frog blew itself up in order to become as big as the ox. The British system of war, empire, and national debt was now so large that “their bloated system has burst” and the oppressed English people would soon seek a solution to their problems in abolishing their government of “kings, lords, & borough-commons.” Only with a more moderate and cheaper republican government could the English people “enjoy the fruits of their own labors in peace” and live in peace with the rest of the world. Jefferson also amusingly speculates what might happen to the King of England and the Prince Regent after the English revolution. He fantasizes with some relish how the King might be exiled to Indostan (India) and the Prince Regent to Botany Bay in Australia, where “imbecility might be governed by imbecility, and vice by vice; all in suit.” Jefferson concludes his letter with the hope that the whole world would pray for such a revolution in England so “that at length there may be ‘on earth peace, and good will towards men’.”

Other quotes about War & Peace:

1 January, 2013

ThomasJefferson250

The 8th Day of Christmas: Jefferson on the inevitability of revolution in England only after which there will be peace on earth (1817)

Read the full quote in context here.

In the immediate aftermath of the end of the war against Napoleon Jefferson believed that the national debt and the serious economic recession in England would lead inevitably to the English people rising up and overthrowing their government as the Americans had done 40 years before. Only after this revolution had succeeded would the world finally be able to enjoy “on earth peace, and good will towards men”:

I turn, however, with some confidence to a different auxiliary, a revolution in England, now, I believe unavoidable. The crisis so long expected, inevitable as death, altho’ uncertain like that in it’s date, is at length arrived. Their government has acted over again the fable of the frog and the ox; and their bloated system has burst. They have spent the fee simple of the island in their inflated enterprises on the peace and happiness of the rest of mankind. Their debts have consequently accumulated by their follies & frauds, until the interest is equal to the aggregate rents of all the farms in their country. All these rents must go to pay interest, and nothing remains to carry on the government….

Our wish for the good of the people of England, as well as for our own peace, should be that they may be able to form for themselves such a constitution & government as may permit them to enjoy the fruits of their own labors in peace, instead of squandering them in fomenting and paying the wars of the world. But during these struggles, their artists are to become soldiers. Their manufactures to cease, their commerce sink and our intercourse with them be suspended. This interval of suspension may revive and fix our manufactures, wean us from British aperies, and give us a national & independent character of our own. I cannot say that all this will be, but that it may be; and it ought to be supplicated from heaven by the prayers of the whole world that at length there may be “on earth peace, and good will towards men.” No country, more than your native one, ought to pray & be prepared for this. I wish them success, and to yourself health and prosperity.

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

TO WILLIAM SAMPSON, Monticello, Jan. 26, 1817.

Dear Sir,

—I have read with great satisfaction the eloquent pamphlet you were so kind as to send me, and sympathise with every line of it. I was once a doubter whether the labor of the Cultivator, aided by the creative powers of the earth itself, would not produce more value than that of the manufacturer, alone and unassisted by the dead subject on which he acted? In other words, whether the more we could bring into action of the energies of our boundless territory, in addition to the labor of our citizens, the more would not be our gain? But the inventions of latter times, by labor-saving machines, do as much now for the manufacturer, as the earth for the cultivator. Experience too has proved that mine was but half the question. The other half is whether Dollars & cents are to be weighed in the scale against real independence? The whole question then is solved; at least so far as respects our wants.

I much fear the effect on our infant establishments, of the policy avowed by Mr. Brougham, and quoted in the pamphlet. Individual British merchants may lose by the late immense importations; but British commerce & manufactures, in the mass, will gain by beating down the competition of ours, in our own markets against this policy, our protecting duties are as nothing, our patriotism less. I turn, however, with some confidence to a different auxiliary, a revolution in England, now, I believe unavoidable. The crisis so long expected, inevitable as death, altho’ uncertain like that in it’s date, is at length arrived. Their government has acted over again the fable of the frog and the ox; and their bloated system has burst. They have spent the fee simple of the island in their inflated enterprises on the peace and happiness of the rest of mankind. Their debts have consequently accumulated by their follies & frauds, until the interest is equal to the aggregate rents of all the farms in their country. All these rents must go to pay interest, and nothing remains to carry on the government. The possession alone of their lands is now in the nominal owner; the usufruct in the public creditors. Their people too taxed up to 14. or 15. out of 16. hours of daily labor, dying of hunger in the streets & fields. The survivors can see for themselves the alternative only of following them or of abolishing their present government of kings, lords, & borough-commons, and establishing one in some other form, which will let them live in peace with the world. It is not easy to foresee the details of such a revolution, but I should not wonder to see the deportation of their king to Indostan, and of their Prince Regent to Botany Bay. There, imbecility might be governed by imbecility, and vice by vice; all in suit. Our wish for the good of the people of England, as well as for our own peace, should be that they may be able to form for themselves such a constitution & government as may permit them to enjoy the fruits of their own labors in peace, instead of squandering them in fomenting and paying the wars of the world. But during these struggles, their artists are to become soldiers. Their manufactures to cease, their commerce sink and our intercourse with them be suspended. This interval of suspension may revive and fix our manufactures, wean us from British aperies, and give us a national & independent character of our own. I cannot say that all this will be, but that it may be; and it ought to be supplicated from heaven by the prayers of the whole world that at length there may be “on earth peace, and good will towards men.” No country, more than your native one, ought to pray & be prepared for this. I wish them success, and to yourself health and prosperity.

[More works by Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826) and on The Founding Fathers of the U.S. Constitution]