Thomas Jefferson discusses States' rights in 1825

Andersonh1

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Letter from Jefferson to William Branch Giles, Dec. 26, 1825. Thomas Jefferson is concerned about the federal government "rapidly" usurping the reserved rights of the States, and he discusses how to preserve the Constitution. "Standing to arms" and dissolving the compact are options, though a last resort and only when the evils of secession outweigh the evils of submission. There's a long road before that last resort is reached.

The accusation that the present generation has "nothing in them of the feelings or principles of ’76" is a damning indictment, and the way they view the federal government as "an aristocracy" is a major problem for the future preservation of liberty.

It seems very clear that Jefferson, at least at this point in his life, endorsed secession as a final resort to preserve the rights of States. He would die the following year on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, which means we never got his perspective on the Tariff controversy that was only a few years down the road.

https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/98-01-02-5771

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 States 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. under the authority to establish post roads, they claim that of cutting down mountains for the construction of roads, of digging canals, and, aided by a little sophistry on the words ‘general welfare’ a right to do, not only the acts to effect that which are specifically enumerated and permitted, but whatsoever they shall think, or pretend will be for the general welfare, and what is our resource for the preservation of the constitution?​
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are we then to stand to our arms, with the hot-headed Georgian? No. that must be the last resource, not to be thought of until much longer and greater sufferings. if every infraction of a compact of so many parties is to be resisted at once, as a dissolition of it, none can ever be formed which would last one year. we must have patience and long endurance then with our brethren while under delusion; give them time for reflection and experience of consequences; keep ourselves in a situation to profit by the chapter of accidents, and separate from our companions only when the sole alternatives left are the dissolution of our union with them, or submission to a government without limitation of powers. between these two evils when we must make a choice, there can be no hesitation. but in the mean while the states should be watchful to note every material usurpation on their rights, to denounce them as they occur in the most peremptory terms, to protect against them as wrongs to which our present submission shall be considered, not as acknolegements or precedents of right, but as a temporary yielding to the lesser evil, until their accumulation shall overweigh that of separation.​
 
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unionblue

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Letter from Jefferson to William Branch Giles, Dec. 26, 1825. Thomas Jefferson is concerned about the federal government "rapidly" usurping the reserved rights of the States, and he discusses how to preserve the Constitution. "Standing to arms" and dissolving the compact are options, though a last resort and only when the evils of secession outweigh the evils of submission. There's a long road before that last resort is reached.

The accusation that the present generation has "nothing in them of the feelings or principles of ’76" is a damning indictment, and the way they view the federal government as "an aristocracy" is a major problem for the future preservation of liberty.

It seems very clear that Jefferson, at least at this point in his life, endorsed secession as a final resort to preserve the rights of States. He would die the following year on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, which means we never got his perspective on the Tariff controversy that was only a few years down the road.

https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/98-01-02-5771

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 States 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. under the authority to establish post roads, they claim that of cutting down mountains for the construction of roads, of digging canals, and, aided by a little sophistry on the words ‘general welfare’ a right to do, not only the acts to effect that which are specifically enumerated and permitted, but whatsoever they shall think, or pretend will be for the general welfare, and what is our resource for the preservation of the constitution?​
-----------​
are we then to stand to our arms, with the hot-headed Georgian? No. that must be the last resource, not to be thought of until much longer and greater sufferings. if every infraction of a compact of so many parties is to be resisted at once, as a dissolition of it, none can ever be formed which would last one year. we must have patience and long endurance then with our brethren while under delusion; give them time for reflection and experience of consequences; keep ourselves in a situation to profit by the chapter of accidents, and separate from our companions only when the sole alternatives left are the dissolution of our union with them, or submission to a government without limitation of powers. between these two evils when we must make a choice, there can be no hesitation. but in the mean while the states should be watchful to note every material usurpation on their rights, to denounce them as they occur in the most peremptory terms, to protect against them as wrongs to which our present submission shall be considered, not as acknolegements or precedents of right, but as a temporary yielding to the lesser evil, until their accumulation shall overweigh that of separation.​
Yet there is that quote by Jefferson stating the rest of the States could compel a state to obedience.
 

Andersonh1

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Yet there is that quote by Jefferson stating the rest of the States could compel a state to obedience.

We've discussed that quote before, here: https://civilwartalk.com/threads/co...e-us-constitution.124660/page-50#post-2250255

Different times, different circumstances. The 1786 quote you cite predates the Constitution, while the 1825 quotes I cited from his letter were written 39 years later, and he's clearly discussing remedies for a situation where the federal government has overstepped its bounds and the States have to take steps to preserve their Constitutional standing.
 

unionblue

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We've discussed that quote before, here: https://civilwartalk.com/threads/co...e-us-constitution.124660/page-50#post-2250255

Different times, different circumstances. The 1786 quote you cite predates the Constitution, while the 1825 quotes I cited from his letter were written 39 years later, and he's clearly discussing remedies for a situation where the federal government has overstepped its bounds and the States have to take steps to preserve their Constitutional standing.
Yes, different times, different circumstances.

And we are left only with our own imaginations and opinions as to what Thomas Jefferson, a former President of the United States, would have said about an attempted rebellion with the goal of establishing slavery as it's cornerstone.
 

Andersonh1

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Yes, different times, different circumstances.

And we are left only with our own imaginations and opinions as to what Thomas Jefferson, a former President of the United States, would have said about an attempted rebellion with the goal of establishing slavery as it's cornerstone.

We're left to wonder if he would have characterized the Southern effort at independence in the same way you have. Regardless, for a former President to seriously discuss secession as a last resort is notable.
 

unionblue

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We're left to wonder if he would have characterized the Southern effort at independence in the same way you have.

Well, let's see. Author of the DOI, 3rd US President, decried slavery most of his life, and led no effort to destroy his new nation, but even went to lengths to expand it.
Regardless, for a former President to seriously discuss secession as a last resort is notable.
As a last resort, it's called revolution, and discussing it is a long way from doing it.
 

Viper21

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Letter from Jefferson to William Branch Giles, Dec. 26, 1825. Thomas Jefferson is concerned about the federal government "rapidly" usurping the reserved rights of the States, and he discusses how to preserve the Constitution. "Standing to arms" and dissolving the compact are options, though a last resort and only when the evils of secession outweigh the evils of submission. There's a long road before that last resort is reached.

The accusation that the present generation has "nothing in them of the feelings or principles of ’76" is a damning indictment, and the way they view the federal government as "an aristocracy" is a major problem for the future preservation of liberty.

It seems very clear that Jefferson, at least at this point in his life, endorsed secession as a final resort to preserve the rights of States. He would die the following year on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, which means we never got his perspective on the Tariff controversy that was only a few years down the road.

https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/98-01-02-5771

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 States 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. under the authority to establish post roads, they claim that of cutting down mountains for the construction of roads, of digging canals, and, aided by a little sophistry on the words ‘general welfare’ a right to do, not only the acts to effect that which are specifically enumerated and permitted, but whatsoever they shall think, or pretend will be for the general welfare, and what is our resource for the preservation of the constitution?​
-----------​
are we then to stand to our arms, with the hot-headed Georgian? No. that must be the last resource, not to be thought of until much longer and greater sufferings. if every infraction of a compact of so many parties is to be resisted at once, as a dissolition of it, none can ever be formed which would last one year. we must have patience and long endurance then with our brethren while under delusion; give them time for reflection and experience of consequences; keep ourselves in a situation to profit by the chapter of accidents, and separate from our companions only when the sole alternatives left are the dissolution of our union with them, or submission to a government without limitation of powers. between these two evils when we must make a choice, there can be no hesitation. but in the mean while the states should be watchful to note every material usurpation on their rights, to denounce them as they occur in the most peremptory terms, to protect against them as wrongs to which our present submission shall be considered, not as acknolegements or precedents of right, but as a temporary yielding to the lesser evil, until their accumulation shall overweigh that of separation.​
Some interesting reading, thanks for sharing this Anderson.

"...it is but too evident that the three ruling branches of that department are in combination to strip their Colleagues, the States authorities of the powers reserved by them and to exercise themselves all functions foreign and domestic."


Reads to me like, Jefferson wasn't thrilled with the evolution of the federal government's increasing power. I think he would've only become more disheartened as time went on.
 

Andersonh1

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Well, let's see. Author of the DOI, 3rd US President, decried slavery most of his life, and led no effort to destroy his new nation, but even went to lengths to expand it.

As a last resort, it's called revolution, and discussing it is a long way from doing it.

Indeed, as Jefferson said "if every infraction of a compact of so many parties is to be resisted at once, as a dissolution of it, none can ever be formed which would last one year." Sometimes you have to put up with infractions and hope the other side comes to their senses. The million dollar question is, when does "further forbearance cease to be a virtue?"

Some interesting reading, thanks for sharing this Anderson.

"...it is but too evident that the three ruling branches of that department are in combination to strip their Colleagues, the States authorities of the powers reserved by them and to exercise themselves all functions foreign and domestic."

Reads to me like, Jefferson wasn't thrilled with the evolution of the federal government's increasing power. I think he would've only become more disheartened as time went on.

I agree.
 

unionblue

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I will never understand the continued love of "states rights." In every major advanced of civil rights, it has been the states who have always resisted change in favor of civil rights and the federal government that had to bring them about.

Jefferson's views of a paradise of small farms and peaceful people living on them would have doomed the United States to the eastern coast of the country with no ability to substain themselves in the years to come.

Fortunately, even he came to realize this, when he took it upon himself (and not the states) to expand the country beyond the Mississippi.
 

Andersonh1

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Unionblue, the whole point of our federal system is balance. The federal government has it's proper powers, and the States have theirs, and there are reasons for both. Jefferson's concern, as clearly expressed, is about a federal government that has too much power, that has gone too far outside what it is allowed to do and has become a problem, because its powers will be unlimited, and we're essentially back to the same problem they had with King George and Great Britain.

The Founders recognized at the time they were creating the Union that it was not possible for the people of every state to live under exactly the same laws. There had to be freedom to address local conditions and local beliefs. The United States was too large and too diverse, even in 1776 and 1787, for a federal government to impose the exact same standards on everyone when it came to every aspect of life. The federal government was largely concerned with intra-state relations and foreign relations, and the states governed domestic issues within their borders.

Interesting that Jefferson sees the abuse and stealing of power by the Federal government by means of abusing the "general welfare" clause.

... it is but too evident that the three ruling branches of that department are in combination to strip their Colleagues, the States 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. under the authority to establish post roads, they claim that of cutting down mountains for the construction of roads, of digging canals, and, aided by a little sophistry on the words ‘general welfare’ a right to do, not only the acts to effect that which are specifically enumerated and permitted, but whatsoever they shall think, or pretend will be for the general welfare
 

unionblue

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I don't see Jefferson in any way giving the States some sort of balance that equals the redress the federal government often had to do in the face of the States resisting needed change.

Child Labor. States wanted to keep it, took the federal government to change it.
Women voting, the states were against and again it took the federal government to bring it about.
The Food and Drug Administration, the breaking of the Trusts, Civil Rights, Voting Acts, etc.

The States needed balancing alright, and as history has shown, a lot of it by the Federal government.
 

Zack

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It’s interesting to trace the evolving understandings of the nation as it progressed from 1775 to 1861. Each of the founding fathers had their opinions, their quirks and concerns, and together with surviving testimony from thousands of other Americans they paint a fascinating tapestry of a new nation trying to define itself.

But let’s not forget that even if Jefferson would have been okay with the idea of secession, that doesn’t change the fact that the South chose to secede in 1860 and 1861 to preserve slavery.

I think that’s why these threads so quickly grow heated btw. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with discussing Jefferson’s views of secession, it’s that there is always this giant elephant in the room whenever statements like (paraphrasing) “Jefferson believed that, in the face of a tyrannical and overreaching central government, the states could resort to secession and revolution as a final resort.”

Because we have to remember that the South believed they were dealing with said theanicalcentral government because of threats to slavery.

I think the other reason these discussions (and I’m speaking more broadly than this thread in particular) grow heated is because there are very, very real modern ramifications of these topics. The forum doesn’t allow modern politics to be discussed - which is smart I don’t have a problem with that - but that doesn’t change the fact that trying to determine whether the Founding Fathers would have endorsed secession is not simply an exercise in historical interpretation. Just because the lines aren’t explicitly defined doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

That’s my two cents. I think it’s worth bearing in mind.
 

Potomac Pride

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The issue of state's rights was an important matter in the early days of the republic. The Tenth Amendment was inserted into the Constitution largely to placate the state's rights advocates who believed that the newly adopted Constitution would enable the federal government to run roughshod over the states and their citizens. These individuals initially opposed the strong central government created by the Constitution. Therefore, the concept of state's rights existed for years before slavery even became a national issue. The southern states believed in the Compact Theory of the Constitution. This theory argues that the Constitution was a compact which consisted of a voluntary agreement among the states to create a federal government to take on specific roles. The compact was voluntary in nature and the states retained their sovereignty and have the right to secede from the Union.
 

Zack

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The issue of state's rights was an important matter in the early days of the republic. The Tenth Amendment was inserted into the Constitution largely to placate the state's rights advocates who believed that the newly adopted Constitution would enable the federal government to run roughshod over the states and their citizens. These individuals initially opposed the strong central government created by the Constitution. Therefore, the concept of state's rights existed for years before slavery even became a national issue. The southern states believed in the Compact Theory of the Constitution. This theory argues that the Constitution was a compact which consisted of a voluntary agreement among the states to create a federal government to take on specific roles. The compact was voluntary in nature and the states retained their sovereignty and have the right to secede from the Union.

Slavery was a national issue from the very beginning. Jefferson tried to insert an anti-slavery paragraph into the Declaration of Independence but was forced to remove it.

The passage read:
"He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he has obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed again the Liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another."

In this passage, Jefferson lays at the feet of King George III blame for the ongoing slave trade. In Jefferson's view, George III (and other English monarchs) forced slaves onto the American colonies. As if that wasn't bad enough, King George III is now hypocritically encouraging the slaves to rise up and murder their American masters (this is a reference to the Dunnore Proclamation). It's a truly remarkable form of willful blindness, acknowledging the horrors of slavery but refusing to take responsibility for it. It is part of a much larger argument that became extremely popular during the early 19th Century: slavery's true evils come in its degrading effects on white owners.

Jefferson later claimed that the words were, "struck out in complaisance to South Carolina & Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves." He also blamed Northern delegates who represented merchants participating in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

These same issues popped up again during the Constitutional Convention, hence why the 3/5 compromise was created amongst other concessions.
 
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