Well said. In truth, I am likely being too dismissive. In my case, the more I have read of the Revolution and its aftermath, the more I am impressed with the likes of Washington, Madison, Hamilton, Adams, Marshall, et cetera. Less so with Jefferson. For him, familiarity has bred contempt.
Many people view him as the champion of states' rights. Not entirely true. He was for states' rights in some instances and for federal power in other instances. He believed that the states had the ability to keep the federal government in check, but did not believe the state government or for that matter the federal government were above the other. He believed that each had their own powers which were given to them. I am not sure exactly what he got wrong there. In the decade or two after the founding of the country, he understandably feared the growing power of the federal government. He apparently didn't have fond memories of rule/tyranny under the British crown and thought the more power that was given to the central government the less power the people had. He didn't want a repeat of that. From his view and times, it is perfectly understandable he felt this way.I would argue that he was wrong on a lot of things, including State's Rights.
The record seems clear that Thomas Jefferson believed in the right of secession. In 1803, Jefferson said he did not care if America split into two confederacies:
No, it is not clear that Jefferson supported a right of States to unilaterally leave the Union. If anything, his views- when read completely and in context- are just the opposite.The record seems clear that Thomas Jefferson believed in the right of secession. In 1803, Jefferson said he did not care if America split into two confederacies:
Whether we remain in one confederacy, or form into Atlantic and Mississippi confederacies, I believe not very important to the happiness of either part. Those of the western confederacy will be as much our children & descendants as those of the eastern, and I feel myself as much identified with that country, in future time, as with this; and did I now foresee a separation at some future day, yet I should feel the duty & the desire to promote the western interests as zealously as the eastern, doing all the good for both portions of our future family which should fall within my power. (Letter from Jefferson to Dr. Joseph Priestly, January 29, 1804, http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/presidents/thomas-jefferson/letters-of-thomas-jefferson/jefl161.php)
He expressed the same view in 1804:
The future inhabitants of the Atlantic & Missipi States will be our sons. We leave them in distinct but bordering establishments. We think we see their happiness in their union, & we wish it. Events may prove it otherwise; and if they see their interest in separation, why should we take side with our Atlantic rather than our Missipi descendants? It is the elder and the younger son differing. God bless them both, & keep them in union, if it be for their good, but separate them, if it be better. (Letter from Jefferson to John C. Breckenridge, August 12, 1803, http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/presidents/thomas-jefferson/letters-of-thomas-jefferson/jefl159.php).
Jefferson told James Madison, in 1799, that if the federal government continued on its present course, Kentucky and Virginia should be “determined” to “sever ourselves” from the Union:
I will in the mean time give you my ideas to reflect on. That the principles already advanced by Virginia & Kentucky are not to be yielded in silence, I presume we all agree. I should propose a declaration or resolution by their legislatures on this plan. 1st. answer the reasonings of such of the states as have ventured into the field of reason, & that of the Committee of Congress. Here they have given us all the advantage we could wish. Take some notice of those states who have either not answered at all, or answered without reasoning. 2. Make a firm protestation against the principle & the precedent; and a reservation of the rights resulting to us from these palpable violations of the constitutional compact by the Federal government, and the approbation or acquiescence of the several co-states; so that we may hereafter do, what we might now rightfully do, whenever repetitions of these and other violations shall make it evident that the federal government, disregarding the limitations of the federal compact, mean to exercise powers over us to which we have never assented. 3. Express in affectionate & conciliatory language our warm attachment to union with our sister-states, and to the instrument & principles by which we are united; that we are willing to sacrifice to this every thing except those rights of self-government the securing of which was the object of that compact; that not at all disposed to make every measure of error or wrong a cause of scission [separation], we are willing to view with indulgence to wait with patience till those passions & delusions shall have passed over which the federal government have artfully & successfully excited to cover its own abuses & to conceal its designs; fully confident that the good sense of the American people and their attachment to those very rights which we are now vindicating will, before it shall be too late, rally with us round the true principles of our federal compact; but determined, were we to be disappointed in this, to sever ourselves from that union we so much value, rather than give up the rights of self government which we have reserved, & in which alone we see liberty, safety & happiness. (Letter from Jefferson to James Madison, August 23, 1799)
Although Jefferson added that he wrote these things “hastily,” that does not change the fact that he said that the people of Kentucky and Virginia should be “determined” to leave the Union rather than “give up the rights of self-government.” And, clearly, Jefferson did not think it would be unconstitutional to leave the Union.
Jefferson repeated his support for secession to William Crawford—17 years later:
If any state in the union will declare that it prefers separation with the 1st alternative, to a continuance in union without it, I have no hesitation in saying, “Let us separate.” I would rather the states should withdraw, which are for unlimited commerce & war, and confederate with those alone which are for peace & agriculture. I know that every nation in Europe would join in sincere amity with the latter, & hold the former at arm’s length by jealousies, prohibitions, restrictions, vexations & war. (Letter from Jefferson to William Crawford, June 20, 1816)
Two things to note here: One, this was in 1816, 17 years after he suggested the possibility of secession to Madison. Two, He’s talking about a scenario where he would not agree with the state’s reasons for wanting to leave and would not want to see the state leave, but would still be willing to let it go anyway.
Jefferson did not buy President Washington’s arguments in defense of his decision to send militia troops into western Pennsyvlania to put down the “Whiskey Rebellion” in 1794. He regarded Washington’s arguments as “shreds” from Aesop’s fables. He also stated that no civil war should be waged without Congress’s approval:
And with respect to the transactions against the excise law, it appears to me that you are all swept away in the torrent of governmental opinions, or that we do not know what these transactions have been. We know of none which, according to the definitions of the law, have been anything more than riotous. There was indeed a meeting to consult about a separation. But to consult on a question does not amount to a determination of that question in the affirmative, still less to the acting on such a determination; but we shall see, I suppose, what the court lawyers, & courtly judges, & would-be ambassadors will make of it. The excise law is an infernal one. The first error was to admit it by the Constitution; the 2d., to act on that admission; the 3d & last will be, to make it the instrument of dismembering the Union, & setting us all afloat to choose which part of it we will adhere to. The information of our militia, returned from the Westward, is uniform, that though the people there let them pass quietly, they were objects of their laughter, not of their fear; that 1000 men could have cut off their whole force in a thousand places of the Alleganey; that their detestation of the excise law is universal, and has now associated to it a detestation of the government; & that separation which perhaps was a very distant & problematical event, is now near, & certain, & determined in the mind of every man.
I expected to have seen some justification of arming one part of the society against another; of declaring a civil war the moment before the meeting of that body which has the sole right of declaring war; of being so patient of the kicks & scoffs of our enemies, & rising at a feather against our friends; of adding a million to the public debt & deriding us with recommendations to pay it if we can &c., &c. But the part of the [president’s] speech which was to be taken as a justification of the armament, reminded me of parson Saunders' demonstration why minus into minus make plus. After a parcel of shreds of stuff from Aesop's fables, and Tom Thumb, he jumps all at once into his Ergo, minus multiplied into minus make plus. Just so the 15,000 men enter after the fables, in the speech. (Letter from Jefferson to James Madison, December 28, 1794, http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/presidents/thomas-jefferson/letters-of-thomas-jefferson/jefl108.php, emphasis added)
This is critical because it argues powerfully against the view that Jefferson believed the federal government had the right to coerce a state. He said that George Washington provided no valid justification for “arming one part of the society against another.” He also objected to “declaring a civil war the moment before the meeting of that body which has the sole right of declaring war.”
Jefferson rejected the nationalist version of the founding of the Union in the Kentucky Resolutions, of which he was the principal author:
That the several States composing, the United States of America, are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government; but that, by a compact under the style and title of a Constitution for the United States, and of amendments thereto, they constituted a general government for special purposes — delegated to that government certain definite powers, reserving, each State to itself, the residuary mass of right to their own self-government; and that whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force: that to this compact each State acceded as a State, and is an integral part, its co-States forming, as to itself, the other party: that the government created by this compact was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself; since that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers; but that, as in all other cases of compact among powers having no common judge, each party has an equal right to judge for itself, as well of infractions as of the mode and measure of redress. (Jefferson’s copy of the Kentucky Resolutions, Article 1, October 1798)
Jefferson wanted a limited government system where, among other things, the states would retain many rights:
I am for preserving to the States the powers not yielded by them to the Union, & to the legislature of the Union its constitutional share in the division of powers; and I am not for transferring all the powers of the States to the general government, & all those of that government to the Executive branch. I am for a government rigorously frugal & simple, applying all the possible savings of the public revenue to the discharge of the national debt; and not for a multiplication of officers & salaries merely to make partisans, & for increasing, by every device, the public debt, on the principle of it's being a public blessing. I am for relying, for internal defence, on our militia solely, till actual invasion, and for such a naval force only as may protect our coasts and harbors from such depredations as we have experienced; and not for a standing army in time of peace, which may overawe the public sentiment; nor for a navy, which, by its own expenses and the eternal wars in which it will implicate us, will grind us with public burdens, & sink us under them.
I am for free commerce with all nations; political connection with none; & little or no diplomatic establishment. And I am not for linking ourselves by new treaties with the quarrels of Europe; entering that field of slaughter to preserve their balance, or joining in the confederacy of kings to war against the principles of liberty. I am for freedom of religion, & against all maneuvres to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another: for freedom of the press, & against all violations of the constitution to silence by force & not by reason the complaints or criticisms, just or unjust, of our citizens against the conduct of their agents. (Letter from Jefferson to Elbridge Gerry Philadelphia, Jan. 26, 1799, http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/presidents/thomas-jefferson/letters-of-thomas-jefferson/jefl125.php)
I tend to agree. I recall that Madison privately called him to heel.On this particular matter, Jefferson's was one among many differing opinions of men just as imminent as he.
To me, what weighs against his thoughts on the matter of The united States Constitution, was his complete absence from the real levers of power and influence in Philadelphia when the Constitution was debated and presented to Congress.
Advocate Griffith's posts are renown for quoting out of context and an example of a masterly use of that technique.No, it is not clear that Jefferson supported a right of States to unilaterally leave the Union. If anything, his views- when read completely and in context- are just the opposite.
In my case, the more I have read of the Revolution and its aftermath, the more I am impressed with the likes of Washington, Madison, Hamilton, Adams, Marshall, et cetera. Less so with Jefferson. For him, familiarity has bred contempt.
Thanks for posting this.Calling for troops when a federal fort is attacked is hardly knee-jerk or extreme but simply reasonable.
Virginia Secession Convention
CHARLESTON, S. C., April 13th, 1861.
To Governor Letcher:
Received your despatch. It is true that Fort Sumter was bombarded all day yesterday, after refusing to evacuate, and four vessels were off the bar with troops and supplies waiting for the tide to come in, and the Fort was in signal with them.
President Lincoln sent a special messenger, and informed me in writing that supplies would be put in, but asked no reply. Not a man at our batteries was hurt even. The Fort was furious in its fire on us. Our iron battery did great damage to the Fort in the south wall. Our shells fall freely in the Fort; it is not known exactly with what effect, but supposed to be serious, as they are not firing this morning. Our Enfield battery dismounted three of the large Columbiads. We will take the Fort and can keep sixteen ten-inch mortars all the time on it, besides heavy guns which will give no peace, night or day. We can sink the fleet if they attempt to enter the channel. If they land elsewhere we can whip them. I have here, now, nearly seven thousand of the best troops in the world, and a reserve of ten thousand on our railroads. The war is commenced, and we will triumph or perish. This is my answer to you. Please let me know what Virginia will do, as I telegraph to you candidly. F. W. PICKENS.
It seems quite clear that two days before Lincoln called for troops the SC Governor knew quite well he had commenced the war, bragging about how well they were assaulting Sumter, how easily they could attack any ships that came to aid and mentioning 17,000 troops (7,000 there and 10,000 reserve).
Lincoln's reaction was measured and reasonable in response to that.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron ChernowStill waiting for that list of books on the Revolution that you read which formed your negative opinion on Jefferson. Quotes from those books and your reasoning would also be appreciated.
Sounds good. I have most of those books too along with others. Just my opinion, but if we are open to discussing things that happened hundreds of years ago should we not also be open to discussing things that only occurred a year ago? Many old threads get revived because new members want to contribute or old members find new insights.Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
Alexander Hamilton: A Life by William S. Randall
Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
George Washington Tetralogy by James Flexner
Art of Power by Jon Meachem
John Adams by David McCullough
1776 by David McCullough
The Glorious Cause by Middlekauff
The Federalist by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay.
I have no interest in reopening a debate from a year ago, but here are the books in my library that have most contributed to my opinions on the Revolution, its key figures, and its aftermath.
Sounds good. I have most of those books too along with others. Just my opinion, but if we are open to discussing things that happened hundreds of years ago should we not also be open to discussing things that only occurred a year ago? Many old threads get revived because new members want to contribute or old members find new insights.
"When any one state in the American Union refuses obedience to the Confederation by which they have bound themselves, the rest have a natural right to compel them to obedience. Congress would probably exercise long patience before they would recur to force; but if the case ultimately required it, they would use that recurrence. Should this case ever arise, they will probably coerce by a naval force, as being more easy, less dangerous to liberty, and less likely to produce much bloodshed." - Thomas Jefferson, answers to Demeneunier's First Queries, 24 January, 1786.
I tend to agree. I recall that Madison privately called him to heel.
Not only are many arguments offered by secession advocates quote Jefferson out of context, but Jefferson had conflicting opinions of the matter. All before interpreting what he did say. His actions a president speak louder than speeches and private letters if we are to make a judgement IMHO.
So how do you harmonize this one statement with all the ones quoted in the OP? Let's read the two paragraphs that follow the one you quote:
It has been often said that the decisions of Congress are impotent, because the Confederation provides no compulsory power. But when two or more nations enter into a compact, it is not usual for them to say what shall be done to the party who infringes it. Decency forbids this. And it is as unnecessary as indecent, because the right of compulsion naturally results to the party injured, by the breach. When any one state in the American Union refuses obedience to the Confederation by which they have bound themselves, the rest have a natural right to compel them to obedience. Congress would probably exercise long patience before they would recur to force; but if the case ultimately required it, they would use that recurrence. Should this case ever arise, they will probably coerce by a naval force, as being more easy, less dangerous to liberty, and less likely to produce much bloodshed.
It has been said too that our governments both federal and particular want energy; that it is difficult to restrain both individuals and states from committing wrongs. This is true, and it is an inconvenience. On the other hand that energy which absolute governments derive from an armed force, which is the effect of the bayonet constantly held at the breast of every citizen, and which resembles very much the stillness of the grave, must be admitted also to have it's inconveniences. We weigh the two together, and like best to submit to the former. Compare the number of wrongs committed with impunity by citizens among us, with those committed by the sovereigns in other countries, and the last will be found most numerous, most oppressive on the mind, and most degrading of the dignity of man.There is also the fact that Jefferson was talking about the AOC, which was a "perpetual" union that required inviolable obedience to Congress.
Jefferson made it clear that he believed that the federal union was voluntary and that separation from that union was a natural and implied constitutional right.
It must not be forgotten, that the state of Connecticut is a FREE SOVEREIGN and INDEPENDENT state; that the United States are a confederacy of states; that we are a confederated and not a consolidated republic. The governor of this state is under a high and solemn obligation, “to maintain the lawful rights and privileges thereof, as a sovereign, free and independent state,” as he is “to support the constitution of the United States,” and the obligation to support the latter, imposes an additional obligation to support the former."
Now, of course, Madison would go on to author the significantly milder Virginia Resolution. Here is the widely published version of the Virginia Resolution as passed in the Virginia House of Delegates:
Friday Decr. 21st. 1798.
RESOLVED, That the General Assembly of Virginia, doth unequivocably express a firm resolution to maintain and defend the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of this State, against every aggression either foreign or domestic, and that they will support the government of the United States in all measures warranted by the former.
That this assembly most solemnly declares a warm attachment to the Union of the States, to maintain which it pledges all its powers; and that for this end, it is their duty to watch over and oppose every infraction of those principles which constitute the only basis of that Union, because a faithful observance of them, can alone secure it’s existence and the public happiness.
That this Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare, that it views the powers of the federal government, as resulting from the compact, to which the states are parties; as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting the compact; as no further valid that they are authorized by the grants enumerated in that compact; and that in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by the said compact, the states who are parties thereto, have the right, and are in duty bound, to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits, the authorities, rights and liberties appertaining to them.
That the General Assembly doth also express its deep regret, that a spirit has in sundry instances, been manifested by the federal government, to enlarge its powers by forced constructions of the constitutional charter which defines them; and that implications have appeared of a design to expound certain general phrases (which having been copied from the very limited grant of power, in the former articles of confederation were the less liable to be misconstrued) so as to destroy the meaning and effect, of the particular enumeration which necessarily explains and limits the general phrases; and so as to consolidate the states by degrees, into one sovereignty, the obvious tendency and inevitable consequence of which would be, to transform the present republican system of the United States, into an absolute, or at best a mixed monarchy.
That the General Assembly doth particularly protest against the palpable and alarming infractions of the Constitution, in the two late cases of the “Alien and Sedition Acts” passed at the last session of Congress; the first of which exercises a power no where delegated to the federal government, and which by uniting legislative and judicial powers to those of executive, subverts the general principles of free government; as well as the particular organization, and positive provisions of the federal constitution; and the other of which acts, exercises in like manner, a power not delegated by the constitution, but on the contrary, expressly and positively forbidden by one of the amendments thererto; a power, which more than any other, ought to produce universal alarm, because it is levelled against that right of freely examining public characters and measures, and of free communication among the people thereon, which has ever been justly deemed, the only effectual guardian of every other right.
That this state having by its Convention, which ratified the federal Constitution, expressly declared, that among other essential rights, “the Liberty of Conscience and of the Press cannot be cancelled, abridged, restrained, or modified by any authority of the United States,” and from its extreme anxiety to guard these rights from every possible attack of sophistry or ambition, having with other states, recommended an amendment for that purpose, which amendment was, in due time, annexed to the Constitution; it would mark a reproachable inconsistency, and criminal degeneracy, if an indifference were now shewn, to the most palpable violation of one of the Rights, thus declared and secured; and to the establishment of a precedent which may be fatal to the other.
That the good people of this commonwealth, having ever felt, and continuing to feel, the most sincere affection for their brethren of the other states; the truest anxiety for establishing and perpetuating the union of all; and the most scrupulous fidelity to that constitution, which is the pledge of mutual friendship, and the instrument of mutual happiness; the General Assembly doth solemenly appeal to the like dispositions of the other states, in confidence that they will concur with this commonwealth in declaring, as it does hereby declare, that the acts aforesaid, are unconstitutional; and that the necessary and proper measures will be taken by each, for co-operating with this state, in maintaining the Authorities, Rights, and Liberties, referred to the States respectively, or to the people.
That the Governor be desired, to transmit a copy of the foregoing Resolutions to the executive authority of each of the other states, with a request that the same may be communicated to the Legislature thereof; and that a copy be furnished to each of the Senators and Representatives representing this state in the Congress of the United States.
-Agreed to by the State Senate, December 24, 1798.
The longer report can be found here: https://archive.org/stream/virginiareportof00virgrich/virginiareportof00virgrich_djvu.txt