Thomas Jefferson, our most important Founding Father, believed that “the national government is a dangerous necessity to be instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation or community; it should be watched closely and circumscribed in its powers.” He taught that the federal government must not violate the rights of individuals or the states. Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, and most of its finest wording was his. He was also America’s leading Democratic-Republican. Jefferson’s strongly held view on states’ rights clashed with the view of the Federalists, who believed in a strong national government.
Jefferson wrote to John Cartwright, “With respect to our State and federal governments, I do not think their relations correctly understood by foreigners.” (Here, let me point out that the Bush and Obama administrations have shown the same lack of understanding.) Jefferson went on, “They generally suppose the former subordinate to the latter. But this is not the case. They are co-ordinate departments of one simple and integral whole. To the State governments are reserved all legislation and administration in affairs which concern their own citizens only, and to the federal government is given whatever concerns foreigners or the citizens of other States; these functions alone being made federal. The one is the domestic, the other the foreign branch of the same government.”
In a letter to Spencer Roane, Jefferson wrote in about 1815, “I hope our courts will never countenance the sweeping pretensions which have been set up under the words ‘general defence and public welfare.’ These words only express the motives which induced the Convention to give to the ordinary legislature certain specified powers which they enumerate, and which they thought might be trusted to the ordinary legislature, and not to give them the unspecified also; or why any specification?”
To James Monroe, Jefferson wrote in 1797, “It is of immense consequence that the States retain as complete authority as possible over their own citizens.”
To Gideon Granger, Mr. Jefferson wrote in 1800, “The true theory of our Constitution is surely the wisest and best, that the States are independent as to everything within themselves, and united as to everything respecting foreign nations.”
In conclusion, Jefferson wrote, “I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, [and] as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”
So is the health-care bill constitutional, or in any way the thinking of our founders? Of course it isn’t, and it will face multiple legal challenges if it’s passed as now configured. Would Jefferson have viewed the whole health-care process as suitable, given his view on individual and states’ rights, liberty, and freedom? Not a chance. The American people have made it clear that they do not want the federal government to take over our health care system. Unless the people’s voice is recognized, I think the rebellion Mr. Jefferson writes of will to come to pass this November, if not much sooner.
The various direct quotations of Thomas Jefferson I have summarized for you above may be found in The Papers of Thomas Jefferson published by Princeton University Press and in John P. Kaminski’s The Quotable Jefferson, strongly advised in my essential reading.
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