Quote of the day—Thomas Jefferson

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. Unsuccessful rebellions indeed generally establish the encroachments on the rights of the people which have produced them. An observation of this truth should render honest republican governors so mild in their punishment of rebellions, as not to discourage them too much. It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government.

Thomas Jefferson
James Madison, Paris
January 30, 1787
From Monticello.org A little rebellion
[Yeah. Like that is going to happen. President Lincoln and his close followers were reasonably mild in their punishment of the rebellion of the southern states. But he was a Republican and an unusual one at that.

We do not currently have a government in “sound health”. These days I imagine a rebellion would most likely occur under a President Hillary Clinton. I would expect the rebellion would either succeed or the rebels genetic material would be wiped from the planet, their property turned to ash, and their lands salted so heavily plants could not grow for a 100 years.—Joe]


9 thoughts on “Quote of the day—Thomas Jefferson

  1. Interesting. I have “Letters and Addresses” by Thomas Jefferson (Sun Dial Classics, 1908) probably from Google Books. It has a letter of that date in it, but it doesn’t have that text. I can’t tell whether it, or for that matter the article you linked to, are showing the full text of each letter or only an excerpt. Very annoying.

    This isn’t the famous letter from which one sentence is often quoted. It’s neat to see that one in context because that adds a lot:

    Where did it [anarchy] ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusetts? And can history produce an instance of rebellion so honorably conducted? I say nothing of its motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had thirteen States independent for eleven years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century and a half, for each State. What country before, ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance ? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure. Our convention has been too much impressed by the insurrection of Massachusetts; and on the spur of the moment, they are setting up a kite to keep the hen-yard in order.

    “In Defence of Rebellions”, To Colonel Smith, PARIS, November 13, 1787.

  2. I must disagree. Lincoln, and the folks who came immediately after him, were not reasonably mild. Reconstruction was not an effort to mend old wounds, but to put us southerners in our place; to rub it in while trying to convert us to what eventually came to be called the progressive culture. They gave up that method after it proved unfruitful, but persisted in other ways, & I can’t see that they’ve ever stopped.

    They could have been more openly harsh (burning us out, sowing fields with salt, mass exterminations, etc…) but the larger war has never been about eliminating the other side. It’s about dominance of a society.

    Guns, marriage, baking cakes – think of these as battles, or perhaps theaters. The war itself is, and has always been about, who is most prominent in society – the individual or the collective. Take damn near any issue and you can simplify it to those terms, and perhaps better see who exactly is in opposition to whom.

    I write mostly about weapons, because that’s the surest way to retain individual autonomy if all else fails. Our opponents want to restrict or eliminate weapons for us, because they know that’s the most sure way to resist the will of the collective (& its funny how those at the top are always so in tune with the collective’s will).

    So one culture based on a top down structure with a focus on the collective. Another culture with a bottom up structure focused on the individual. Until the first leaves the second alone, there’ll always be scrapping. & the first, by its very nature, can never leave the second alone.

    • After most rebellions of that era and before the rebel leaders were executed or imprisoned for many years. In this case that was not the case. That is what I meant by mild.

  3. I would expect the rebellion would either succeed or the rebels genetic material would be wiped from the planet, their property turned to ash, and their lands salted so heavily plants could not grow for a 100 years.

    I do not contest your assessment of either timing or potential result, whomever is the victor. I doubt there would be middle ground allowed, by either contestant. Which means, simply, that courage of convictions is prime, and that, would it be begun, it must be driven to undeniable and irrevocable conclusion regardless of inconvenience, discomfort or pain.

  4. I think that the descendants of someone in Sherman’s path would differ with your notion of mildness. It may be as he said that the harshness ended the war sooner but it certainly wasn’t mild. ” War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.”

  5. I think it’s worthwhile drawing a distinction between the conduct of the War Between The States — which was quite brutal, on both sides — and the efforts at reconstruction afterwards. Given that our host referred to Lincoln in this context, it’s also worthwhile to distinguish between his plans for reconstruction — “let ’em up easy”, he said — and what was actually implemented under Johnson and the Radical Republicans.

    (I’m no expert on this era. But my understanding is that Lincoln intended to treat the South as disobedient children — i.e. strayed family members who are nonetheless family — while the Radical Republicans wanted to treat the South as a conquered nation. Lincoln had the chops to resist the RRs; Johnson did not.)

  6. The problem with burning and seizing property and salting the earth, is that this would tend to be done in the flyover country areas, where the right wing Republicans grow the food for all the progressives to eat. The average Democrat urban dweller is typically aghast when they learn their cello-wrapped carrots came from the ground. So – if you salt the earth, who’s going to keep the progressives fed? They sure can’t do it themselves.

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