We speak with President Thomas Jefferson this week about the unexpected emergence of the two-party political system during his time.
Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Roger Weightman, 24 June 1826:
"all eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. the general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view. the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of god. these are grounds of hope for others."
Clay goes on to contrast this with contemporary times: "This country has a way of coming to terms with wealth by forgiving it when it's deliberately negligent. And when it lords it over, puts saddles on the backs of the great mass of American people, then our system is amazingly forgiving of such people — in fact, they almost never go to jail."
- Cicero: On Duties (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought)
- Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
- Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham
George Washington's Farewell Address
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.
Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.
It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.
There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.
Read Washington's farewell address, of 1796, in full.
The Jefferson Watch: The Inauguration
In the first of a new series of essays, Clay draws comparisons between the inaugurations of Presidents Donald Trump and Thomas Jefferson.
You can read the full essay here.
"John Steinbeck’s California"
Spring Book Retreat/Tour 2017: March 4-10
A Spring Book Retreat/Tour honoring one of America's most beloved authors, Nobel Prize-winner John Steinbeck. Morning discussions lead by humanities scholar Clay S. Jenkinson. Enjoy book retreat discussions in the morning, touring in the afternoon, with several hikes and other adventures tossed in. Your cottage is within walking distance to the Point Pinos Lighthouse and the Pacific tide-pools that John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts stood appreciating the interconnectedness of life. We hope during your time in Steinbeck's California, memories from "the bard of the people", scenes and colorful characters from his best novels, and thought provoking literature, "spring" alive, if not for real, at least in "your mind's eye". To highlight your experience a suggested reading list is provided upon reservation. Come Join the FUN!
This retreat is hosted by Odyssey Tours, a div. of Bek, Inc.
What Would Thomas Jefferson Do?
Tune in to your local public radio or join the 1776 Club to hear this episode of What Would Thomas Jefferson Do?
Listen to this week's episode.