#1228 Budgets

Jefferson regarded the national debt as a national disgrace.
— Clay

This week, President Jefferson (as portrayed by humanities scholar Clay S. Jenkinson) explains his reasoning behind his federal budget and why he felt it was essential to pay down the national debt that he inherited. We also learn about some of the people who helped Jefferson develop the budget, including Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin.

Jefferson dedicated his administration to reducing the national debt as severely as possible. As always, there are parallels between Jefferson's time and ours. He wanted to cut taxes and the size of the federal government, but he also wanted to cut the size of the Army and Navy; you don't hear that kind of talk much in our time. In this case, Jefferson was an ideologue about fiscal responsibility.

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Clay will be performing as Thomas Jefferson at the Ferguson Center for the Arts in Newport News, VA on April 19th, 2017. Find more info and buy tickets here.

Becky Cawley •  (208) 791-8721 • odytours.net


The Most Jeffersonian Thing in America

From Clay:

My life has been marked, my life has been made, by the existence of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and its 57 affiliated state and territorial humanities councils. Imagine living one week without National Public Radio, without the National Air and Space Museum, without the films of Ken Burns, without that local ballet performance by young girls and boys who would have nowhere to develop their talents without the town’s $1432 grant from the Utah Arts Council.

Read Clay's Jefferson Watch essay, "The Most Jeffersonian Thing in America".

Show Notes

President Jefferson, as portrayed by Clay, on the frugality of his presidency:

I think I can honestly say that I was one of those few presidents who reduced the size of the national government of the United States. I inherited an $80 million national debt. I reduced it by $37 million during the two terms that I was president. I reduced the size of the Navy, although I kept it alive, and I made severe reductions in the Army. I saw it mostly as a force to protect our frontier settlements in the west where there were often Indian depredation and clashes with Native peoples. I wanted a barebones Army, a very slender Navy; I changed the procurement structure for the Navy so that we would not have large ships on the line but rather gunboats and a fleet — I called it a mosquito fleet — for purely defensive purposes. I also reduced all the unnecessary federal offices that I came upon. There weren't many; I think there were a little over three hundred positions that were named by the president. I let some of them disappear by attrition; then, those that I must fill, I filled with veterans wherever possible. My whole purpose as president was to cut government down to something like its statistical minimum and to insist that we pay our bills and balance our budgets and live within the means of the tax base of the United States — and, because I feel so strongly that a national debt is a disgrace, to pay off every penny of the national debt that we can possibly pay off. I think that if you study the history of the presidency, you will find profligate presidents and frugal presidents, but I can promise you: you will not find a more frugal public officer than I was.
I own I am not a friend to a very energetic government. It is always oppressive.
— Thomas Jefferson, 1787

President Jefferson, as portrayed by Clay, on his adherence to the Necessary and Proper Clause:

The primary responsibility of the executive is to adhere to the Constitution of the United States: to do those things that Constitution has empowered the president to do, and no more. My own philosophy of government is less rather than more. If it can be done privately — by a foundation, by a church, by a parish, by a group of volunteer citizens, or by a state or local government — that is, to me, infinitely preferable than for that function to be taken on by the national government of the United States. I want to create some sort of a leash between the sovereign — the people — and their agents in government. I don't believe those agents have a right to spend money recklessly for things they think are interesting. The Constitution is quite clear on this: it says "necessary and proper". Take any government bureau or entity of your time — whether it's the Post Office or the War Department or things I could not even have anticipated — but take any single government entity and ask yourself: Is it necessary? Is it proper? Was it anticipated and welcomed by the 55 men who met in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787? Did they contemplate this service or this bureau or this business of government to be funded by the taxpayers of the United States? If you take on that standard, you will find that almost everything is unnecessary, and to that extent, improper.
No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. So, governments’ programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.
— Ronald Reagan

President Jefferson, as portrayed by Clay, on the role of the military:

From my perspective, I can say this: First, that the number one thing the government must do is protect its citizens from probably invasion. A War Department of some sort — a Defense Department, if you want to call it that — is essential. How big it should be, I can't say, but my own view is that it should be defensive only. We should have a defensive military establishment but not an offensive one. We should protect our owns coasts and harbors but we should never carry war to the rest of the world. That's not America's interest. I would be for a very lean and exceedingly defensive War Department.

Family is private and there should be a wall of separation between one’s private life and one’s public offices.
— Thomas Jefferson, as portrayed by Clay S. Jenkinson

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