Taking Jefferson's Name In Vain

COMMENT

November 02, 1992|By BRIAN SULLAM

Poor Thomas Jefferson.

He also believed that governments should change to accommo date their times. He wrote a long letter to Samuel Kercheval in explaining his thinking.

"Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment," he wrote.

"Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times."

To claim that Jefferson was for less government is to misread him and twist his words. He certainly opposed Alexander Hamilton's interventionist notions of government, but there is nothing in his writings to suggest that he advocated a shrinking government.

Judging from Jefferson's writings on the issue of government, he might well have advocated the promotion of accountable local government.

"The way to have good and safe government, is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent to perform," he wrote.

However, it doesn't really matter what Jefferson thought or might think today.

Jefferson was a true democrat and believed it is up to the public to decide on the form of governance it wants.

"Each generation has the right to choose for itself the form of government it believes the most promotive of its own happiness. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors," he wrote.

Those words, which are Jefferson's, are certainly worth remembering.

Brian Sullam is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

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