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The Jeffersonian cyclopedia;

a comprehensive collection of the views of Thomas Jefferson classified and arranged in alphabetical order under nine thousand titles relating to government, politics, law, education, political economy, finance, science, art, literature, religious freedom, morals, etc.;
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2219. DICTATOR, Attempt in Virginia to appoint a.—
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3 occurrences of jefferson cyclopedia
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2219. DICTATOR, Attempt in Virginia to appoint a.—

In December, 1776, our [Virginia] circumstances being much distressed, it
was proposed in the House of Delegates to
create a dictator, invested with every power
legislative, executive, and judiciary, civil and
military of life, and of death, over our persons
and over our properties; and in June, 1781,
again under calamity, the same proposition
was repeated, and wanted a few votes only
of being passed. One who entered into this
contest from a pure love of liberty, and a
sense of injured rights, who determined to
make every sacrifice, and to meet every
danger for the reestablishment of those rights
on a firm basis, who did not mean to expend
his blood and substance for the wretched purpose
of changing this master for that, but to
place the powers of governing him in a plurality
of hands of his own choice, so that the
corrupt will of no one man might in future
oppress him, must stand confounded and dismayed
when he is told, that a considerable
portion of that plurality had meditated the
surrender of them into a single hand, and, in
lieu of a limited monarch, to deliver him over
to a despotic one! How must he find his
efforts and sacrifices abused and baffled, if
he may still by a single vote, be laid prostrate
at the feet of one man! In God's name, from
whence have they derived this power? Is
it from our ancient laws? None such can be
produced. Is it from any principle in our new
Constitution, expressed or implied? Every
lineament expressed or implied, is in full opposition
to it. Its fundamental principle is,
that the State shall be governed as a Commonwealth.
It provides a republican organization,
proscribes under the name of prerogative
the exercise of all powers undefined by
the laws; places on this basis the whole system
of our laws; and by consolidating them
together, chooses that they should be left to
stand or fall together, never providing for any
circumstances, nor admitting that such could
arise, wherein either should be suspended; no,
not for a moment. Our ancient laws expressly
declare, that those who are but delegates
themselves, shall not delegate to others
powers which require judgment and integrity
in their exercise. Or was this proposition
moved on a supposed right in the movers, of
abandoning their posts in a moment of distress?
The same laws forbid the abandonment
of that post, even on ordinary occasions;
and much more a transfer of their powers
into other hands and other forms, without
consulting the people. They never admit the
idea that these, like sheep or cattle, may be
given from hand to hand without an appeal
to their own will. Was it from the necessity
of the case? Necessities which dissolve a
government, do not convey its authority to
an oligarchy or a monarchy. They throw
back, into the hands of the people, the powers
they had delegated, and leave them as individuals
to shift for themselves. A leader May
offer, but not impose himself, nor be imposed
on them. Much less can their necks be submitted
to his sword, their breath be held at
his will or caprice. The necessity which
should operate these tremendous effects
should at least be palpable and irresistible.
Yet in both instances, where it was feared, or
pretended with us, it was belied by the event.


Page 257
It was belied, too, by the preceding experience
of our sister States, several of whom
had grappled through greater difficulties without
abandoning their forms of government.
When the proposition was first made, Massachusetts
had found even the government of
committees sufficient to carry them through
an invasion. But we at the time of that
proposition, were under no invasion. When
the second was made, there had been added
to this example those of Rhode Island, New
York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, in all
of which the republican form had been found
equal to the task of carrying them through
the severest trials. In this State alone did
there exist so little virtue, that fear was to
be fixed in the hearts of the people, and to
become the motive of their exertions, and
the principle of their government? The very
thought alone was treason against the people;
was treason against mankind in general; as
riveting forever the chains which bow down
their necks, by giving to their oppressors a
proof, which they would have trumpeted
through the universe, of the imbecility of republican
government, in times of pressing
danger, to shield them from harm. Those
who assume the right of giving away the
reins of government in any case, must be sure
that the herd, whom they hand on to the rods
and hatchet of the dictator, will lay their
heads on the block, when he shall nod to
them. But if our Assemblies supposed such a
resignation in the people, I hope they mistook
their character. I am of opinion, that the
government, instead of being braced and invigorated
for greater exertions under their
difficulties, would have been thrown back
upon the bungling machinery of county committees
for administration, till a convention
could have been called, and its wheels again
set into regular motion. What a cruel moment
was this for creating such an embarrassment,
for putting to the proof, the attachment
of our countrymen to republican government?—
Notes on Virginia. Washington ed. viii, 368. Ford ed., iii, 231.