University of Virginia Library

Search this document 
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.;

expand sectionA. 
expand sectionB. 
expand sectionC. 
expand sectionD. 
expand sectionE. 
expand sectionF. 
collapse sectionG. 
3586. GOVERNMENTS (American), Principles.—[continued].
expand sectionH. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionJ. 
expand sectionK. 
expand sectionL. 
expand sectionM. 
expand sectionN. 
expand sectionO. 
expand sectionP. 
expand sectionQ. 
expand sectionR. 
expand sectionS. 
expand sectionT. 
expand sectionU. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionW. 
expand sectionX. 
expand sectionY. 
expand sectionZ. 

expand section 
expand section 

3586. GOVERNMENTS (American), Principles.—[continued].

We, of the United States,
are constitutionally and conscientiously democrats.
We consider society as one of the natural
wants with which man has been created; that
he has been endowed with faculties and qualities
to effect its satisfaction by concurrence of
others having the same want; that when, by
the exercise of these faculties, he has procured


Page 393
a state of society, it is one of his acquisitions
which he has a right to regulate and control,
jointly, indeed, with all those who have concurred
in the procurement, whom he cannot
exclude from its use or direction more than
they him. We think experience has proved
it safer, for the mass of individuals composing
the society, to reserve to themselves personally
the exercise of all rightful powers to
which they are competent, and to delegate those
to which they are not competent to deputies
named, and removable for unfaithful conduct,
by themselves immediately. Hence, with us, the
people (by which is meant the mass of individuals
composing the society), being competent
to judge of the facts occurring in ordinary life,
they have retained the functions of judges of
facts, under the name of jurors; but being unqualified
for the management of affairs requiring
intelligence above the common level, yet
competent judges of human character, they
choose, for their management, representatives,
some by themselves immediately, others by electors
chosen by themselves. Thus our President
is chosen by ourselves directly in practice, for
we vote for A as elector only on the condition
he will vote for B; our representatives by ourselves
immediately; our Senate and judges of
law through electors chosen by ourselves.
And we believe that this proximate choice and
power of removal is the best security which
experience has sanctioned for ensuring an
honest conduct in the functionaries of society.
Your three or four alembications have indeed a
seducing appearance. We should conceive,
primâ facie, that the last extract would be the
pure alcohol of the substance, three or four
times rectified. But in proportion as they are
more and more sublimated, they are also farther
and farther removed from the control of the society;
and the human character, we believe, requires
in general constant and immediate control,
to prevent its being biased from right by
the seductions of self-love. Your process produces,
therefore, a structure of government from
which the fundamental principle of ours is
excluded. You first set down as zeros all
individuals not having lands, which are the
greater number in every society of long standing.
Those holding lands are permitted to
manage in person the small affairs of their
commune or corporation, and to elect a deputy
for the canton; in which election, too, every
one's vote is to be an unit, a plurality, or a
fraction, in proportion to his landed possessions.
The assemblies of cantons, then, elect for the
districts; those of districts for circles; and
those of circles for the national assemblies.
Some of these highest councils, too, are in a
considerable degree self-elected, the regency
partially, the judiciary entirely, and some are
for life. Whenever, therefore, an esprit de
or of party, gets possession of them,
which experience shows to be inevitable, there
are no means of breaking it up, for they will
never elect but those of their own spirit.
Juries are allowed in criminal cases only. I
acknowledge myself strong in affection to our
own form, yet both of us act and think from
the same motive; we both consider the people as
our children, and love them with parental affection.
But you love them as infants whom
you are afraid to trust without nurses; and I
as adults whom I freely leave to self-government.
And you are right in the case referred
to you; my criticism being built on a state of
society not under your contemplation. It is,
in fact, like a critic on Homer by the laws of
the Drama.—
To Dupont de Nemours. Washington ed. vi, 589. Ford ed., x, 22.