In a series of fictionalized interviews, Transcending Time with Thomas Jefferson offers an explanation of Jefferson's goals and a description of how he and his colleagues crafted a road map that would help the nation set a strong framework for future success.
Author Stephen D. Hanson, an Army veteran with a deep love for his country, explores Jefferson's past and also discusses how the Constitution is being applied today. Hanson examines Jefferson's views regarding moral values and what could happen if the nation continues to stray down a path that curtails individual freedoms. Learn why freedom of the religion and the press were so important to the nation's founders and why these tenets remain relevant today.
The country may have lost its way, but its people can find the way back to a path of liberty by looking to the Constitution. Find solutions to today's problems and develop a deeper understanding of America's history in Transcending Time with Thomas Jefferson.
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Transcending Time with Thomas JeffersonIs the Constitution Still Applicable Today?
By Stephen D. Hanson
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Stephen D. Hanson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAbout Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, and died on July 4, 1826. He was the son of Peter and Jane Jefferson who were a distinguished family in Shadwell, Virginia. He inherited approximately 5,000 acres of land in Albemarle County, Virginia. Jefferson took pride in being called a hard-working man and preferred that to being thought of as an aristocrat. His father died when he was just fourteen years old and being the oldest son, he became head of the family.
He went to the College of William and Mary at the age of sixteen. He was known as an avid reader of books and most often studied until one or two in the morning, then rising with daybreak. He studied almost everything the college had to offer including agriculture, history, literature, religion, zoology, physics, mathematics, philosophy, botany, and anatomy. He once said, "I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage with my books, my family and a few old friends dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post, which any human power can give."
Jefferson loved to read books in their native language. Amazingly, he could read Latin, Greek, Italian, Spanish, and Anglo-Saxon. He learned these languages because he wanted to read of history in the original context rather than from a translated version. He was also an accomplished violinist and would regularly perform for dignitaries.
Jefferson was married to Martha Wayles Skelton, and together they had six children. Martha died ten years after they were wed, and he never did remarry.
Jefferson owned slaves throughout his life. While he did not believe in slavery, they were necessary to operate plantations in those days and to make it possible to compete in selling products. All plantations used slaves, and if you did not, your cost of operating would be so high that you could not compete and would fail commercially. Most of his slaves lived in Albemarle County plantations and Popular Forest Estate and another eighty lived at his Monticello estate.
When Jefferson was twenty-five years old, he was a member of the Virginia legislature and wrote a bill to make slavery illegal in the state of Virginia. The bill failed to pass. He freed seven slaves, five of whom were freed when he died as specified in his will. He believed that most would die or be killed if they were just set free. They did not have family ties to lean on for support or the education necessary to acquire the skill sets that would allow them to flourish in the free world. There were two slaves who ran, and Jefferson refused to pursue them. If they wished to have freedom, he felt, it was their choice to make.
On June 16, 1777, he wrote, in a bill to prevent the importation of slaves, "to prevent more effectually the practice of holding persons in slavery and importing them into this State Be it enacted by the General Assembly that all persons who shall be hereafter imported into the Commonwealth by Sea or by Land, shall from henceforth become free and absolutely exempted from all Slavery or Bondage."
In June 1785 he wrote, "Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a context ... I think a change already perceptible, since the organs of the present revolution. The spirit of the master is abating, that of the slave rising from the dust, his condition mollifying, the way I hope preparing, under the auspices of heaven, for the total emancipation, and that this is disposed, in the order of events, to be with the consent of the masters, rather than by their extirpation."
On July 14, 1787, he wrote to Edward Rutledge, "I congratulate you, my dear friend, on the law of your state (South Carolina) for suspending the importation of slaves, and for the glory you have justly acquired by endeavoring to prevent it for ever. This abomination must have an end, and there is a superior bench reserved in heaven for those who hasten it."
Ralph Waldo Emerson summed up slavery when he wrote, "If you put a chain around the neck of a slave, the other end fastens itself around your own."
Jefferson never did anything that would have prevented slaves from leaving his plantation. He often stated that slavery was the scourge of mankind and had to one day be abolished if this country would ever be able to live up to the ideals written into the Constitution.
Jefferson served in the Second Continental Congress in 1775. He left Congress that fall when his eighteen-month-old daughter died and his wife became very ill. He was the second youngest member of Congress.
Thomas Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence. It took him seventeen days to compose the document. He had written eight principles that he thought crucial to the Declaration of Independence, which are the following:
1. Government should be based on obvious truths that1. no sane person would question. 2. That all people are ruled by natural law, the law of the Almighty! 3. Every person must be equal in the eyes of the3. judicial system regardless of his or her status in the community. 4. All rights are given to them by God and not by governments. 5. That man has the right to life and liberty and to pursue his life as he sees fit, that he has the right to obtain and keep his personal property. 6. Protecting the rights of the people is the government's responsibility. 7. Limits of governmental power are given by the people. 8. That when government does not protect the rights given by the Almighty, the people have the right to overthrow that government and form a new government that does protect those inalienable rights.
The Declaration of Independence is still considered one of the most important documents ever written.
Thomas Jefferson was the third President of the United States defeating the incumbent President John Adams. The election was decided by John Burr who cast the deciding vote. During his presidency, he was responsible for buying the Louisiana Purchase from France, which greatly expanded the country. He wanted to map uncharted land in the West and supported the Lewis and Clark expedition. Jefferson was always a strong proponent of remaining neutral in the war between Britain and France.
After his presidency, he founded the University of Virginia. His personal library was the foundation of the Library of Congress. Jefferson believed in self-government-that free men have the right and are capable of making decisions that are best for them, their families, and the nation. He wrote, "We owe every other sacrifice to ourselves, to our federal brethren, and to the world at large to pursue with temper and perseverance the great experiment which shall prove that man is capable of living in society governing itself by laws self-imposed, and securing to its members the enjoyment of life, liberty, property, and peace; and further, to show that even when the government of its choice shall manifest a tendency to degeneracy, we are not at once to despair, but that the will and the watchfulness of its sounder parts will return its aberrations, recall it to original and legitimate principles, and restrain it within the rightful limits of self-government."
Jefferson's writings are some of the most voluminous in our nation's history, and he is arguably the most quoted political figure this country has known. Jefferson once wrote, "I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus." I believe that sums up quite clearly the basis for his writings in the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.
Thomas Jefferson died on the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1826. Coincidentally, John Adams, the second President of the United States, died the same day as Jefferson, only hours apart.
Chapter TwoThe Declaration of Independence: History's Most Important Document
I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me, President Jefferson. I am looking for your views on what you wrote in the past and how you feel it is or isn't applicable in today's world.
Q: You are the author of the Declaration of Independence. What was your main goal in writing this document?
Jefferson: When reviewing history, in almost every case, individual rights and liberties have been limited by government. I believe these rights are given by God, not government. I was attempting to proclaim that all men have equal rights and since they are given by God, government cannot infringe upon these rights.
Governments historically have always restricted rights and this needed to be changed. Government must answer to the people. When it does not, the people must rise up and take back the government and put it back into the hands of the people. England was denying individual rights to the colonists and becoming more intrusive into everyone's lives through taxation and the court system. It was time to break free of their chains, and the Declaration of Independence was our official notice to the King of England of our intent to become a sovereign nation.
Q: What was the basis of your writings, what influenced you the most?
Jefferson: I looked back at history, as it is the only means to look to the future. There are two forms of government that are on the opposite ends of extremist. On one side you have government of tyranny, which occurs when a person or persons control all aspects of government and therefore the lives of the people under the government. On the opposite end of the spectrum you will find anarchy, which is the absence of law. This is just as bad for the people as tyranny. In the middle you will find law of the people-laws that control leaders and laws to protect people from each other.
Q: What specifically did you look at to come up with this conclusion?
Jefferson: First of all I looked at the Israelites. They divided the people into groups containing about ten families. Each of these groups had a leader. These groups of ten families formed larger groups of about fifty families, and there was an elected leader for each of these groups. This system continued up the spectrum until there was a final person who oversaw all of the groups.
Since the groups on the bottom elected their officials who in turn elected the officials above them, the people at the bottom had much control of their own destiny. Government was created from the bottom up rather than from the top down. Most problems were solved by the smallest groups not the government power at the top. History showed that the leaders would meet to discuss the problems of the society. This is a bottom-up form of government or commonly called people's government.
History also has revealed that when the leaders failed to follow the tenets, and power of the people was being usurped by its leaders, the nation of Israelites did not prosper. The people as a whole did prosper greatly when the principles of people's law were followed!
I also studied Anglo-Saxon culture. Their system of government was very close to that of the Israelites. They considered themselves free men and that all laws made had to be made with the consent of the people. In times of war they would grant additional powers to their leaders, but those powers were taken away again once peace returned. They were very freedom-orientated people who thrived with limited government. Their local leaders had more influence in their lives than that of the national leaders. They had laws that prevented their property from being taken from them or taxed without their consent. They had trials by a jury of their peers. Their general welfare laws allowed the injured citizen to seek damages from those citizens who violated his rights. They followed natural law, law that stated rights came from God and not from man, and that include women who had the same rights as men, which was not common during that period of time. These were the two societies I studied most in trying to write the Declaration of Independence.
Q: Mr. Jefferson, you state that all men are created equal but yet you owned slaves. How do you explain that?
Jefferson: I believe slavery is the darkest period in our history including mine. In forming this nation, we had competing interests from the thirteen colonies. The union of these thirteen colonies was very fragile, and abolishing slavery would have doomed the formation of the country.
The northern colonies were in favor of abolishing slavery immediately, and the southern colonies would not have joined with the north if slavery were abolished because they felt it would ruin them financially. Most of us knew that when the opportunity arose, we would have to abolish slavery if we were to become a just nation. We needed all of the colonies to join the union if we were to survive economically and be strong enough to defend ourselves from other nations, especially England, France, and Spain.
Personally, I hated slavery but did not believe that most slaves had means or family support systems enabling them to be freed at that time. They had no wealth and, in many cases, very limited skills and were to face a hostile environment in which I did not believe most would survive. I had two slaves who ran away and I did not pursue them. The limited number who did try to flee my plantation I believe shows that I treated them better than what is typically thought of when speaking of slavery.
I considered slavery the biggest moral and legal hurdle facing this new nation. President Washington who also owned slaves felt the same way and echoed my beliefs. In 1778 I wrote a bill to prevent the further importation of slaves, which would eventually eradicate slavery for all time from this land. That bill was rejected.
Q: You originally wrote life, liberty, and the pursuit of property but changed property to happiness; why the change?
Jefferson: I do not believe you can have freedom if you do not have the right to acquire and keep property. If any entity is allowed to limit or confiscate your property, you will never have freedom. Historically, governments have always confiscated property for their own use and welfare. Property was changed to happiness because some colonies considered slaves property, and if we left it as property, we could see that we would never be able to abolish slavery.
In studying the Israelites and the Anglo-Saxons I saw that when people had the right to earn and keep their own property, all of society benefited. When government had the right to take or redistribute property, society collapsed. This was true with the Anglo-Saxons for when they elected a king who had immense powers, it was the beginning of the end for their culture. Alexander Hamilton wrote, "No man in his senses can hesitate in choosing to be free, rather than a slave."
Q: In the Declaration it states that if government becomes destructive, the people have the right to change it. Can you elaborate on this?
Jefferson: History tells us that through time government grows, not contracts. When it grows, it takes from its citizens to feed itself and gain power. Soon you have government controlling the lives of citizens when it should be citizens controlling government. If government becomes destructive to individual rights, then it is everyone's duty to change or abolish it. The ways to change a destructive government is, first, vote out of office those representatives who are not living up to their oath of protecting the Constitution. If that does not work, citizens must organize to create a movement in the country to make everyone aware of the issues facing them. Last, if there must be a rebellion, hopefully it will be a civil rebellion. A rebellion is necessary periodically to refresh freedom. The individual's right must always remain paramount. Margaret Mead wrote, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
Excerpted from Transcending Time with Thomas Jefferson by Stephen D. Hanson Copyright © 2010 by Stephen D. Hanson. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
1. About Thomas Jefferson....................1
2. The Declaration of Independence: History's Most Important Document....................7
3. The Bill of Rights: The Key to Affirmation of the Constitution....................17
4. Three Separate Branches of Government: System of Checks and Balances....................22
5. Freedom of Religion: How the Founders Separated God from Religion....................48
6. Second Amendment: Why the Founders Viewed Guns as Essential to Freedom....................64
7. General Welfare Clause: Government's Role in the Pursuit of Happiness....................73
8. Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Speech: Why Speech Is the Safeguard of Liberty....................94
9. States Rights: How and Why the Founders Wanted States to Be Independent....................107
10. Taxation: The Need for Taxation and the Need for Limitations....................123
11. National Debt: The Real Threat to America....................144
12. Immigration: Can Immigration Destroy America Without Firing a Shot?....................153
13. Free Market vs. Government Control: Why Government Creates Problems, Not Solves Them....................163
14. National Security: The First Priority of Government....................187
15. Summary: What Direction Will America Take?....................205
The Declaration of Independence....................219
The Constitution of the United States of America....................225
The Bill of Rights....................244
About the Author....................253