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January 20, 2005

This Reign Of Spin

Over at The Washington Monthly, Paul Glastris, being very clever indeed, comments on the Bush Inauguration by quoting a slave owner.

A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles. It is true that in the meantime we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt...If the game runs sometime against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are at stake."

Thomas Jefferson, 1798

Oddly, for some reason Paul decided to leave out the sentence immediately preceding the section he reprinted.

They are circumscribed within such narrow limits, and their population so full, that their numbers will ever be the minority, and they are marked, like the Jews, with such a peculiarity of character, as to constitute, from that circumstance, the natural division of our parties.

I wonder why? It's not as if anti-Semitism has gotten any less popular among some of the inheritors of Jefferson's party--not that I suspect Paul of that particular fault.

But, given the embrace of secession on the part of today's Blue State Left, not to mention its overweening Europhilia, it's no surprise Paul left out this particular passage, from the middle of his selection.

But who can say what would be the evils of a scission, and when and where they would end? Better keep together as we are, haul off from Europe as soon as we can, and from all attachments to any portions of it; and if they show their power just sufficiently to hoop us together, it will be the happiest situation in which we can exist.

Kind of changes the meaning of the quote, doesn't it? Isn't it the MSM that elides quotations until they fit into a convenient worldview? Aren't bloggers supposed to be above this type of thing?

Now, no matter what other shadowy themes folks manage to spot in Jefferson’s 1798 letter to John Taylor, they should realize it is above all a plea for national unity despite one's political differences with the party in power; exceedingly appropriate for Inauguration Day, especially for today's Democrats.

Which is why it should be quoted in full.

But our present situation is not a natural one. The republicans, through every part of the Union, say, that it was the irresistible influence and popularity of General Washington played off by the cunning of Hamilton, which turned the government over to anti-republican hands, or turned the republicans chosen by the people into anti-republicans. He delivered it over to his successor in this state, and very untoward events since, improved with great artifice, have produced on the public mind the impressions we see.

But still I repeat it, this is not the natural state. Time alone would bring round an order of things more correspondent to the sentiments of our constituents. But are there no events impending, which will do it within a few months? The crisis with England, the public and authentic avowal of sentiments hostile to the leading principles of our Constitution, the prospect of a war, in which we shall stand alone, land tax, stamp tax, increase of public debt, &c.

Be this as it may, in every free and deliberating society, there must, from the nature of man, be opposite parties, and violent dissensions and discords; and one of these, for the most part, must prevail over the other for a longer or shorter time. Perhaps this party division is necessary to induce each to watch and relate to the people the proceedings of the other. But if on a temporary superiority of the one party, the other is to resort to a scission of the Union, no federal government can ever exist.

If to rid ourselves of the present rule of Massachusetts and Connecticut, we break the Union, will the evil stop there? Suppose the New England states alone cut off, will our nature be changed? Are we not men still to the south of that, and with all the passions of men? Immediately, we shall see a Pennsylvania and a Virginia party arise in the residuary confederacy, and the public mind will be distracted with the same party spirit. What a game too will the one party in their hands, by eternally threatening the other that unless they do so and so, they will join their northern neighbors. If we reduce our Union to Virginia and North Carolina, immediately the conflict will be established between the representatives of these two States, and they will end by breaking into their simple units.

Seeing, therefore, that an association of men who will not quarrel with one another is a thing which never yet existed, from the greatest confederacy of nations down to a town meeting or a vestry; seeing that we must have somebody to quarrel with, I had rather keep our New England associates for that purpose, than to see our bickerings transferred to others. They are circumscribed within such narrow limits, and their population so full, that their numbers will ever be the minority, and they are marked, like the Jews, with such a peculiarity of character, as to constitute, from that circumstance, the natural division of our parties. A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolved, and the people recovering their true sight, restoring their government to its true principles.

It is true, that in the meantime, we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war, and long oppressions of enormous public debt. But who can say what would be the evils of a scission, and when and where they would end? Better keep together as we are, haul off from Europe as soon as we can, and from all attachments to any portions of it; and if they show their power just sufficiently to hoop us together, it will be the happiest situation in which we can exist. If the game runs sometimes against us at home, we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost. For this is a game where principles are the stake. Better luck, therefore, to us all, and health, happiness and friendly salutations to yourself. Adieu.

P.S. It is hardly necessary to caution you to let nothing of mine get before the public; a single sentence got hold of by the Porcupines, will suffice to abuse and persecute me in their papers for months.

Why there's even an warning against the media, though the media of that time was closer in spirit to today's blogosphere than to today's MSM.

Update: Found a better source, so I've changed "perversity" in the passages above to "peculiarity," which changes Jefferson's characterization of the Jews somewhat. Hat Tip: Sisyphean Musings

Posted by Bigwig at January 20, 2005 08:19 PM | TrackBack
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I don't understand why you referred to a "slave owner" in your opening paragraph. Is that all Jefferson is to be remembered for? You could have said, "our third president", or "author of the Declaration of Independence", or simply "Thomas Jefferson". It looks as though you were attempting to denigrate a revered founding father.

Posted by: Richard Mottoros at January 21, 2005 01:25 PM

Well . . . the fact still remains . . . Jefferson did own slaves. For that matter, so did Washington. Nonethless, I still agree that MSM needs to clean up their act.

Posted by: Lola at January 21, 2005 01:32 PM

I think the dude ripped it off from Barbra Streisand, who used it in November before the election. See my link.

Posted by: Smug Canadian at January 21, 2005 01:36 PM

I don't think the point is to disparage Jefferson, but instead to illustrate the irony created when modern day Democrats invoke Jefferson as the paragon of morality and democracy in spite of numerous ways in which Jefferson's views apparently conflict with those of the modern day Democrat, namely slavery and anti-semitisim. Considering the nature of this post, I think it is quite appropriate.

Posted by: Cameron Watters at January 21, 2005 02:10 PM

Jefferson seems to attract misquotation. A completely spurious quote that has become pervasive on the Internet ("A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51% of the people may take away the rights of the other 49%") was the subject of a debunking here.

Posted by: David at January 21, 2005 02:15 PM

Oddly enough, Glastris links to the following site, which has the line 'with such a peculiarity of character' rather than 'perversity of character'.
I wonder which one is correct and why they differ.

Posted by: Ira at January 21, 2005 02:16 PM

i think he says "slave owner" to add to the irony of the quote, and specifically to the quote being used out of context.

its pretty obvious to me...

its not meant to belittle historical importance of the man.

infact - the out of context use of the quote is MUCH funnier when you put the "he was a slave owner" hat on, and just sit and revel in the irony of what the user of the quote is trying to argue.

Posted by: bender at January 21, 2005 02:18 PM

I don't think there was anything anti-Semitic in what Jefferson said.

When he says "perversity" he is not saying that Jews are perverts. He means "a stiff-necked people", a phrase that is used to describe Jews all throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.

Posted by: Gabriel Hanna at January 21, 2005 02:47 PM

I seem to recall that said slave owner's quote regarding rights being endowed by a Creator is rather popular among Republicans, yet rarely is he characterized in such a way when so cited.

But Republicans would do well to recall slavery when citing the Founding Fathers as such wonderful Christians--"Christians" who either advocated or agreed to the 3/5 Compromise.

Contextualization is so much fun. Don't you agree?

Posted by: Irate Savant at January 21, 2005 03:01 PM

IS Glastris picking up his content by reading the archives of Babs Streisand's misuse of the Jefferson quote on her site?

How deep.

Posted by: C.Y. at January 21, 2005 03:01 PM

It never ceases to amaze, that the Democrats of today still hold iconic the image and words of Jefferson, given that their words and actions so often sound more like a desperate King George.

Posted by: Bithead at January 21, 2005 03:14 PM

Ira: hard to tell. A Googlewar between the two phrases results in a tie. I suspect we'll need an original doc to determine for sure.

Gabriel: I agree that Jefferson did not mean that the Jews were perverts. I think rather he was using this meaning of the word.

"Obstinately persisting in an error or fault; wrongly self-willed or stubborn."

Savant: The 3/5 compromise was at the behest of the soon to be Democrat dominated southern states, as I'm sure you know. Without it, those states would never have signed it.

Posted by: Bigwig at January 21, 2005 03:28 PM

It was no exageration when JFK spoke to a group of Nobel prize winners at a White House dinner and stated that "this was the most intelligient company to ever sit at a White House table, except for when Thomas Jefferson dined here alone."

Notice how quickly he dismisses the case for secession, especially over the minor grievance that one party is ascendent over the other. It might be best recalled by those who would claim the current divisions are beyond repair.

As to some of the other snide comments, there is always a certain group who, having no answer in intellect to an argument, resort to attacking the messenger. It must be hard to breathe in the thin air of such moral perfection that one can so easily dismiss one of the finest political thinkers in history.

Posted by: veryretired at January 21, 2005 03:38 PM

"and they are marked, like the Jews,"

As in a separate tribe... get it? The Chosen People? A reference made in the context of comparing them to a separate party? Get it?


Ah well. At least you were right in comparing the Porcupines in Jefferson's warning to the blogosphere. Have fun with the abuse and persecution.

Posted by: zota at January 21, 2005 03:58 PM

I think the "slave owner" bit is a tweak of rhetorical ju-jitsu. Of course, if one were to quote Jefferson or Washington in defense of some principle to your stereotypical Left-dresser, they would dismiss it as the raving of a sordid, moral perv on that ground.
On the merits...
I certainly hope the sentiment (properly understood... it is not simply a declaration that Republicans, or even republicans, are "witches") finds arable soil in the Democratic mind, such as we may apprehend it. Chill out, have a smoke. If Bush is .02% as evil and/or stupid as you say, we will presently be in the ditch and you may look forward to two or three Presidential terms basically uncontested, in addition to saying "See?"
I wouldn't bet on it, though.

Posted by: megapotamus at January 21, 2005 04:04 PM

Thanks for quoting the whole thing: I wondered what he was on about.
"Reign of witches" sounds a little odd to modern ears. Once you read the whole letter, it makes sense.
And I gotta say: it's nice that people care about politics, and get involved, and stuff.
But a lot of what passes for political argument lately sounds like
"If Kerry had won/
because Bush won,
God would have rained fire and blood down on our wicked heads/
everybody in the whole world hates us and we're all gonna die screaming
Kerry is the anti-Christ/
Bush is Hitler."
It's all just a bit wearisome to anyone who's outgrown mental and emotional puberty.
Please, trolls and true believers, could you spare us the histrionics?
I know it's too much to expect of the demagogues on both sides. Belittling their intemperate fulminations must, I suppose, serve as its own reward.

Posted by: McClain at January 21, 2005 04:04 PM

Actually, Jefferson was an early opponent of slavery and developed a detailed, real-world plan for phasing it out. Unfortunately, the massacre of the entire white population of Haiti by rebelling slaves caused a political backlash that doomed the plan.

It was one of those missed historical moments.

Posted by: Shannon Love at January 21, 2005 04:49 PM

For good reason they did not cite in context. specially given the "witches" that Jefferson refers to were the New Englanders and their peculiar thoughts on governance. Had not their influence been magnified by the popularity of Geo. Washington, they would not have had the White House at the time. To my ears, it perfectly matches our situation, if it had been quoted in the context of the 2000 election, when the New Englanders were in power thanks to the popularity of Wm. Clinton, but as Jefferson so wisely put it, "we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolved, and the people recovering their true sight, restoring their government to its true principles."

Posted by: submandave at January 21, 2005 04:52 PM

I believe the slaveholder reference was a jab at
people who when quoted Jefferson by one on the right side of the aisle they discount it because he owned slaves, yet when they feel the need to take a few snippets out of context(and misinterpreted) to make their point then T.J.'s wisdom all of a sudden has value.

Posted by: gc at January 21, 2005 06:50 PM

Thanks for posting the entire letter. NOW 'the reign of witches' makes sense - of course, he was talking about New Englanders, who must have had a reputation as witch-hunting crazies. Remember how much closer Jefferson was to the era of the Salem witch trials; he probably had met people who could remember them. In its truncated form, Jefferson sounded ominous and mystical; now that I read the whole thing, I can hear the voice of a cultivated Virginian rolling his eyes at those northern yahoos who'd managed to temporarily get their hands on the levers of government.

Posted by: Dr. Mabuse at January 22, 2005 06:36 AM

Inferring that Jefferson was an anti-Semite (was that term even used in his day?), by quoting a letter in which he writes, "Jews, with such a peculiarity of character will be forever part of the minority."

Jefferson believed that Jews would not assimilate and forever remain a minority. As it turned out, Jefferson was wrong. Many Jews gave up their peculiarities, i.e., differences in behavior, dress, etc. and began to look and act like everybody else. The guy was a genius, but even he didn't get in on the ground floor with Xerox stock.

Slave owner is a low blow.

Jefferson was arguably the single most influential human being in the history of our nation. His ideas expressed to eloquently in the Preamble of the Constitution, beginning with, "We the people, and ending with "shall not perish from the earth" (read the whole thing if you haven't read it lately) are those we still hold dear.

The United States is the only country in history that fought against its own interests to end the cruel system of slavery. Tens of thousands of Americans died during the Civil War and since to make sure that all of us Americans are equal in the eyes of the law and the eyes of the Lord.

Liberals will fall down laughing and recite examples of continued injustice. True, we're not perfect yet, but we're still working on it, and we're a lot closer to the ideal than anywhere else in the world they can name.

Posted by: erp at January 22, 2005 10:14 AM

erp: Slave owner is a low blow.

He owned other people and made them work for him. He knew it was wrong but since he needed the dough to finance his profligate spending and insolvent plantation, he kept doing it. He shouldn't be simply dismissed as merely a slave owner, but it isn't a low blow.

Posted by: Jim at January 22, 2005 10:24 AM

Dr. Mabuse,

The Salem Witch Trials took place in 1692, in Mass. Jefferson was born in Virginia in 1743. At the age of 20, he might have met an 80 year-old who had been 9 years old at the time of the trial. It's not impossible, but I doubt he knew anyone with first hand knowledge of the trials.


Posted by: Susan at January 22, 2005 12:07 PM
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