Thomas Jefferson: Why is Freedom of Speech so valued by the Left?
The question is a basic one. You might even hear it yourself when Democrats criticize GitMo and what not based upon freedom of speech. Civil Rights, after all, is almost synonymous with the name Thomas Jefferson.
I, because I was commenting on Wolf’s blog, I started to dig into it based upon some fragmentary recollections about newspapers and Jefferson. This is what I got.
* “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knowledge with the lies of the day.” –Thomas Jefferson to John Norvell, 1807. ME 11:224
* “As for what is not true, you will always find abundance in the newspapers.” –Thomas Jefferson to Barnabas Bidwell, 1806. ME 11:118
* “The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them, inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors. He who reads nothing will still learn the great facts, and the details are all false.” –Thomas Jefferson to John Norvell, 1807. ME 11:225
* “At a very early period of my life, I determined never to put a sentence into any newspaper. I have religiously adhered to the resolution through my life, and have great reason to be contented with it. Were I to undertake to answer the calumnies of the newspapers, it would be more than all my own time and that of twenty aids could effect. For while I should be answering one, twenty new ones would be invented. I have thought it better to trust to the justice of my countrymen, that they would judge me by what they see of my conduct on the stage where they have placed me, and what they knew of me before the epoch since which a particular party has supposed it might answer some view of theirs to vilify me in the public eye. Some, I know, will not reflect how apocryphal is the testimony of enemies so palpably betraying the views with which they give it. But this is an injury to which duty requires every one to submit whom the public think proper to call into its councils.” –Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Smith, 1798. ME 10:58
* “Perhaps an editor might begin a reformation in some such way as this. Divide his paper into four chapters, heading the 1st, Truths. 2nd, Probabilities. 3rd, Possibilities. 4th, Lies. The first chapter would be very short, as it would contain little more than authentic papers and information from such sources as the editor would be willing to risk his own reputation for their truth. The second would contain what, from a mature consideration of all circumstances, his judgment should conclude to be probably true. This, however, should rather contain too little than too much. The third and fourth should be professedly for those readers who would rather have lies for their money than the blank paper they would occupy.” –Thomas Jefferson to John Norvell, 1807. ME 11:225
* “I have been for some time used as the property of the newspapers, a fair mark for every man’s dirt.” –Thomas Jefferson to Peregrine Fitzhugh, 1798. ME 10:1
* “I really look with commiseration over the great body of my fellow citizens who, reading newspapers, live and die in the belief that they have known something of what has been passing in the world in their time, whereas the accounts they have read in newspapers are just as true a history of any other period of the world as of the present, except that the real names of the day are affixed to their fables. General facts may indeed be collected from them… but no details can be relied on.” –Thomas Jefferson to John Norvell, 1807. ME 11:224
* For the present, lying and scribbling must be free to those mean enough to deal in them, and in the dark.” –Thomas Jefferson to Edmund Randolph, 1792. ME 8:411
* “These people [i.e., the printers] think they have a right to everything, however secret or sacred.” –Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1815. ME 14:345
Jefferson – President in 1800
In 1796 he stood for President but lost narrowly to John Adams, however under the terms of the constitution, this was sufficient to become Vice President. In the run up to the next election of 1800 Jefferson fought a bitter campaign. In particular the Alien and sedition act of 1798 led to the imprisonment of many newspaper editors who supported Jefferson and were critical of the existing government. However Jefferson was narrowly elected and this allowed him to promote open and representative government. On being elected, he offered a hand of friendship to his former political enemies. He also allowed the Sedition act to expire and promoted the practical existence of free speech.
Another source sets the political climate at that time. It is an online biography of Thomas Jefferson.
The meat of my results is this.
he Jeffersonian Republicans’
Partisan politics spurred newspaper growth in the United States from 92 in 1790 to 329 at the end of Thomas Jefferson’s presidency. All but 56 were identified with a political party. Philip Freneau’s National Gazette was the first official Republican newspaper. Jefferson and James Madison provided encouragement, money and a position in Jefferson’s Department of State to Freneau to establish a Republican newspaper. The National Gazette was the leading critic of Federalist political programs durings its two year existence.
Jeffersonians expose Hamilton’s
James Callender’s (1758-1803) History of the United States for 1796 was the original public venue for reports of financial dealings by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton as well as his 1792 adulterous affair with Maria Reynolds (b. 1768), the wife of James Reynolds, a United States Treasury employee. Jefferson’s political lieutenant, clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, and later first Librarian of Congress John James Beckley was the immediate source of the confidential documents used by Callender to discredit Hamilton. Callender was one of the political pamphleteers supported by Jeffersonians to attack their Federalist opponents.
Jefferson experiences the political
limits of freedom of the press
President Jefferson’s support for freedom of the press was sorely tested in 1802 when James Callender publicly charged that Jefferson “keeps and for many years has kept, as his concubine, one of his slaves. Her name is Sally.” The Richmond Recorder, first printed Callender’s account of Jefferson’s intimate relationship with his wife’s half sister, Sally Hemings, but controversy has surrounded the accusation and the relationship to the present day. Callender, whose vitriolic attacks on Federalist opponents of Jefferson in the 1790s had been secretly funded by Jefferson and Republican allies, turned against Jefferson when the president failed to give him a patronage position.
Jefferson urges supporters to
write newspaper attacks
Thomas Jefferson seldom wrote articles or essays for the press, but he did urge his supporters such as James Madison, James Monroe (1758-1831), John Beckley (1757-1807), and David Rittenhouse (1732-1796) to publicly counter the Federalists. In this July 7, 1793, letter, Jefferson urges Madison to attack the ideas of Alexander Hamilton: “for god’s sake, my dear Sir, take up your pen, select the most striking heresies, and cut him to peices [sic] in the face of the public.” Both Republicans and Federalists engaged in critical attacks on their opponents.
The true principles of the
revolution of 1800″
Jefferson viewed the presidential election of 1800, which won him the presidency, as a second American Revolution. Jefferson believed in “the true principles of the revolution of 1800. for that was as real a revolution in the principles of our government as that of 76. was in it’s form; not effected indeed by the sword, as that, but by the rational and peaceable instrument of reform, the suffrage of the people. The nation declared it’s will by dismissing functionaries of one principle, and electing those of another in the two branches, executive and legislative, submitted to their election.”
We are all republicans:
we are all federalists”
Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated third president of the United States on March 4, 1801, after being elected by the House of Representatives on February 17, 1801, on the thirty-sixth ballot in one of the nation’s closest and most divisive presidential contests. In this first inaugural address President Jefferson reached out to heal the political wounds by appealing to non-partisan political unification. This draft shows the careful preparation, including the insertion of a paragraph, with key phrases, such as “we are all republicans: we are all federalists,” that are still used in political arenas.
Post 9/11, “we are all Americans”. Sure… Anyways, my purpose is not whether Thomas Jefferson was a hypocrite or not, he wasn’t, my purpose is to point out that many of the Left and the Democrat’s roots started from his time and his side. Like newspaper attacks. Not because Jefferson wanted his opponents attacked personally, but because Jefferson focused on countering the information of his opponents via newspapers. The Democrats still have this ability, which is superior to most anything the Republican party can field. The idea of a press, again, is hailed by the Democrats as government not being associated with the press. Yet the reality is that the Jeffersonians set up their own newspaper to counter public sentiment about a political opponent. However you cut it down, such a precedent was known and adapted by their descendants. Remember “I feel your pain” Bill? With the propaganda and persuasion skills of Thomas Jefferson, but none of his virtues. That, essentially, sums up the modern Left, also known as useful idiots.
Consider this. Jefferson believed in peaceful means of reform to change the government. He was also very revolutionary and very anti-order so to speak. Order, to Jefferson, was simply the beginning of tyrancy and stagnancy. Jefferson prefered a renewal, even if that renewal was in the blood of both tyrants and patriots. So Jefferson was not a pacifist like some of the modern Leftist movements you see today. Jefferson, as is true for Code Pink and others, believed in non-military violence and victories. Non-military meaning non-conquest orientated. Domestic orientated. Aim the violence through newspapers at political opponents instead of trying to wage war on foreigners or other folks. A crude analysis, but still true at the end I believe.
Whatever Jefferson’s faults, he was the solution, not the problem. The problem was James Callinder. The person out for his own interests, a patronage position in this case, who would attack and do violence to the character of anyone so long as it benefited him personally. This is the true foundation of Leftism and the modern Democrat party. Names about whether they started off as the Republican party or not, is meaningless. Politics and political names change. Reagan revolution. The radical Republicans support of Lincoln transformed by historical editing into Democrat support of freedom for slaves. These things change. Tactics and foundations, however, do not change. Basic human nature does not change. The nature of a man like James Callinder does not change regardless of what party he is in. He will always turn on you in the end, for this is a man loyal to no nation or ideal except the ideal of himself. Remember MoveOn and Daily Kos when you see the Democrats being attacked by them.
Civil Rights? As if the ACLU ever gave a fauk about civil rights.