Thos. Jefferson on Stupidity: "Feel It to Heal It"
From the Library of Congress, a private letter:
"Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, September 10, 1814"
A comparison of the conditions of Great Britain and the United States, which is the subject of your letter of August 17th, would be an interesting theme indeed. . . .
- The [British] aristocracy, which have the laws and government in their hands, have so managed them as to reduce the third description [the pauper class, one-fifth of the whole] below the means of supporting life, even by labor;
- [Laborers] of great dexterity only can keep their ground, while those of less must sink into the class of paupers. Nor is it manual dexterity alone, but the acutest resources of the mind also which are impressed into this struggle for life;
[The poor] furnish materials for armies and navies to defend their country, exercise piracy on the ocean, and carry conflagration, plunder and devastation, on the shores of all who endeavor to resist their aggressions. A society thus constructed possesses certainly the means of defence.
But what does it defend? The pauperism of the lowest class, the abject oppression of the laboring, and the luxury, the riot, the domination and the vicious happiness of the aristocracy.
- In their hands, the paupers are used as tools to maintain their own wretchedness, and to keep down the laboring portion by shooting them whenever the desperation produced by the cravings in their stomachs drives them to riots.
[In America] we have no paupers.
- The great mass of our population is of laborers; our rich, who can live without labor, either manual or professional, being few, and of moderate wealth. Most of the laboring class possess property, cultivate their own lands, have families, and from the demand for their labor are enabled to exact from the rich and the competent such prices as enable them to be fed abundantly, clothed above mere decency, to labor moderately and raise their families.
- The wealthy, on the other hand, and those at their ease, know nothing of what the Europeans call luxury. They have only somewhat more of the comforts and decencies of life than those who furnish them.
- Can any condition of society be more desirable than this?
Even [slaves] are better fed in these States, warmer clothed, and labor less than the journeymen and day-laborers of England
- In England, happiness is the lot of the aristocracy only.
- But it is said they possess the means of defence, and that we do not. How so? Are we not men?
Yes; but our men are so happy at home that they will not hire themselves to be shot at for a shilling a day. Hence, we can have no standing armies for defence, because we have no paupers to furnish the materials.
The Greeks by their laws, and the Romans by the spirit of their people, took care to put into the hands of their rulers no such engine of oppression as a standing army. Their system was to make every man a soldier, and oblige him to repair to the standard of his country whenever that was reared. This made them invincible; and the same remedy will make us so.
True, some of our public buildings have been burnt, and some scores of individuals on the tide-water have lost their movable property and their houses. I pity them, and execrate the barbarians who delight in unavailing mischief. But these individuals have their lands and their hands left. They are not paupers, they still have better means of subsistence than 24/25 of the people of England.
. . . we think it more moral and more honorable to set a good example, than follow a bad one.
- Let us pass to another subject. The crisis, then, of the abuses of banking has arrived. The banks have pronounced their own sentence of death.
. . . by the dupery of our citizens, and tame acquiescence of our legislators, the nation is plundered of two or three hundred millions of dollars, treble the amount of debt contracted in the Revolutionary War, and which, instead of redeeming our liberty, has been expended on sumptuous houses, carriages, and dinners.
- . . . the dangers of a paper medium abandoned to the discretion of avarice and of swindlers. It is impossible not to deplore our past follies, and their present consequences, but let them at least be warnings against like follies in future.
- Providence seems, indeed, by a special dispensation, to have put down for us, without a struggle, that very paper enemy which the interest of our citizens long since required of ourselves to put down, at whatever risk.
- The moment is pregnant with futurity, and if not seized at once by Congress, I know not on what shoal our bark is next to be stranded.
Anyone who thinks history is boring had bad teachers.