Saturday, January 15, 2005

Thomas Jefferson

Currently I am reading about Thomas Jefferson and his battles with Alexander Hamilton. This is a complete history that has been painfully researched from the Library of Congress and personal letters from a variety of contemporary sources. This is fascinating reading for a variety of reasons, but one that has most impressed me are the casual references to George Washington, then President of the United States. While Washington is someone whom I greatly admire, he is almost always turned into a marble statue, devoid of any personality, but here we see him attempting to balance between two cabinet officers who are in great disagreement and whose rhetoric becomes more inflamatory by the day. Washington tries to steer a middle course because both men have merits. Woven through this piece is the French Revolution and what we now call "The Terror". Interestingly enough, this didn't carry the same horror at the time as it does now. The position of the Americans was essentially neutral but leaning toward the people rather than the government. The rationale was that to call the French Revolutionaries criminal was to repudiate what we had just done and to set a double standard. It was at this time that Washington and Jefferson set the policy of the United States that endures to this day and that is that we will recognize and support any government brought to power by the will of the people. Admittedly this policy has had some strain put on it because that is how Lenin came to power as well as many other dictators -- the old one person, one vote, one time (Saddam Hussein ring a bell?). Still it is a policy that is fundamentally sound. Not surprisingly, it was the Northern liberals (Bostonians) who went around calling themselves "Citzen" and "Citizeness" while it was the southern pragmentists who thought that was over the top and the revolutionaries were going beyond any acceptable bounds. Nevertheless, Louis XVI was truly seen as a despot who basically got what was coming to him. Fascinating reading.

Perhaps what is more interesting is that there is not one reference to the slave holding status of any of the principals. The focus is strictly on the deeds of the people involved and their personal situation is only mentioned in passing and there is no attempt to subject these people to contemporary standards. In fact their spelling is left intact, which reflects the rather relaxed rules of spelling of the time. The author of this work was born in the 19th century and died around 1960 at the age of 92. A much more reliable historian than what passes for historians today.

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