Jefferson, conservatism don't always mix well

July 14, 2012

One should generally be skeptical of conservatives quoting Thomas Jefferson in aid of their positions. For example, Sue Swayze [June 16 Forefront] denounced “compromise” and quoted Jefferson as having said, “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

In the July 9 IBJ, one of the letters to the editor cited Jefferson for the adage that, “The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.” In fact, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation says it knows of no source for either of those quotes, and lists them both as “spurious.”

Conservatives attempting to claim Jefferson as one of their ideological kinsmen might wish to investigate some of the things Jefferson actually did say, for example: “[E]xperience declares that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term … to the general prey of the rich on the poor.” (Letter to Edward Carrington, Jan. 16, 1787.) Moreover, those railing against the virtue of “compromise” would be wise to take note of this timeless wisdom from Jefferson’s first inaugural address: “Let us then, fellow citizens, unite with one heart and one mind, let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty, and even life itself, are but dreary things. And let us reflect that having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance, as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions.”


John L. Egloff

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