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Lift your lamp beside the golden door, Break not the golden rule, avoid well the golden calf, know; not all that glitters is gold, and laissez faire et laissez passer [let do and let pass] but as a shining sentinel, hesitate not to ring the bell, defend the gates, and man the wall

Friday, March 4, 2011

Jefferson's Letter to Madison Oct. 28 1785

To James Madison
Fontainebleau, Oct. 28, 1785

Seven o'clock, and retired to my fireside, I have determined to enter into conversation with you; this [Fontainebleau] is a village of about 5,000 inhabitants when the court is not here and 20,000 when they are, occupying a valley thro' which runs a brook, and on each side of it a ridge of small mountains most of which are naked rock. The king comes here in the fall always, to hunt. His court attend him, as do also the foreign diplomatic corps. But as this is not indispensably required, and my finances do not admit the expence of a continued residence here, I propose to come occasionally to attend the king's levees, returning again to Paris, distant 40 miles. This being the first trip, I set out yesterday morning to take a view of the place. For this purpose I shaped my course towards the highest of the mountains in sight, to the top of which was about a league.
As soon as I had got clear of the town I fell in with a poor woman walking at the same rate with myself and going the same course. Wishing to know the condition of the labouring poor I entered into conversation with her, which I began by enquiries for the path which would lead me into the mountain: and thence proceeded to enquiries into her vocation, condition and circumstance. She told me she was a day labourer, at 8. sous or 4 d. sterling the day; that she had two children to maintain, and to pay a rent of 30 livres for her house (which would consume the hire of 75 days), that often she could get no emploiment, and of course was without bread. As we had walked together near a mile and she had so far served me as a guide, I gave her, on parting 24 sous. She burst into tears of a gratitude which I could perceive was unfeigned, because she was unable to utter a word. She had probably never before received so great an aid. This little attendrissement, with the solitude of my walk led me into a train of reflections on that unequal division of property which occasions the numberless instances of wretchedness which I had observed in this country and is to be observed all over Europe.
The property of this country is absolutely concentered in a very few hands, having revenues of from half a million of guineas a year downwards. These employ the flower of the country as servants, some of them having as many as 200 domestics, not labouring. They employ also a great number of manufacturers, and tradesmen, and lastly the class of labouring husbandmen. But after all these comes the most numerous of all the classes, that is, the poor who cannot find work. I asked myself what could be the reason that so many should be permitted to beg who are willing to work, in a country where there is a very considerable proportion of uncultivated lands? These lands are kept idle mostly for the aske of game. It should seem then that it must be because of the enormous wealth of the proprietors which places them above attention to the increase of their revenues by permitting these lands to be laboured. I am conscious that an equal division of property is impracticable. But the consequences of this enormous inequality producing so much misery to the bulk of mankind, legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property, only taking care to let their subdivisions go hand in hand with the natural affections of the human mind. The descent of property of every kind therefore to all the children, or to all the brothers and sisters, or other relations in equal degree is a politic measure, and a practicable one. Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise. 

Modern Commentary On Equality and Stupidity by Lance (October 7, 2010)

Thomas Jefferson’s quote was one of emotional anguish. If you take the time to read the entire letter, you will see him describing the horrors of pre-Revolution France. It was not the best of times for those in the peasant class. France’s monarchy had long ceased to be effective at controlling itself and was in the beginning stages of choking the life out of itself. After all, what is a monarchy if you simply treat your country like you’re a petty dictator? A dictatorial system of government is further from monarchy than we tend to think. This is largely due to the way history has been taught since the French Revolution and Marx came on the scene. But I digress.
Jefferson probably knew better than to be an advocate for progressive taxation. Given that he steeped deep in debt, I do not think he would have written such a silly statement after realizing he was writing under emotional distress about this woman and the political-economic situation in France at the time. After all, Jefferson was consistently against taxes in nearly every form. To consider him some sort of socialist god as the users do at the website I visited is incorrect. Jefferson would be better fit for the free market system’s founder in America (as opposed to Hamilton, but that is a tale for another day).
In the following quote, Jefferson shows us where his passions truly lie:

Whenever there is in any country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right. The earth is given as a common stock for man to labour and live on. If, for the encouragement of industry we allow it to be appropriated, we must take care that other employment be furnished to those excluded from the appropriation. If we do not the fundamental right to labour the earth returns to the unemployed. It is too soon yet in our country to say that every man who cannot find employment but who can find uncultivated land, shall be at liberty to cultivate it, paying a moderate rent. But it is not too soon to provide by every possible means that as few as possible shall be without a little portion of land. The small landholders are the most precious part of a state.

Modern Commentary On Equality and Stupidity by Lance (October 7, 2010)
History shows us that Jefferson was fond of the ‘republican’ form of government with a ‘republican’ people: no big cities, lots of small farms and towns, and a people clamoring for liberty. Given that economic thought was severely underdeveloped during this period (Adam Smith had only just published On the Wealth of Nations [about]), it is no surprise that Jefferson saw progressive taxation as a way to free up the landed system. In America, progressive taxation did not occur in most places until the twentieth century. This allows us to see what happens in a country with progressive taxation: Corporations can still buy the government, a huge portion of the tax burden is placed on the middle class (not the rich alone), and many rich people can escape paying taxes altogether through loopholes in the tax system. All the while, the poor benefit from economic “equality” by receiving benefits and producing nothing.
This is real [economic] equality, and it is stupid.
Jefferson’s vision of the poor cultivating farms was rooted in them doing actual work. It was not based on their receiving subsidies for simply living and being unproductive the rest of their lives. Oh, I’m sure that the average socialist will quickly negate my claim, saying that they will be productive once they have jobs, but evidence shows otherwise.
The only way to have real equality in this country is to eliminate equality laws and destroy taxation completely. Equality is about being free from government and being treated no differently by the government–it has nothing to do with economic standing, success, or opportunity. Once again, a Founding Father of this country has been taken out of context without correct economic thought providing a reason for the perceived conflict in his letter.
The socialists should try harder next time.

The next object which struck my attention in my walk was the deer with which the wood abounded. They were of the kind called "Cerfs," and not exactly of the same species with ours. They are blackish indeed under the belly, and not white as ours, and they are more of the chestnut red; but these are such small differences as would be sure to happen in two races from the same stock breeding separately a number of ages. Their hares are totally different from the animals we call by that name; but their rabbit is almost exactly like him. The only difference is in their manners; the land on which I walked for some time being absolutely reduced to a honeycomb by their burrowing. I think there is no instance of ours burrowing. After descending the hill again I saw a man cutting fern. I went to him under pretence of asking the shortest road to town, and afterwards asked for what use he was cutting fern. He told me that this part of the country furnished a great deal of fruit to Paris. That when packed in straw it acquired an ill taste, but that dry fern preserved it perfectly without communicating any taste at all.
I treasured this observation for the preservation of my apples on my return to my own country. They have no apples here to compare with our Redtown pippin. They have nothing which deserves the name of a peach; there being not sun enough to ripen the plum-peach and the best of their soft peaches being like our autumn peaches. Their cherries and strawberries are fair, but I think lack flavor. Their plums I think are better; so also their gooseberries, and the pears infinitely beyond anything we possess. They have nothing better than our sweet-water; but they have a succession of as good from early in the summer till frost. I am to-morrow to get [to] M. Malsherbes (an uncle of the Chevalier Luzerne's) about seven leagues from hence, who is the most curious man in France as to his trees. He is making for me a collection of the vines from which the Burgundy, Champagne, Bordeaux, Frontignac, and other of the most valuable wines of this country are made. Another gentleman is collecting for me the best eating grapes, including what we call the raisin. I propose also to endeavor to colonize their hare, rabbit, red and grey partridge, pheasants of different kinds, and some other birds. But I find that I am wandering beyond the limits of my walk and will therefore bid you adieu.
Yours affectionately.
An Editorial on Hivemind Communist Exhortations made on Contextless Excerptations made from this letter - http://politicalinquirer.com/2010/10/07/on-equality-and-stupidity/

Sources for the letter

Source in part - http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch15s32.html 

Attributing - The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Edited by Julian P. Boyd et al. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950 Papers 8:681-82

Source in whole - http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Letter_to_James_Madison_-_October_28,_1785

My Own Commentary

  • The context of the letter shows Jefferson is in France talking about how to remedy the squalor of poverty brought on by the death throws of a monarchy, not an every day policy for America. Further he generalizes "Whenever there is in any country, uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right." 
    Jefferson's 'welfare' is only a "fundamental right to labour the earth [that] returns to the unemployed". Absolutely nothing like modern welfare or quote "The poor is the rich man's burden". Jeffersonianly, Every man is his own burden, it is only incumbent upon Govt, to having appropriated lands that go uncultivated allow for unemployed & hungry ppl to feed themselves. The "geometrical Taxation" was specifically to free up land for that purpose "exempt[ing] all from taxation below a certain point"!
     "It is too soon yet in our country to say that every man who cannot find employment but who can find uncultivated land, shall be at liberty to cultivate it, paying a moderate rent. But it is not too soon to provide by every possible means that as few as possible shall be without a little portion of land. The small landholders are the most precious part of a state." We have plenty of people on welfare and immense amounts of uncultivated land. The Jeffersonian solution is obvious.


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