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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

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Thomas Jefferson's Letter to Isaac H. Tiffany, April 4, 1819

sir:—After thanking you for your comprehensive tabular chart of the governments of the United States, I must give you the answer which I am obliged to give to all who propose to me to replunge myself into political speculations, 'Senez sum, et levissimis curit' imparl I abandon politics, and accommodate "myself cheerfully to things as they go, confident "in the wisdom of those who direct them, and that they will be better and better directed in the progressive course of knowledge and experience. Our successors start on our shoulders. They know all that we know, and will add to that stock the discoveries of the next fifty years; and what will be their amount we may estimate from what the last fifty years have added to the "science of human concerns. The thoughts of others, as I find them on paper, are my amusement and delight; but the labors of the mind; in abstruse investigations are irksome and writing itself is become a slow and painful operation, occasioned by a stiffened wrist, the consequence of a former dislocation. I will however, essay the two definitions which you say are more particularly interesting at present: I mean those of the terms Liberty and Republic, aware, however, that they have been so multifariously applied as to convey no precise idea to the mind. Of Liberty, then, I would say, that in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will; but rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within the limits drawn around us by the equal "rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law,' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of an individual.
I will add, seoondly, that a pure Republic is "a state of society in which every member of ****re and sound mind, has an equal right of participation;, personally, in the direction of the affairs of the Society. Such a regimen is obviously impracticable beyond the limits of an encampment, or of a very small village. When numbers, distance, or force, oblige them to act by deputy, then their government continues republican in proportion only as the functions they still exercise in person are more or fewer, and as in those exercised by deputy the right of appointing their deputy is pro hac vice only, or for more or fewer purposes, or for shorter or longer terms.
If by the word Government you mean a classification of its forms, I must refer you for the soundest which has ever been given, to Tracey's Review of Montesquieu, the ablest political work which the last century of years has given us. It was translated from the original MS., and published by Duane, a few years ago, and "is since published in the original French at Paris. With my thanks for your chart accept the assurance of my great respect.

-Thomas Jefferson

The Historical Magazine and Notes and Queries, concerning the antiquities, History and Biography of America Vol II 1867 Pages 250-251

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