Monday, December 18, 2006

Foundations of American Democracy

For those of you interested in the foundations of American Democracy, here is a paraphrase from an interesting letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams in February 1796, commenting on the French Revolution and how it compares to the quality of American Democracy.

Jefferson fears oligarchy rising in France. A small council will enter into cabals and quarrels. The same happened in the US under the Articles of Confederation. It was resolved by the reality of a unitary Executive. Evils can arrive in this set-up, but only after a long time. Jefferson thinks their successors will be able to work it out. "Both experiments are now fairly committed, and the result will be seen."

In contrast to what he sees in France and every other modern European nation, Jefferson praises the American citizen and the American system for their "pursuits of honesty, industry, independent in their circumstances, enlightened as to their
rights, and firm in their habits of order and obedience to the laws."

This is the age of the experiments in governments based "on principles of honesty, not of mere force. We have seen no instance of this since the days of the Roman Republic."

"Either force or corruption has been the principle of every modern government." In our case, the morals of the people could be made the basis of government. He who will propose to govern a people based on the corruption of the legislature "must convince himself that the human soul as well as body is mortal."

He then warns Adams against ever wanting to imitate the British system. He invites Adams to join him "in detestation of the
corruption of the English government."

Taken from Thomas Jefferson to Adams, February 26th 1796


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