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The Empire Of Liberty: Thomas Jefferson, Ron Paul And The Sacred Fire Of Freedom

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Who stands in opposition to “the [central] bank of the United States, public debt, a navy, a standing army, American manufacturing, federally funded improvement of the interior, the role of a world power, military glory, an extensive foreign ministry, loose construction of the Constitution, and subordination of the states to the federal government”? Hint, these words were not written about Rep. Ron Paul.

This is Garry Wills’s description of Thomas Jefferson. The elite political class looked with disdain, and now looks with a certain measure of bemusement, upon Dr. Paul. Paul represents the re-emergence of a great American tradition. That tradition reawakens in the person of Ron Paul, who has a fair claim to be our era’s Thomas Jefferson. As Jefferson’s heir he commands deep respect if not always (as in the case of this Supply Side, Hamiltonian, writer) complete fealty.

One of the keys to America’s greatness is how George Washington was able to harness both the great centralizing, industrializing forces represented by Alexander Hamilton together with the great decentralizing, Arcadian forces represented by Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton’s positions prevailed, tilting America toward a stronger central government. Jefferson, affectionately enshrined in our national memory, has a Memorial. As for Hamilton, “Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.”

The Hamiltonian version of America is ascendant. Yet the Jeffersonian streak of subsidiarity lives on, is essential to America’s identity and greatness, and is a rising force. It has found its most powerful exponent since, at least, Goldwater in the person of Ron Paul.

Thomas Jefferson’s agenda including eliminating the national bank, reducing the military, and dismantling the federal taxation system. These are at the heart of Ron Paul’s agenda.

Jefferson was a courageous radical. His anti-(federal)-government convictions often are indistinguishable from those of Dr. Paul. Dr. Paul unabashedly went to bat for secession after Gov. Perry came under fire for rhetorically toying with that. Jefferson’s anonymous co-authorship of the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions is in many ways the charter text on the primacy of states rights.

Jefferson envisaged America becoming the world’s great “empire of liberty. ” On departing the presidency he wrote:

“Trusted with the destinies of this solitary republic of the world, the only monument of human rights, and the sole depository of the sacred fire of freedom and self-government, from hence it is to be lighted up in other regions of the earth, if other regions of the earth shall ever become susceptible of its benign influence.”

There are principled reasons to dispute with some of Dr. Paul’s positions. Some believe him to propose to take America’s diplomatic and military disengagement to an extreme well beyond that of Jefferson who, after all, bought Louisiana — and projected American power “to the shores of Tripoli” — fighting the Barbary pirates.

Upon Jefferson’s 1801 inauguration as president, the Pasha of Tripoli (the sure enough predecessor of Muammar Qaddafi), demanded tribute from America. Jefferson refused and the Pasha declared war on America not through some declaration but, lore has it, by chopping down the flagpole in front of the American consulate.

Jefferson responded by sending in a small force to protect Americans and American interests but believed it unconstitutional to do more absent a declaration of war. Congress never voted to declare war but, much like our modern Congresses, authorized the use of force, “to cause to be done all such other acts of precaution or hostility as the state of war will justify.” And so it goes.

Still, Jefferson’s demilitarization of the United States very much anticipated that proposed by Ron Paul. And in matters economic it is hard to slip a photon between Paul and Jefferson. Dr. Paul calls the Fed unconstitutional; Jefferson called its predecessor, the Bank of the United States, unconstitutional:

Jefferson’s opinion on the Constitutionality of a National Bank:

I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: That all powers not delegated to the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people. … To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specially drawn around the powers of Congress, is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition.

The incorporation of a bank, and the powers assumed by this bill, have not, in my opinion, been delegated to the United States, by the Constitution.

We are familiar, too, with Dr. Paul’s indictment of Federal Reserve notes, our paper money. Paul’s indictment of paper money is, if anything, more moderate in tone than that of Jefferson.

Jefferson to E. Carrington, in 1788:

Paper is poverty. It is only the ghost of money, and not money itself.

Jefferson to John Adams in 1814:

The errors of that day cannot be recalled. The evils they have engendered are now upon us, and the question is how we are to get out of them? Shall we build an altar to the old money of the Revolution, which ruined individuals but saved the Republic, and burn on that all the bank charters, present and future, and their notes with them? For these are to ruin both Republic and individuals. This cannot be done. The mania is too strong. It has seized, by its delusions and corruptions, all the members of our governments, general, special, and individual.

To Charles Yancey in 1816:

Not Quixotic enough to attempt to reason Bedlam to rights, my anxieties are turned to the most practicable means of withdrawing us from the ruin into which we have run. Two hundred millions of paper in the hands of the people (and less cannot be from the employment of a banking capital known to exceed one hundred millions), is a fearful tax to fall at haphazard on their heads. The debt which purchased our Independence was but of eighty millions, of which twenty years of taxation had, in 1889, paid but the one-half. And what have we purchased with this tax of two hundred millions which we are to pay, by wholesale, but usury, swindling, and new forms of demoralization?

Perhaps it is, as Jefferson so eloquently suggested to Yancey, “Quixotic enough to attempt to reason Bedlam to rights….” And yet, this levels an indictment at the Bedlam that has beset our ruling class rather than at the noble one who “dreams the impossible dream… willing to march into Hell for a Heavenly cause,” that magnificent heir to Jefferson, Ron Paul.

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