by Diane Rufino, September 20, 2017
Thomas Jefferson articulated the absolute right of a state to secede from the Union. He did so in 1798, in 1799, in 1816, and up until his death in 1826 (July 4, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence). The right of self-determination was proclaimed in the Declaration as a founding principle and was never surrendered in the Constitution. In fact, Jefferson and Madison (1798 and 1800, in his written documents explaining the nature of the agreement known as the US Constitution) both agreed that such an inherent right can never be contracted away, although it should be reserved for extreme cases.
For Jefferson in 1816, the States had a clear right to leave the union. Government power, he reasoned, should never be concentrated at the top but rather at the bottom, closest to the people. If such were the case, there should never arise the level of tyranny that would warrant the drastic remedy of secession. The key, therefore, is to keep government closest to the people. Jefferson explained that the way to do this is to vest government only with those responsibilities that are absolutely necessary and those which people, in their individual capacity, cannot do or cannot be trusted to do and then to divide those responsibilities accordingly – with the governmental bodies closest to the people (localities) being responsible for the interests and affairs that touch on their lives most directly – their property, their livelihoods, their customs and communities, their education concerns, etc – and the government farthest away from them (Washington, DC) being responsible for the matters that are most external to their everyday lives, such as national security, international affairs and diplomacy, inter-state commerce, etc.
From Kevin Gutzman’s exceptional book, THOMAS JEFFERSON, REVOLUTIONARY:
Explaining the subdivision of government power, into “ward republics,” Jefferson wrote: “The way to have good and safe government is not to trust it all to one, but rather to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent to. Let the National government be entrusted with the defense of the nation and its foreign and federal relations, the State governments with the civil rights, laws, police, and administration of what concerns the state generally, and the Counties with the local concerns of the counties; each Ward directs the interests within itself. It is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great National one down through all its subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man’s farm and affairs by himself, by placing under everyone what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best…. I do believe that if the Almighty has not decreed that Man shall never be free (and it is blasphemy to believe it) that the secret will be found to be in the making of himself the depository of the powers respecting himself, so far as he is competent to them, and delegating only what is beyond his competence by a synthetic process, to higher and higher orders of functionaries, so as to trust fewer and fewer powers, in proportion as the trustees become more and more oligarchical. The elementary republics of the Wards – the county republics, the State republics, and the republic of the Union – would form a gradation of authorities, standing each on the basis of law, holding every one of its delegated share of powers, and constituting truly a system of fundamental checks and balances for the government. Where every man is a sharer in the direction of his ward-republic, or of some of the higher ones, and feels that he is a participator in the government of affairs not merely at an election, one day in the year, but every day; when there shall not be a man in the state who will not be a member of one of its councils, great or small, he will let the heart be torn out of his body sooner than his power he wrenched from him by a Caesar or a Bonaparte.”
The Roman Empire fell when its ruling authority in Rome presided over too large and diverse of a group to represent them and their interests properly in a concentrated government body. And the same is happening here in the United States. If we hope to make this country the one that it was originally destined to be, the country that Thomas Jefferson dreamed of and worked his life to guide, then we need to push for solutions that return power back to the people… In my favorite movie, GLADIATOR, Emperor Marcus Aurelius confides in his loyal general, Maximus, and conveys his dying wish: “There was once a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish… it was so fragile. And I fear that it will not survive the winter…….. There is one more duty that I ask of you before you go home. I want you to become the protector of Rome after I die. I will empower you to one end alone, to give power back to the people of Rome and end the corruption that has crippled it. It must be you. it must be you. You have not been corrupted by her politics.”
We are Rome. We are a republic in name only, and have been for a very long time now. We must acknowledge that. Each congressman represents too large and diverse of a group of people (at least 700,000 individuals per congressional district) to act as a meaningful advocate in government, and each senator, representing each person in his or her state, has the same problem. And so, our elected representatives no longer work for us or our interests; they become agents for the interests and preservation of the federal government – a government that becomes more interested in “the common good” with each year of its existence. Republics are only successful when they are relatively small, when the ratio of elected representatives to the constituency remains workable. The solution to returning power to the people is to subdivide our one great republic into smaller republics (as Jefferson called them, “ward republics”) – to subdivide government power with the greatest control over the individual and his or her everyday life vested in those government bodies most local and closest to the people.
A big government is not our friend, although it likes to portray itself as such. We’ve seen its violations against us over the years, including collecting our personal information, lying to the American people, refusing to punish those in office who have broken criminal laws (and have even skirted on treason), taxing us excessively (including to support terrorist regimes such as Iran and Pakistan), forcing people to purchase health insurance not because they need it but because others need it, opening our borders to leave our communities and jobs vulnerable, judicial activism from the courts, obstruction in our attempts to legitimize the election process, and most recently, wiretapping political a presidential candidate to undermine the success of a threatening political movement. Ask yourself one question: What power do We the People think really have over the governing of our states and our country? The key to the security of freedom is the control the people have in their government. James Madison once wrote: “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”
The era of King George III is here. Americans have a history of how to respond to such tyranny…. Unless, of course, we have truly become Rome.
Edward Snowden, labeled both a patriot by many and a traitor by some, said: “Being a patriot doesn’t mean prioritizing service to government above all else. Being a patriot means knowing when to protect your country, knowing when to protect your Constitution, knowing when to protect your countrymen, from the violations of and encroachments of adversaries. And those adversaries don’t have to be foreign countries.”
Reference: Kevin Gutzman, Thomas Jefferson – Revolutionary, St. Martin’s Press, NY (2017).