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Thomas Jefferson, the American Mind and the Cosmic System

By John W. Whitehead

On May 26, 1776, John Adams, who represented Massachusetts at the Second Continental Congress, wrote exultantly to his friend James Warren that “every post and every day rolls in upon us independence like a torrent.” Adams had reason for rejoicing, for this was what he and others had hoped and worked for almost since the Congress had convened in May of the previous year. It helped, to be sure, that George III had proclaimed the colonies in rebellion and this encouraged the Americans to take him at his word. Later, George Washington proceeded to drive General Howe out of Boston. This demonstrated that Americans need not stand on the defensive, but could vindicate themselves in military strategy quite as well as in political.

However exciting to some, America was going through the difficult process of being born. In any event, the stage of history was being set. On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia introduced three resolutions calling for independence, foreign alliances, and confederation. Some wanted unity and voted to postpone the final vote for three weeks. This allowed time for debate and for the hesitant and fainthearted to come over or step out. Meantime, Congress appointed a committee to prepare “a Declaration of Independence.” This committee consisted of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, and Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson had come to the Continental Congress the previous year, bringing with him a reputation for literature, science, and a talent for composition. His writings, said John Adams, “were remarkable for their peculiar felicity of expression.” In part because of his rhetorical gifts, in part because he already had a reputation of working quickly, in part because it was thought that Virginia, as the oldest, the largest, and the most deeply committed of the states, should take the lead, the committee unanimously turned to Jefferson to prepare a draft declaration.

We know a great deal about the composition of that draft. Jefferson wrote it standing at his desk (still preserved) in the second-floor parlor of a young German bricklayer named Graff, and he completed it in two weeks. We have his word for it that he “turned neither to book nor pamphlet” and that all the authority of the Declaration “rests on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, etc.” We can accept Jefferson’s statement made fifty years later that the object of the Declaration was to be “an appeal to the tribunal of the world”–that “decent respect to the opinions of Mankind” invoked in the Declaration itself. However, in Jefferson’s words (as he wrote to James Madison in 1823), it certainly was “not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of; not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion.”

The Declaration of Independence, then, was an expression of the American mind that was prevalent in the colonies of that time. As Jefferson stated, the Declaration contained no new ideas, nor was there any originality in it on his part. He merely articulated what people of that day were thinking.

The basic elements of the American mind are set forth in the opening paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration opens by stating:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands, which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

The opening paragraph of the Declaration states that the colonists are impelled or required to separate from Great Britain for certain reasons:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,–That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

This preamble sums up with lucidity, logic, and eloquence the philosophy which presided over the argument for the American Revolution, the creation of a new political system, and the vindication of the rights of man–all in less than two hundred words. Here we find expressed what is universal rather than parochial, what is permanent rather than transient, in the American Revolution. Where most of the body of the Declaration is retrospective, the preamble is prospective. In the years to come, it would be translated into the basic institutions of the American republic.

Consider the opening words of the Declaration: “When, in the Course of human events…” That places it, and the Revolution, at once in the appropriate setting, against the backdrop of not merely American or British but universal history. That connects it with the experience of people everywhere–not only at a moment in history, but in every era. This concept of the place of American history is underlined by successive phrases of the opening sentence. It points to a future of hope and optimism.

Thus, the new nation is to assume its place “among the powers of the earth.” It is not the laws of the British empire, or even of history, but of “Nature and of Nature’s God” which entitled Americans to an equal station. Moreover, it is “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind” that requires this justification. No other political document of the eighteenth century proclaims so broad a purpose. No political document of our own day associates the United States so boldly with universal history in the cosmic system.

The American mind of the colonial period did not acknowledge a different order of truth, one for the lofty realms of mathematics, another for the more earthbound regions, and still another for society, politics, and the economy. While clearly discernible in the natural world, the cause of “Nature and of Nature’s God” applied equally to the world of politics and to the law. Benjamin Franklin, as a young man, said:

How exact and regular is everything in the natural World! How wisely in every part contriv’d. We cannot here find the least Defect. Those who have studied the mere animal and vegetable Creation demonstrate that nothing can be more harmonious and beautiful! All the heavenly bodies, the Stars and Planets, are regulated with the utmost Wisdom! And can we suppose less care to be taken in the Order of the Moral than in the natural System?

From such a God-ordered system, certain truths are self-evident. To Jefferson, these self-evident truths formed a total reality. He listed seven of them:

1. That all men are created equal;
2. That human beings are endowed by their Creator with “unalienable” rights;
3. That these rights include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;
4. That it is to secure these rights that government is instituted among men;
5. That governments are instituted to derive their powers from the consent of the governed;
6. That when a form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it becomes illegitimate and a citizenry may alter or abolish it; and,
7. That people have the right, then, to institute new governments designed to effect their safety and happiness.
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Why Ending Bush Tax Cuts Of Americans Making Over $250,000 Is Not A Good Idea

If the Democrat economic plan were not primarily beneficial to government coffers, I would be for it.
I serious doubt the economy will benefit greatly by merely maintaining the Bush tax cuts for the middle. Those with incomes over $250,000 may benefit more, but they also have more disposable income to spend. Spending helps maintain GDP. More importantly, it maintains tax revenues. Therefore, I have to agree with the Republicans. Raising taxes on anyone during a prolonged economic recession is not a good idea. Because the high-income group has more disposable income to spend, they are key to keeping a modicum of economic stability.

Democrats are doing a very poor job of making themselves look good. They are showing Americans that their agendas are more important than the common good.

Someone is bound to respond: Well, duh!

However, when looking at taxation and economic growth in the long-term, I think Americans with taxable incomes over $250,000 should pay considerable higher taxes.

How could that be good?

First, it’s contiguous with founding idea of economic liberty. Thomas Jefferson is representative of a large numbers early Americans who believed the rich should pay for government services to the poor. They believed it was immoral for rich Americans to have much while poor Americans lacked. Thomas Jefferson was no welfare socialists either. Like many others, he opposed low paying wage labor because it was a form of slavery.

Second, the rich paying for welfare to the poor should inspire them to change the political economy engendering poverty and welfare. Jefferson seemed to think making the rich pay to help the poor would motivate the wealthy to devise programs to ensure the poor actually gained skills by which to earn high incomes in order to live independent of rich charity or tax funded government services. I suspect Jefferson would have favored living wage standards as opposed to minimum wages.

Lastly, it seems unjust for the working poor and the middle class to pay for problems created by the wealthy and societal institutions. The Courts didn’t have to encourage the working poor to adopt socialism in order establish economic rights against big manufacturing firms. The Courts could have forced Congress to deal with the issue of low wage slavery. Against the ready argument that freedom of contract and market value would be violated, the Courts and other authorities could have applied Adam Smith’s capitalistic view that large manufacturing corporations were quasi-government institutions requiring regulation, i.e., regulation to prevent low wage slavery. It was the founding generation, those like Jefferson, who thought it unjust to tax all Americans (including the working poor and middle class) to cover the problems of the poor.

Remember, Jefferson wrote “all men were created equal,” which appears not to mean equal opportunity to pay taxes for welfare.

Besides all of that, the stock markets have not declined to 1990 levels, which indicate a somewhat healthy economy still exists–that is if a political economy can be regarded as such. It is healthy because those making over $250,000, like the Democrat and Republican politicians on Capitol Hill, are working to keep their stock portfolios profitable.

Paying for Health Care Reform

By Daniel Downs

President Obama often said people like himself could pay for health care reform. That is, high-income taxpayers can afford high tax rates to help fund universal health care.

Thomas Jefferson held a similar view. He was critical of industrious citizens getting rich while others citizens were going without. He believed the wealthy should assist the less fortunate to achieve a livable income.

The difference between the views of Obama and Jefferson may not be apparent. Nevertheless, there is a significant difference in their views. Obama adheres to a form of contemporary liberalism that has embraced the values of humanism, egalitarianism, and welfare socialism. Although Jefferson was more liberal than many of his day, he was nevertheless a rock solid natural law proponent. His values were characterized by traditional moral values, entrepreneurial capitalism, and natural rights equality. Stated more simply, Obama tends towards being a big government socialism while Jefferson was oriented toward being a limited government capitalism.

To Jefferson, the term capitalist meant entrepreneurs of small businesses including farms, repair shops, small manufacturers or craftsmen, merchants, and the like.

Today, the term capitalism certainly includes owners of small businesses; but, in practice, many modern politicians favor a big business view. Internationalists, like Obama and most federal politicians, give their allegiance to supporting national, international, and especially Wall Street business.

However, Jefferson, as did Adam Smith, opposed big business as a threat to independent “capitalists”. One reason was that they regarded big business as quasi-governmental entities, and so do many financial experts today. Like incorporated federal banks and Fannie Mae, for-profit corporations are government created entities.

The point is this: Obama, as representative of the Democratic Party, says he wants the more wealthy to pay for their welfare based benefits program for middle and lower income citizens. The obvious problem is high income citizens live off the productivity of lower income employees, taxpayers, and consumers. Early Americans like Thomas Jefferson were very critical of it. Why? As expressed by John Locke, property and productivity belonged to the worker. In other words, the means of production belonged to all Americans equal to their need and capacity.

Taxing for the limited functions of government was and is the necessary cost to secure property and life as well as to maintain the freedom to pursue as much happiness as possible. Taxing for redistribution from the haves to the have-nots was regarded as robbery just as the low wage living was regarded as slavery.

Returning health care and how to pay for it, we can restate the issue like this: the wealthy own businesses, investment and legal firms, as well as medical practices. The so-called poor do not. Therefore, the rich should pay more to provide adequate health care for the poor and middle-class.

Yet, one could argue that most businesses already pay their employees’ health care. They also pay into Medicare as well as into group health care. Employees pay a small portion of the health insurance costs. It is part of the overall wage.

So then, why should we make businesses pay their employees higher wages?

The only reason to pay employees higher wages would be for them to pay 100 percent of the cost of health care insurance. Who says it has to be a responsibility of employers and government. Are not individuals capable of purchasing their own group insurance?

The same is true of all other government-initiated social safety net programs including social security, welfare, and ESEA (now called No Child Left Behind), and S-CHIP. With the proper education, individuals and their local communities would be more capable of and efficient at providing their own social safety nets.

Without poor wage earners, all of those programs would not be needed and would be more difficult to justify.

Those social safety net programs were all good ideas, but all became means to enlarging federal powers over American lives. Except for Social Security, most of those programs never produced the results that were sold to American citizens. Corporations whose revenues are in the multi-millions and billions often get welfare subsidies. Are not the bank and manufacturer bailouts a form of welfare? After billions of taxpayer funding, the ESEA program still has not closed the educational gap between children of poor families and others; it still has resolved the huge school drop out problem; add it still has not made American children’s globally competitive in math and science. One would think that over 40 years or 3 generations Americans would have achieved this goal. Then there is S-CHIP (State Children Health Insurance Program) that never has been used strictly to help the children of poor families. Why? Because the agenda of liberal bureaucrats always has been to complete the goal of making the middle class welfare dependents or good socialists.

Democrats justify their health care reform based on the millions of Americans without adequate health care. Yet, Congressional Budget Office analysis of so-called Affordable Health Care for America Act (HR 3962) shows over 18 million will still be uninsured by 2019 under the bogus reform bill.

The fake reform will not even end the injustice perpetrated by the the government’s so-called safety net. After paying 20-40 years into the Medicare retirement age health care fund, the state often takes every possession of those who cash in on the supposed safety net. That seems more like a big brother scam and not a safety net.

Maybe, Bernie Madoff’s real crime was learning and practicing the art of his liberal big brother.

The answer to the health care problem is not the enlargement of government or government run health care. It is reforming the political economy. If as President Obama, Jim Wallis, and others claim, the rich can afford to pay more taxes for health care reform, they could afford to pay better wage rates so that all American could purchase health care they and their families want. The cure for making health care affordable (reducing costs and increasing earned income) would solve many other societal problems tied to America’s political economy.

“We Hold These Truths” Americans Have Wandered Out of History, Part III

by Rev. Nate Atwood

In the second installment of Rev. Atwood’s sermon on the biblical basis of our nation’s legal history, he focused on the definitive biblical aspects of the Declaration of Independence. Secular authors like Alan Dershowitz argue that its primary author, Thomas Jefferson, was a deist. This is the point at which we begin the third installment of Rev. Atwood’s sermon.

* * * * * * * * * * * *


Now some of you are thinking, “But Thomas Jefferson was a deist, not an evangelical Christian. How can we claim such firm Biblical footing for his document?” First of all, it’s important to note that Thomas Jefferson was not the sole author of the Declaration of Independence. In June of 1776 a committee of five people were tasked by the Continental Congress to write a Declaration. John Adams, the devout and deeply Biblical Christian, was the chairman of that committee. He tasked Jefferson with the work of writing as he recognized Jefferson’s literary talent. But it must be said that the work came out of Adams’ committee and under his oversight. It also must be said that while Jefferson was not an evangelical Christian, he was still deeply affected by the Biblical imprint of his time. Thus, in reflecting on the Declaration of Independence, he wrote, “We do not claim these rights under the charters of kings or legislators, but under the King of Kings.”

The truth of the matter is that liberty had been developing as a national idea for many years. Jefferson and Adams, as well as the whole of the Continental Congress, did not live or write in a vacuum. Franklin Cole, in a book entitled, They Preached Liberty, extensively studied the sermons preached from Colonial pulpits during the years leading into the Revolutionary War. His thesis was that all of the ideas found in the Declaration were first found in America’s pulpits. For example, in 1768, Reverend Daniel Shute of Hingham, Massachusetts, declared, “life, liberty and property are the gifts of the Creator.” (Sound familiar?) In 1770, in an election sermon Rev. Charles Turner insisted, “The Scriptures cannot be rightfully expounded without explaining them in a manner friendly to the cause of liberty.” In 1768 Rev. Richard Slater of Mansfield, Connecticut assured his listeners, “God never gives men up to be slaves till they lose their national virtue, and abandon themselves to slavery.”

Given this careful devotion to God in the writing of the Declaration of Independence, it is not surprising that when it was first read publicly on July 4, 1776, a bell was rung to call the people of Philadelphia together. That bell is the “Liberty Bell,” and you can still read on it the inscription placed on it for that day. . . . “Proclaim liberty unto all the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof.” In case you don’t recognize it, that’s a Bible verse Leviticus 25:10. In fact, this might well be called America’s verse. Yes, our forefathers knew it and built their lives upon this truth . . . it was God who gave us liberty. And because liberty came from God they entitled it “the holy cause of liberty.”

Furthermore, because liberty came from God and was therefore sacred, these signers of the Declaration of Independence were more than willing to die for their convictions. Adams and Jefferson survived the war without great loss. Other signers of the Declaration did not fare so well. Of those fifty-six men, five were captured by the British, tortured, and then executed. Twelve had their homes ransacked or burned. Two lost their sons serving in Revolutionary Army.
Another two had sons captured. Nine of the fifty-six fought and died in the war from wounds or the hardships of battle. Indeed, they did pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. Such were the sacrifices of the American Revolution. These were not wild-eyed, rabblerousing ruffians. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. They had security, but they valued liberty more. And they valued liberty, because they knew that liberty came from God and was therefore holy. Remember, these fifty-six men were the ones who added two more clearly Scriptural references to God to Jefferson’s version of the Declaration as it came out of Adam’s committee. The historical record is clear: they were motivated by their belief in God (God as He is defined by Scripture). No wonder they were willing to put their lives on the line. . . . After all, during the war one of the favorite slogans of the Americans was “No King but Jesus!”

In 1831, in Albany, New York the French author Alexis de Tocqueville recorded yet another July 4th celebration. Found in his book Democracy in America, in which this celebrated author repeatedly noted the unbreakable connection between American democracy and American faith in God, de Tocqueville recorded that on this particular July 4th he was awakened by the firing of guns in a federal salute and the ringing of all church bells. He came out to see what was going on
and was invited to join in a great parade, devoid of “any real military splendor” but marked by people from all walks of life, floats representing every conceivable occupation, and “three or four old soldiers, who fought with Washington, whom the city preserves like precious relics, and whom all the citizens honor.” They “carried with great pomp a tattered old American flag, bullet torn, which came down from the war of independence.”

De Tocqueville expected the parade to end in some fine government building but was surprised to see it ended, instead, in a Methodist church where the entire Declaration of Independence was read with “much warmth and dignity.” He recalled that the reading was preceded by “a prayer made by a Protestant minister . . . I recall this fact,” he said, “because it is characteristic of this country, where they never do anything without the assistance of religion.”

Let’s remember the lesson of history . . . religion can survive in the absence of freedom. But freedom without religion is tenuous at best and can even be dangerous. George Washington reminded the country of this truth in his farewell address, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” So how might you celebrate the 4th of July? I think the record of history I just went through should give you some ideas. I just hope you will celebrate it. I also hope that you will, as families worshipping together. And perhaps you’ll experience a moment such as I knew and which I recorded in my prayer journal….

See Part II and Part I.