White House Race A Reminder To Heed Jefferson's Warnings

As intelligent Americans watch this year's White House race unfold, they are filled with trepidation and horror. The causes of these emotions are twofold. First, they see powerful politicians who are not satisfied with the immense power they already hold, seeking to use the right to live in the White House to gain yet more influence over the country's policies and the country's people. Second, they see voters, who have forgotten their pledges of allegiance to an indivisible nation, spreading hatred disguised as politics, which is creating a division greater than any the United States has known since the Civil War. They see this race to the White House as the first sign of the country's inward collapse and a realization of Thomas Jefferson's greatest fears.

Prior to the ratification of the U.S. Constitution and the beginning of Washington's presidency, Thomas Jefferson had already expressed his fears for the future of the United States in his Notes on Virginia.

"Mankind soon learn to make interested uses of every right and power which they possess, or may assume. The public money and public liberty...will soon be discovered to be sources of wealth and dominion to those who hold them… They should look forward to a time, and that not a distant one, when a corruption in this, as in the country from which we derive our origin, will have seized the heads of government, and be spread by them through the body of the people; when they will purchase the voices of the people, and make them pay the price...The time to guard against corruption and tyranny, is before they shall have gotten hold of us. It is better to keep the wolf out of the fold, than to trust to drawing his teeth and talons after he shall have entered."
In reading these words, written more than 200 years ago, men and women are shaken by the foresight Jefferson had in writing them. His warning rings more true now than ever before as rampant corruption exists at every level of American politics, from local elections to the race to White House, and as our leaders make representation of their constituencies about gaining wealth and power, and furthering their own agendas instead of about working to fulfill the needs and desires of those who elected them.

In 1797, at which time the White House was still under construction and Washington, D.C., had not yet hosted a session of Congress, Jefferson wrote a letter to his friend Filippo Mazzei, an Italian physician, in which he expressed additional concerns about politics in the United States.

"Instead of that noble love of liberty, and that republican government, which carried us triumphantly thro the dangers of the war, an Anglo-Monarchio-Aristocratic party has arisen. Their avowed object is to impose on us the substance, as they have already given us the form, of the British government...We have against us the Executive Power, the Judiciary Power, all the officers of government, all who are seeking offices, all timid men who prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty...the speculators, persons interested in the bank and the public funds. Establishments invented with views of corruption."
According to an interpretation of the quote by Liberty Fund, Inc., a privately held educational foundation, the language Jefferson used in the letter offended many, including Washington. The reception Jefferson's words received in political circles can easily be imagined. One critique mentioned in the interpretation "...those who worked for the government had become mere 'place-seekers' who were more interested in their jobs than serving the people" sounds especially harsh, and, with the candidates in this year's White House race, especially timely.

Three years later, in September of 1800, during Jefferson's own reluctant bid for the White House, he wrote in a letter to Benjamin Rush, a fellow Founding Father, "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." The importance of this statement, and its impact on the decisions he made while in the White House, is obvious by its inclusion among the inscriptions on the Jefferson Memorial.

Jefferson Memorial in snow
[Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images]During Jefferson's time in the White House, he worked to continue what he called the "Revolution of 1800." This political revolution was a reaction to Federalist policies put in place by former Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, and continued by Jefferson's White House predecessor, John Adams. The Federalists originated as a group of businessmen and bankers, and they placed little value on the opinions and abilities of the common man.

Meanwhile, Jefferson and his allies had great respect for the average American, and Jefferson was determined to use his time in the White House to return power to the individual. The correlation between the power wielded by big business and finance prior to Jefferson's White House win and the power wielded today is great, and that correlation should inspire caution during this year's race to the White House.

Jefferson and Hamilton's many disagreements, as listed by Palomar College, include many topics that continue to be the sources of disagreements in today's White House race, along with many reminders of political opinions of which Americans should still be wary. For example, Hamilton believed the body politic should be ruled by the rich and well-born, while Jefferson wanted no man to be given special privilege in American politics. In looking at today's White House race, and the meteoric and inexplicable rise of Donald Trump, a man born with both money and privilege, it is easy to understand Jefferson's stern opposition to Hamilton's viewpoint.

Jefferson Washington Hamilton circa 1795
[Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images]Another major point of contention between the two statesmen was the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. As the author of the Declaration of Independence and a passionate defender of liberty, Jefferson had a deep-seated desire to ensure the freedoms the country had fought too hard to secure remained firmly in place. Jefferson felt a strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution would ensure those freedoms could not be limited by a government he already suspected of moving toward tyranny.

During his time in the White House, he increased defense spending while reducing national debt and taxes. In the midst of these accomplishments, he managed to arrange the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France, allowing for the single greatest territory expansion in U.S. history. While expanding U.S. territory will not be the goal of the next White House occupant, Jefferson's accomplishments while in the White House should serve as a guide to all of those hoping to follow in his footsteps by occupying the White House.

Jefferson's accomplishments during his White House days were not only the result of a determination to ensure the power remained in the hands of the people, but also an understanding of both domestic and international matters. During Jefferson's years in the White House, Europe was embroiled in the Napoleonic Wars, and Jefferson used his knowledge of Napoleon's situation to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase. In today's global society, the understanding of matters both in and outside of the nation's borders is even more important for the man or woman who occupies the White House than it was in Jefferson's time.

As the race for the White House continues and the races for all 435 seats in the House of Representatives begin in earnest, the fear of educated Americans is that Jefferson's words and the presidential standard he set while in the White House will be ignored by the majority of the electorate. By ignoring warnings issued by one of the greatest minds to ever occupy the White House, today's Americans are risking their futures, the futures of their children, and the future of their great country. In this race for the White House, Americans would be wise to learn from the past so as to ensure the protection of freedoms for future generations.

[Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images]