Republicanism Essay, Research Paper
Notes on the State of Virginia is an extensive work undertook by Thomas Jefferson. In this tome, Jefferson discussed his state of Virginia proudly and in great detail. The book was written in the twenty-three chapters or responses to queries from a Frenchman concerning the state of Virginia. From his writing, it is clear that Thomas Jefferson was first and foremost a Virginian. His words were a factual display of what the state, its people, and its landscape meant to him.
The term republicanism is of very vague application in every language. Jefferson proclaimed self-evident truths in that all men are created equal ; that they possess unalienable rights of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness ; that government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed and can be overthrown if it becomes destructive of these ends . In linking these doctrines of individual liberty and popular sovereignty with independence, Jefferson established revolutionary republicanism as a defining value of the new nation.
Under the query relative to the several charters of the State and its present form of government, Jefferson presents a compact statistical view of the colony from the first settlement under the grant of Queen Elizabeth in 1584 down to the time at which he writes, gives an outline of the existing constitution, and enumerates what he considers its capital defects.
A brief notice of these defects and the remedies, which he proposed will explain more fully the opinions of Jefferson on the constitution of Virginia. Inserted in Appendix II is a new constitution prepared by himself in 1783, when it was expected the Assembly of Virginia would call a convention for remodeling the old one. Among the defects of the existing establishment he enumerates:
+ The want of universal suffrage — or rather, such an extension of the elective franchise as would give a voice in the government to all those who pay and fight for its support . (p.124)
+ Inequality of representation. Jefferson detects and exposes the evil in a strong light, by a tabular statement of the relative number of electors and representatives in each county, and calls the attention of his countrymen to the subject in an impressive manner. According to his statement, the county of Warwick, with only one hundred fighting men, has an equal representation with the county of Loudon, which has 1746. So that every man in Warwick has as much influence in the government as 17 men in Loudon. (p.124) Taking the State at large, 19,000 men in one part were enabled to give law to upwards of 30,000 in the remaining part.
+ The Senate is necessarily too homogeneous with the House of Delegates. Being chosen by the same electors, at the same time, and out of the same subjects, the choice falls of course on the same description of men, defeating thereby the great purpose of establishing different houses of legislation, which is to introduce the influence of different interests or different principles.
+ The want of a sufficient barrier between the legislative, judiciary, and executive powers of the government. The concentration of these in the same hands constituted, in his opinion, precisely the definition of despotic government . (p. 126)
+ Finally, Jefferson argued that the constitution itself was a mere legislative ordinance, enacted at a critical time for a temporary purpose, not superior to the ordinary legislature, but alterable by it, and that the Assembly possessing the right, as they did, of determining a quorum of their own body, might convert the government into an absolute despotism at any moment by consolidating its powers and placing them in the hands of a single individual. He concludes his remarks upon the constitution by a solemn appeal to the people for their speedy interposition:
“Our situation is indeed perilous, and I hope my countrymen will be sensible of it, and will apply, at a proper season, the proper remedy; which is a convention to fix the constitution, to amend its defects, to bind up the several branches of government by certain laws, which, when they transgress, their acts shall become nullities; to render unnecessary an appeal to the people, or in other words, a rebellion, on every infraction of their rights, on the peril that their acquiescence shall be construed into an intention to surrender those rights.” (p. 135-136)
Under the enquiry concerning The Administration Of Justice And Description Of The Laws, Jefferson presents a view of the judicial system of Virginia, with a description of the laws. He writes that the object of the revisal is to, diffuse knowledge more generally through the mass of people. This bill proposes to lay off every county into small districts of five or six miles square, called hundreds, and in each of them to establish a school for teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic. The tutor to be supported by the hundred, and every person in it entitled to send their children three years gratis, and as much longer as they please, paying for it .(p. 152) In commenting upon the provisions recommended in the revised code for the future disposition of the blacks, he insists upon colonization to a distant country as the only safe and practicable mode of ultimate redemption. Jefferson urges strong reasons of policy as well as necessity against their being retained in the State and incorporated among the race of whites. “Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions which nature has made; and many other circumstances, will divide us into parties, and produce convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race.”(p.145)
The unhappy influence of slavery upon the manners and morals of the people is forcibly portrayed in the enquiry of The Particular Customs And Manners That May Happen To Be Received In That State. Jefferson writes “The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other. Our children see this and learn to imitate it, for man is an imitative animal. This quality is the germ of all education in him. From his cradle to his grave he is learning to do what he sees others do. If a parent could find no motive either in his philanthropy or his self-love, for restraining the intemperance of passion towards his slave, it should always be a sufficient one that his child is present. But generally it is not sufficient. The parent storms, the child looks on, catches the lineaments of wrath, puts on the same airs in the circle of smaller slaves, gives a loose to his worst passions, and thus nursed, educated, and daily exercised in tyranny, cannot but be stamped by it with odious peculiarities. The man must be a prodigy who can retain his manners and morals undepraved by such circumstances. And with what execration should the statesman be loaded, who, permitting one half the citizens thus to trample on the rights of the other, transforms those into despots, and these into enemies, destroys the morals of the one part, and the amor patriae of the other. For if a slave can have a country in this world, it must be any other in preference to that in which he is born to live and labor for another: in which he must lock up the faculties of his nature, contribute as far as depends on his individual endeavors to the evanishment of the human race, or entail his own miserable condition on the endless generations proceeding from him.” (p. 168-169)
The remainder of Jefferson s notes is occupied with useful details and earned dissertations under the following heads of enquiry:
+ The colleges, public establishments, and mode of architecture in Virginia.
+ The measures taken with regard to the estates and possessions of Tories during the war.
+ The different religions received into the State.
+ The particular manners and customs of the people.
+ The present state of manufactures, commerce, and agriculture.
+ The usual commodities of export and import.
+ The weights, measure, and currency in hard money, with the rates of exchange with Europe.
+ The public income and expenses.
+ The histories of the State, the memorials published under its name while a colony, and a chronological catalogue of its State papers since the commencement of the revolution.
Perhaps the most celebrated portion of the whole work is that which contains the opinions of Jefferson on the subject of Free Inquiry in matters of religion. “Reason and free enquiry are the only effectual agents against error. Give a loose to them, they will support the true religion, by bringing every false one to their tribunal, to the test of their investigation. They are the natural enemies of error, and of error only. Had not the Roman government permitted free enquiry, Christianity could never have been introduced. Had not free enquiry been indulged at the era of the reformation, the corruptions of Christianity could not have been purged away. If it be restrained now, the present corruptions will be protected and new ones encouraged. Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now. It is error, alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself. Difference of opinion is advantageous in religion. The several sects perform the office of a Censor morum over each other.” (p. 165-166)