Thomas Jefferson on surveillance, opinions and standing armies

Thomas Jefferson on surveillance, opinions and standing armies

“There are rights which it is useless to surrender to the government and which governments have yet always been found to invade. These are the rights of thinking and publishing our thoughts by speaking or writing; the right of free commerce; the right of personal freedom. There are instruments for administering the government so peculiarly trustworthy that we should never leave the legislature at liberty to change them. The new Constitution has secured these in the executive and legislative department, but not in the judiciary. It should have established trials by the people themselves, that is to say, by jury. There are instruments so dangerous to the rights of the nation and which place them so totally at the mercy of their governors that those governors, whether legislative or executive, should be restrained from keeping such instruments on foot but in well-defined cases. Such an instrument is a standing army.”

~Letter to David Humphreys (1789)

“Freedom of religion; freedom of the press; freedom of person under the protection of the habeas corpus; and trial by juries impartially selected, I deem [among] the essential principles of our government, and consequently [among] those which ought to shape its administration.” ~1st Inaugural Address (1801)

“One of the amendments to the Constitution… expressly declares that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,’ thereby guarding in the same sentence and under the same words, the freedom of religion, of speech, and of the press; insomuch that whatever violates either throws down the sanctuary which covers the others.”

~Draft Kentucky Resolutions (1798)

“A right of free correspondence between citizen and citizen on their joint interests, whether public or private and under whatsoever laws these interests arise (to wit: of the State, of Congress, of France, Spain, or Turkey), is a natural right; it is not the gift of any municipal law, either of England, or Virginia, or of Congress, but in common with all other natural rights, it is one of the objects for the protection of which society is formed and municipal laws established.” ~Letter to James Monroe (1797).

“Did we ever expect to see the day, when, breathing nothing but sentiments of love to our country and its freedom and happiness, our correspondence must be as secret as if we were hatching its destruction!” ~Letter to Elbridge Gerry (1799)

“The attempt which has been made to restrain the liberty of our citizens meeting together, interchanging sentiments on what subjects they please and stating their sentiments in the public papers, has come upon us a full century earlier than I expected.”

~Letter to William Branch Giles, 1794.

“No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.”

~Letter to New London Methodists (1809)

“Subject opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men, governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons. And why subject it to coercion? To produce uniformity? But is uniformity of opinion desirable? No more than of face and stature.”

~Notes on Virginia (1782)

“None but an armed nation can dispense with a standing army. To keep ours armed and disciplined is therefore at all times important.” ~Written comment (1803)

“The supremacy of the civil over the military authority I deem [one of] the essential principles of our Government, and consequently [one of] those which ought to shape its administration.” ~1st Inaugural (1801)

“Standing armies [are] inconsistent with [a people’s] freedom and subversive of their quiet.” ~Reply to Lord North’s Proposition (1775)

“Bonaparte… transferred the destinies of the republic from the civil to the military arm. Some will use this as a lesson against the practicability of republican government. I read it as a lesson against the danger of standing armies.” ~Letter to Samuel Adams (1800)

“The Greeks and Romans had no standing armies, yet they defended themselves. The Greeks by their laws, and the Romans by the spirit of their people, took care to put into the hands of their rulers no such engine of oppression as a standing army. Their system was to make every man a soldier and oblige him to repair to the standard of his country whenever that was reared. This made them invincible; and the same remedy will make us so.”

~Letter to Thomas Cooper (1814).

“Our duty is… to act upon things as they are and to make a reasonable provision for whatever they may be. Were armies to be raised whenever a speck of war is visible in our horizon, we never should have been without them. Our resources would have been exhausted on dangers which have never happened instead of being reserved for what is really to take place.”

~6th Annual Message (1806)

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