by Jon Sanders
Research Editor and Senior Fellow, Regulatory Studies, John Locke Foundation
From the Jefferson speech for today:
we [must] prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretense of taking care of them.
Here is the quote in its original context, in an 1802 letter to Thomas Cooper Washington (meaning, for a full appreciation of its present-day irony, that it was written while Jefferson was president):
The path we have to pursue is so quiet that we have nothing scarcely to propose to our Legislature. A noiseless course, not meddling with the affairs of others, unattractive of notice, is a mark that society is going on in happiness. If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretence of taking care of them, they must become happy.
May we have a quiet leadership, withholding the noise of meddling through excessive legislation and regulation, and trying not to waste the fruit of their good hard work “for their own good.”
The letter also has Jefferson worried for the course of France, heading to “an unlimited despotism” in part because of the complete silence of the media, “the only tocsin of a nation”:
It delights me to find that there are persons who still think that all is not lost in France: that their retrogradation from a limited to an unlimited despotism, is but to give themselves a new impulse. But I see not how or when. The press, the only tocsin of a nation, is compleatly silenced there, and all means of a general effort taken away.
The applicability of that entire passage to today’s United States is too deplorably obvious — too self-evident — to require fleshing out.