Saturday, September 24, 2016

Was Thomas Jefferson Founder of the Democratic Party?

So many Democrats believe that Thomas Jefferson was the founder of their political party. Is this true? I would say it is not even close to being the truth. In fact, I would say that Jefferson was closer aligned with the present day Republican Party than the Democratic Party. Jefferson was the antithesis of the present day Democratic Party meaning Federalists such as George Washington, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton would be better guesstimates of the founder of the Democratic Party. However, in actuality, I would say that Jefferson was the leader of a party that does not resemble anything we are familiar with today (same for Washington, Adams, and Hamilton).

The only thing that Jefferson did that was a Democratic Party strategy was expanding the power of the executive branch while in office. But even Republicans such as George Bush are guilty of this. Probably the biggest power grab by Jefferson was when he got Congress to pass a trade embargo. No goods or services could leave or enter the country – that is an immense amount of power. All that being said, this was done at a time when America was on the brink of war of Britain (and to lesser extent France). Since this time the Supreme Court has issued the federal government increased powers in times of war over the next two centuries. So Jefferson’s power grab may not have been that big a deal since it was used to avoid war (although Jefferson was said to have wanted to go to war against Britain – not a Democratic Party strategy). Some point to Jefferson’s point of view on the separation of Church and State as being a democratic principal. I disagree completely, this is a small governance point of view. Besides, all presidents have followed the philosophy of separation of church and state while in office. Others point to Jefferson’s distain for a national bank paralleling Democrats distain for Wall Street. However, as president, Jefferson did nothing to reform or destroy the bank of the United States created just a few years early under George Washington.

Jefferson did so many things that are Republican in nature: He paid down the national debt and decreased taxes; He tried, but failed to grow the army and navy; He pushed for a smaller central government with more power going to the states; He said “laziness is a sin” – hence, it is doubtful that he would be a proponent of many modern welfare schemes developed by democrats; He wanted to amend the constitution to place term limits on the presidency. Of course the only person to violate the two term tradition was FDR – a democrat; Jefferson fought Muslim pirates in the Mediterranean Sea. He understood the aggressive attitude Muslims held towards Christians and that action was the only way to stop their violence towards American citizens; And Jefferson was supported mostly by Southern farmers. Also, under Jefferson’s watch his grandchildren competed against each other for prizes and awards (there were winners and losers, not the democratic philosophy where everyone gets an award and is a winner).

Due to the times, Jefferson did many things that are illegal and or taboo today. Jefferson owned slaves, but was much advanced in his thinking for emancipation of slaves for a Southerner. Jefferson firmly believed that free blacks could not live amongst whites and felt they should be deported to Africa. Jefferson impregnated one of his slaves, Sally Hemmings, several times including when she was just 15. Jefferson was also a firm believer in moving Indian tribes west of the Mississippi and freeing American colonies and territories of Indian inhabitants.

Jefferson also had a personal nature of commonsense and civility. Commonsense and civility are no longer demonstrated in American politics regardless of Party. Jefferson had many political foes especially George Washington, John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton. Yet, his home had paintings and statues of these men. Jefferson not only respected his adversaries but he understood that they were doing what they thought was best for the country so he admired them. Can you see Obama or Pelosi having a bust of George W. Bush in their homes (or vice versa)? In fact, Jefferson treated everyone with respect and civility. He did not get mad or argue with others. He debated people respectfully and always filled his dining room with people who had opposing views. Jefferson is the only administration to perform commonsense measures to eliminate formal parties at the White House and instead held casual dress meetings.

Like many founding fathers, Jefferson left office in more debt than when he entered office. That would never happen today.

No modern president (or political party) has ever been able to pull off a bigger coup than Jefferson with the Louisiana Purchase. The purchase of the territory from the French for just 3 cents an acre more than doubled the size of the United States and it eliminated the threat of Napoleon and the French in the new world. The savvy Jefferson understood that France needed money to fight Britain in the Napoleonic Wars and acted quickly to get the deal done.

Alexander Hamilton created the first Bank of the United States and believed strongly in maintaining a national debt and high taxes for citizens. He believed in a strong federal government and even led troops to put down the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania (so much for freedom of speech). These are big Democratic Party principals today. For these reasons, I would put Hamilton as the head of the Democratic Party before Jefferson.

How many Democrats or Republicans can claim to have had anything near the truly successful legacy of Thomas Jefferson: Author of the Declaration of Independence; foreign minister to France during the French revolution; two term president with its highlight being the Louisiana Purchase; and creator of the University of Virginia? These are huge accomplishments that live on centuries after his death.

No comments:

Post a Comment