Saturday, July 22, 2006

Grassroots Founders, on voting: Thomas Jefferson (concluded)

Did Jefferson ever change his mind? He grew extremely conflicted over slavery towards the end of his life, and the Missouri Compromise rattled him. It was the House, the popular branch of Congress, that approved an amendment that would have, if it had survived, eventually eliminated slavery from Missouri. One of Jefferson’s pet ideas for wiping out slavery was to ‘diffuse’ it throughout the nation (he became very conflicted and confused about the subject). He also became somewhat disillusioned about the common people in the new country. They were not all becoming Unitarians, as he had predicted, among other things. Did he still trust the common mass of citizens? Here Jefferson writes on voting in 1824, two years before his death.

" The basis of our [state] Constitution is in opposition to the principle of equal political rights [if it refuses] to all but freeholders any participation in the natural right of self-government... However nature may by mental or physical disqualifications have marked infants and the weaker sex for the protection rather than the direction of government, yet among the men who either pay or fight for their country, no line of right can be drawn. The exclusion of a majority of our freemen from the right of representation is merely arbitrary, and an usurpation of the minority over the majority. "
Thomas Jefferson to John Hampden Pleasants, 1824

Too bad Jefferson stayed a male chauvinist all his life. But this series is about Grassroots Founders (Progressive Founders is another issue) and we have solved the problem of women’s suffrage, but not that of low voter turnout. So don’t hold the weak women comment against him, at least for now.

Finally, there are Jefferson’s Notes for a Constitution. No one seems to know what these notes were for. I found only one discussion of them, and that consisted of the comment that their purpose was ‘mysterious.’ Jefferson wrote a draft constitution for Virginia in 1776, and he offered suggestions based on them to the committee in charge of writing it. But these seem to be private notes for himself. If anyone knows what the story is on the Notes for Constitution, please contact the blog.

" Every male citizen of the commonwealth liable to taxes or to militia duty in any county, shall have a right to vote for representatives for that county to the legislature "
Jefferson: Notes for a Constitution, 1794

So, this concludes Grassroots Jefferson on voting, and I think for his time, he was pretty grassroots on the topic. Certainly very consistent, for Jefferson, who was sometimes not very. Definitely wanted all citizens to vote, regardless of social class or wealth. He presented several arguments for it: protection against corruption, human rights, and social cohesion and justice. Next up is the Grassroots Alexander Hamilton on voting. Believe it or Not.

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