The American Heresy

The American Heresy

The American Heresy

The American Heresy

Excerpt

"WE HOLD these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

The two marks of the Jeffersonian state were freedom and equality. Let us examine the meaning of these marks.

Freedom, in Jefferson's mouth, was a very negative thing, even as the functions of government were, to his mind, very negative. Freedom meant simply "absence of interference." Man should be interfered with as little as possible by the laws. The laws had the right to interfere with liberty only in order to increase liberty -- to interfere with such conduct as would, if permitted, violate the liberty of others.

By equality, on the other hand, he meant something much larger than that each man should have a vote. Equality was, in Jefferson's eyes, rather social than political. He demanded that no prestige of rank should prevent any one citizen from freely speaking his mind to any other citizen. And this virtue of outspokenness is perhaps, even to-day, the largest special virtue of the Americans. It has survived the ruin of the Jeffersonian state.

If a state was to remain free and equal, Jefferson thought that it must be agricultural and property-owning. It must be agricultural because the complexity of factory organization made it necessary that men should be divided into masters and servants. Only in an agricultural society could property be so distributed that all men might possess a little and therefore only in such a society could equality be preserved. An agricultural society also was the only free society. For such a society, being economically self-sufficient, could live its own life, regardless of the rest of the world. An industrial . . .

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