Was it a fair

October 24, 2003


Was it a fair paraphrase?

Source for the Jefferson paraphrase: "A free people in arms, fighting in defense of their liberty, are superior to any army in Europe."

Some of the students asked about this yesterday, and last night when I could not sleep (got to bed at 1:30 or so) I went and finally dug it up. It was not in a Jefferson letter, which is why I could not find it earlier. Instead it appears that I had conflated sections of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, Jefferson's First and Eighth Annual Messages, and the letters. The relevant bits are:

"That a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural and safe defence of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided , as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power." VA Declaration of Rights, June 12, 1776, Article 13.

"No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms [within his own lands]" - Draft Constitution for Virginia, June 1776.

After explaining why he is cutting the standing army, "For defence against invasion [the regular army] is as nothing; nor is it conceived needful or safe that a standing army should be kept up in time of peace for that purpose. Uncertain as we must ever be of the particular point in our circumference where an enemy may choose to invade us, the only force which can be ready at every point and competent to oppose them, is the body of neighboring citizens as formed into a militia. On these, collected from the parts most convenient, in numbers proportioned to the invading foe, it is best to rely, not only to meet the first attack, but if it threatens to be permanent, to maintain the defence until regulars may be engaged to relieve them." Jefferson, First Annual Message, Dec 8, 1801.

"Considering the extraordinary character of the times in which we live, our attention should unremittingly be fixed on the safety of our country. For a people who are free, and who mean to remain so, a well-organized and armed militia is their best security. It is, therefore, incumbent on us, at every meeting, to revise the condition of the militia, and to ask ourselves if it is prepared to repel a powerful enemy at every point of our territories exposed to invasion. Some of the States have paid a laudable attention to this object; but every degree of neglect is to be found among others." 8th Annual Message, Nov 8, 1808.

"Our present enemy will have the sea to herself, while we shall be equally predominant on land, and shall strip her of all her possessions on this continent. ... The partisans of England here have endeavored much to goad us into the folly of choosing the ocean instead of the land, for the theatre of war. That would be to meet their strength with our weakness, instead of their weakness with our strength. ... Some have apprehended that we shall be overwhelmed by the new improvements of war, which have not yet reached us. But the British possess them very imperfectly, ... We have nothing to fear from their armies." TJ to Thaddeus Kosciusko, June 28, 1812

"We shall indeed survive the conflict. Breeders enough will remain to carry on population. We shall retain or country, and rapid advances in the art of war will soon enable us to beat our enemy, and probably drive him from the continent. We have men enough, and I am in hopes the present session of Congress will provide the means of commanding their services. ... But although we feel, we hsall not flinch. We must consider now, as in the revolutionary war, that although the evils of resistance are great, those of submission would be greater." TJ to William Short, Nov 28, 1814

You decide

Posted by Red Ted at October 24, 2003 09:54 AM | TrackBack