Monday, November 15, 2010

Help! It's The Right-Wing Thomas Jefferson Zombie!

One rhetorical tool that's always annoyed me has been the quotation of "founding fathers".  It seems that, these days, when anyone wants to make a political point, they pick up a book of quotations, find a quote from a founding father that remotely connects to the point they're trying to make, and let it fly.

That way, when someone argues against the point, they look unpatriotic.  After all, who can argue with a founding father?

Well, most people can.  The fact is, the founding fathers often disagreed with one another.  And often said things that, in retrosepect, seem downright wrongheaded.

The founding fathers were only human.  Most of them realized it.  Their genius was not in their individual quotations.  It is the fact that they built consensus around a system of government that, for the most part, allowed differences among the people to be settled without resorting to shooting one another.  Or by dictators enforcing peace by repressing the people.  It really is a remarkable thing.

So, why did I digress into this?

Well, my father's sent me a bunch of quotes from Thomas Jefferson.  It turns out he was quite a right-wing posterchild.

Until you check and see if Thomas Jefferson actually said them.  I've taken the liberty (ahem) of using posts from the Thomas Jefferson Library to check our facts.  I figure that real historians will be pretty impartial on whether a quote is real, or from a Right-Wing Thomas Jefferson Zombie.

Ready?  Away we go...

A founding father's wisdom,  still appropriate today.................especially today!

How did Jefferson know?
John F. Kennedy held a dinner in the white House for a group of the brightest minds in the nation at that time. He made this statement: "This is perhaps the assembly of the most intelligence ever to gather at one time in the White House with the exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."
This was quoted correctly.
Especially read the last quote from 1802.
Spoiler:  He said it in 1937.  After calling for another heapin' helpin' of brains.

When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become as corrupt as Europe .
Thomas Jefferson
The full quote is, "I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries; as long as they are chiefly agricultural; and this will be as long as there shall be vacant lands in any part of America. When they get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, they will become corrupt as in Europe."

So, is our zombie friend suggesting we give up high technology, and live on the land?  If so, will he give up on forwarding viral email?

The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.
Thomas Jefferson
The first time this quote was attributed to Thomas Jefferson was in 1986.  Well after his zombiefication.
It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.
Thomas Jefferson
He actually said this, in a letter to Destutt de Tracy.  It does make sense.  I wish people from both sides of the aisle would follow it.  But, still, I wonder whether Jefferson would want quotes from his personal letters treated as divine scripture.

I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.
Thomas Jefferson
The Jefferson-Zombie has changed the words a little bit, from a letter to Thomas Cooper.   But even Thomas Jefferson scholars had trouble finding it.  This was not a major publication.
My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.
Thomas Jefferson
0% Thomas Jefferson.  100% Jefferson-Zombie.
No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.
Thomas Jefferson
This was in Jefferson's first draft of the Virginia constitution.  There were two other drafts.  None of 'em made it in.  Such is the nature of democracy.  We debate ideas - we don't deify them.
The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.
Thomas Jefferson
Zombie-Jefferson strikes again - the real Thomas Jefferson never said it.

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.
Thomas Jefferson
A famous quote.  Not meant as a governing principle though.  Obviously.
To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.
Thomas Jefferson
Uh, oh.  There's some bad juju here.  He used some similar wording in the "Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom".  In which it was stated that the government could not compel it's citizens to donate to a church, or ministry.  So, a statement for the separation of church and state is now a statement that no one should give tax money to things they don't like?  Sorry - he never said that.  And I can't imagine how such a government would function.
Thomas  Jefferson said in 1802:
'I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property - until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.'
Perhaps, they meant "Zombie-Jefferson was first quoted in 1937 as saying"?  Come on folks, the concepts of inflation and deflation didn't exist in Jefferson's time.
I'll do my part!
I did mine.   I'd like to think that I'm respecting the beliefs of the founding fathers.  At least, more than the folks who make up self-serving quotes under their name.