Jefferson Davis, one of America's greatest statesmen, said that a question settled by violence would inevitably arise again, though at a different time and in a different form.
And so it has. Lovers and sycophants of the great empire on the Potomac must be feeling uneasy that at least some Americans are again questioning the efficacy of a gargantuan central government.
Perhaps the recent shift of control of Congress to the Democrats has made them nervous, though God knows there are precious few Jeffersonian Democrats in the modern Democratic Party.
And what, you might well ask, is a Jeffersonian Democrat? He's a person who hasn't forgotten that the sovereign states created the federal government, not the reverse, as some today seem to assume. He believes that what the Constitution created was a republic of sovereign states, and that the carefully limited powers assigned to the federal government were all the powers it had, in peace or in war. He believes the Constitution is a binding contract, not a rubbery document that can mean anything a judge or a politician says it means. He believes in a system of checks and balances. In short, he believes in the Declaration of Independence.
That document, you might recall, says that the only purpose of government is to protect rights already granted by God, and that when a government fails to protect those rights and begins to abuse them, the people have the right to alter or overthrow it. "Sounds communistic to me," grumbles old Jack Jingoist. "That guy Jefferson must have been some kind of a pinko."
Why else would Lord Acton, the great British philosopher of liberty, have written to Robert E. Lee, America's greatest soldier, that, "I grieve more for what was lost at Appomattox than I rejoice at what was gained at Waterloo." Lord Acton saw clearly what many American professors of history do not — that the defeat of the South was the end of America's experiment in liberty and self-government and a conscious choice to emulate the central governments of Europe.
H.L. Mencken, the Baltimore journalist, in his usually blunt way said the only thing wrong with Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was that it was the South, not the North, that was fighting for government "of the people, by the people and for the people."
Davis had said, "I love the Union and the Constitution, but I would rather leave the Union with the Constitution than remain in the Union without it."
On another occasion, he said: "We feel our cause is just and holy; we protest solemnly in the face of mankind that we desire peace at any sacrifice save that of our honor and independence. We ask no conquest, no aggrandizement, no concession of any kind from the states with which we were lately confederated; all we ask is to be let alone; that those who never held power over us shall not now attempt our subjugation by arms."
A newspaper in New Hampshire said: "The Southern Confederacy will not employ our ships or buy our goods. What is our shipping without it? We must not let the South go."
So to add to the definition of Jeffersonian Democrats, they were a majority of the Founding Fathers, a majority who fought the American Revolution, a majority who wrote the Constitution, and a majority who fought for Southern independence. No wonder the precious few still extant make big-government lovers so nervous.
December 13, 2006
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.
© 2006 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.