I’ve recently read Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham. I definitely recommend it if you have the wrist strength or the sense to buy it for your reader. But it’s causing me to ask, What Would Jefferson Do?, in light of current political discourse. It’s not a trivial question: Despite the ringing moral clarity of Enlightenment principles in the Declaration, Jefferson was very much a pragmatic politician. But why not give it a think?
Immigration: No problem. TJ was adamantly opposed to the Jay Treaty but didn’t have an issue with the immigration component, which allowed, in perpetuity, for the native Americans in the US and Canada to move back and forth across the border at will for any reason from visiting family to permanent residence. He bought Louisiana which was crawling with natives and had a lot of Europeans living there as well, they all presumably immigrated automatically when their land became part of the US. Most of the illegal immigrants the Republicans are so worried about are native Americans that happen to have formerly lived in countries that were colonized by the Spanish. If TJ didn’t have an issue with natives from British or French colonies, I don’t imagine he would suddenly have issues with those from Spanish colonies.
The Budget: Raise taxes. If “we the people” decided to spend the money, then “we the people” will need to cough up the coin to cover the bills. Our trading partners (France, the Netherlands, and GB in those days) need to be confident that we will honor our debts. Our allies and potential antagonists need to know that, if push comes to shove, we can afford the hard tack and powder for our troops. TJ was never hesitant to spend money, his estate had to be liquidated to pay his bills, largely because he seemed to have a fondness for buying land. And as president, of course, he bought Louisiana, with money borrowed from Dutch bankers. He also had a terrorist threat to deal with from the Barbary pirates and definitely was in favor of raising funds to pay for a navy.
Abortion: Irritation. Although a steadfast advocate of the rights of Catholics and followers of other religions to be full participants in American life, he was equally steadfast that their religions didn’t control the government and its laws. On a personal basis, I’m sure that if someone among his friends and family had gotten into a problem of this nature that he would have helped in any way he could but would have insisted that it all be handled privately and quietly. Besides, TJ wasn’t a Christian and the absolute protection for a foetus that some Christians currently hold dear wasn’t something that anyone held in Jefferson’s day.
Gay Marriage: Surprise. The very idea of same-sex marriage would have been foreign to anyone at the close of the eighteenth century, and there is probably no reason to think that the polity would have readily accepted it. Jefferson, on the other hand, probably could have easily come to terms with this.
Jefferson fought long and hard against those Federalists who wanted to return to a monarchy, so he wouldn’t approve of my ambition, but If I Were King I’d make a point of frequently asking myself the question: What Would Jefferson Do? There are worse guides.