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Republican Principles

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  • W W (Bill) Fayette
    Republican Principles The best form of government that has ever been devised for protecting the rights of the people has been found to be the republican form.
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 7, 2004
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      Republican Principles

      The best form of government that has ever been devised for protecting
      the rights of the people has been found to be the republican form.
      While not perfect, it nevertheless gives a voice to the people and
      allows them to correct the course of government when they find it
      moving in a wrong direction.


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      "It must be acknowledged that the term republic is of very vague
      application in every language... Were I to assign to this term a
      precise and definite idea, I would say purely and simply it means a
      government by its citizens in mass, acting directly and personally
      according to rules established by the majority; and that every other
      government is more or less republican in proportion as it has in its
      composition more or less of this ingredient of direct action of the
      citizens. Such a government is evidently restrained to very narrow
      limits of space and population. I doubt if it would be practicable
      beyond the extent of a New England township." --Thomas Jefferson to
      John Taylor, 1816. ME 15:19
      "A democracy [is] the only pure republic, but impracticable beyond
      the limits of a town." --Thomas Jefferson to Isaac H. Tiffany, 1816.
      ME 15:65

      "The first shade from this pure element which, like that of pure
      vital air cannot sustain life of itself, would be where the powers of
      the government, being divided, should be exercised each by
      representatives chosen either pro hac vice, or for such short terms
      as should render secure the duty of expressing the will of their
      constituents. This I should consider as the nearest approach to a
      pure republic which is practicable on a large scale of country or
      population. And we have examples of it in some of our State
      constitutions which, if not poisoned by priest-craft, would prove its
      excellence over all mixtures with other elements; and with only equal
      doses of poison, would still be the best." --Thomas Jefferson to John
      Taylor, 1816. ME 15:19

      "Societies exist under three forms, sufficiently distinguishable. 1.
      Without government, as among our Indians. 2. Under governments,
      wherein the will of everyone has a just influence; as is the case in
      England, in a slight degree, and in our States, in a great one. 3.
      Under governments of force; as is the case in all other monarchies,
      and in most of the other republics. To have an idea of the curse of
      existence under these last, they must be seen. It is a government of
      wolves over sheep. It is a problem not clear in my mind that the
      first condition is not the best. But I believe it to be inconsistent
      with any great degree of population. The second state has a great
      deal of good in it. The mass of mankind under that, enjoys a precious
      degree of liberty and happiness. It has its evils, too; the principal
      of which is the turbulence to which it is subject. But weigh this
      against the oppressions of monarchy, and it becomes nothing." --
      Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1787. ME 6:64

      "The preeminence of representative government [is maintained] by
      showing that its foundations are laid in reason, in right, and in
      general good." --Thomas Jefferson to William Duane, 1810. ME 12:408


      A Republic is Controlled by the People
      "We may say with truth and meaning that governments are more or less
      republican as they have more or less of the element of popular
      election and control in their composition; and believing as I do that
      the mass of the citizens is the safest depository of their own
      rights, and especially that the evils flowing from the duperies of
      the people are less injurious than those from the egoism of their
      agents, I am a friend to that composition of government which has in
      it the most of this ingredient." --Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor,
      1816. ME 15:23

      "The catholic principle of republicanism [is] that every people may
      establish what form of government they please and change it as they
      please, the will of the nation being the only thing essential." --
      Thomas Jefferson: The Anas, 1792. ME 1:330

      "The mother principle [is] that 'governments are republican only in
      proportion as they embody the will of their people, and execute
      it.'" --Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816. ME 15:33

      "Independence of the will of the nation is a solecism, at least in a
      republican government." -- Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Ritchie, 1820.
      ME 15:298

      "I freely admit the right of a nation to change its political
      principles and constitution at will." --Thomas Jefferson to the Earl
      of Buchan, 1803. ME 10:400

      "It accords with our principles to acknowledge any government to be
      rightful which is formed by the will of the nation substantially
      declared." --Thomas Jefferson to Gouverneur Morris, 1792. ME 8:437

      "A government is republican in proportion as every member composing
      it has his equal voice in the direction of its concerns: not indeed
      in person, which would be impracticable beyond the limits of a city
      or small township, but by representatives chosen by himself and
      responsible to him at short periods." --Thomas Jefferson to Samuel
      Kercheval, 1816. ME 15:33

      "A representative government [is] a government in which the will of
      the people will be an effective ingredient." --Thomas Jefferson to
      Benjamin Austin, 1816. ME 14:388

      "Action by the citizens in person, in affairs within their reach and
      competence, and in all others by representatives, chosen immediately,
      and removable by themselves, constitutes the essence of a republic...
      All governments are more or less republican in proportion as this
      principle enters more or less into their composition." --Thomas
      Jefferson to Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours, 1816. ME 14:490

      "Other shades of republicanism may be found in other forms of
      government, where the executive, judiciary and legislative functions,
      and the different branches of the latter, are chosen by the people
      more or less directly, for longer terms of years, or for life, or
      made hereditary; or where there are mixtures of authorities, some
      dependent on, and others independent of the people." --Thomas
      Jefferson to John Taylor, 1816. ME 15:20


      The Danger of an Hereditary Aristocracy
      "The further the departure from direct and constant control by the
      citizens, the less has the government of the ingredient of
      republicanism; evidently none where the authorities are hereditary...
      or self-chosen... and little, where for life, in proportion as the
      life continues in being after the act of election." --Thomas
      Jefferson to John Taylor, 1816. ME 15:20

      "The hereditary branches of modern governments are the patrons of
      privilege and prerogative, and not of the natural rights of the
      people, whose oppressors they generally are." --Thomas Jefferson to
      George Washington, 1784. ME 4:218, Papers 7:106

      "Hereditary bodies... always on the watch for their own
      aggrandizement, profit of every opportunity of advancing the
      privileges of their order, and encroaching on the rights of the
      people." --Thomas Jefferson to A. Coray, 1823. ME 15:483

      "There is no King, who, with sufficient force, is not always ready to
      make himself absolute." --Thomas Jefferson to George Wythe, 1786. ME
      5:398

      "An hereditary aristocracy... will change the form of our governments
      from the best to the worst in the world. To know the mass of evil
      which flows from this fatal source, a person must be in France; he
      must see the finest soil, the finest climate, the most compact State,
      the most benevolent character of people, and every earthly advantage
      combined, insufficient to prevent this scourge from rendering
      existence a curse to twenty-four out of twenty-five parts of the
      inhabitants of this country." --Thomas Jefferson to George
      Washington, 1786. ME 6:3

      "I was much an enemy of monarchies before I came to Europe. I am ten
      thousand times more so since I have seen what they are. There is
      scarcely an evil known in these countries which may not be traced to
      their king as its source, nor a good which is not derived from the
      small fibres of republicanism existing among them." --Thomas
      Jefferson to George Washington, 1788. ME 6:454

      "Courts love the people always, as wolves do the sheep." --Thomas
      Jefferson to John Jay, 1789. ME 7:264

      "The small and imperfect mixture of representative government in
      England, impeded as it is by other branches aristocratical and
      hereditary, shows yet the power of the representative principle
      towards improving the condition of man." --Thomas Jefferson to A.
      Coray, 1823. ME 15:482

      "I do not flatter myself with the immortality of our governments; but
      I shall think little also of their longevity, unless this germ of
      destruction [i.e., the aristocratical spirit] be taken out." --Thomas
      Jefferson to George Washington, 1786. ME 6:3


      A Republic is Consistent with Equal Rights
      "We cannot open the mantle of republicanism to every government of
      laws, whether consistent or not with natural right." --Thomas
      Jefferson to John Taylor, 1816.

      "The principles of government... [are] founded in the rights of
      man." --Thomas Jefferson to John Cartwright, 1824. ME 16:51

      "The equality among our citizens [is] essential to the maintenance of
      republican government." --Thomas Jefferson: Thoughts on Lotteries,
      1826. ME 17:461

      "No Englishman will pretend that a right to participate in government
      can be derived from any other source than a personal right, or a
      right of property." --Thomas Jefferson: Answers to Soules Questions,
      1786. ME 17:133

      "The republican is the only form of government which is not eternally
      at open or secret war with the rights of mankind." --Thomas
      Jefferson: Reply to Address, 1790. ME 8:6, Papers 16:225

      "[As Montesquieu wrote in Spirit of the Laws, VI,c.2:] 'In republican
      governments, men are all equal; equal they are also in despotic
      governments: in the former because they are everything; in the latter
      because they are nothing.'" --Thomas Jefferson: copied into his
      Commonplace Book.

      "I conscientiously believe that governments founded in [republican
      principles] are more friendly to the happiness of the people at
      large, and especially of a people so capable of self-government as
      ours." --Thomas Jefferson to David Howell, 1810. ME 12:436

      "It is, indeed, of little consequence who governs us, if they
      sincerely and zealously cherish the principles of union and
      republicanism." --Thomas Jefferson to Henry Dearborn, 1821. ME 15:330


      Establishing Republican Government
      "From the moment that to preserve our rights a change of government
      became necessary, no doubt could be entertained that a republican
      form was most consonant with reason, with right, with the freedom of
      man, and with the character and situation of our fellow citizens." --
      Thomas Jefferson: Reply to Virginia Legislature, 1809. ME 16:333

      "[To establish republican government, it is necessary to] effect a
      constitution in which the will of the nation shall have an organized
      control over the actions of its government, and its citizens a
      regular protection against its oppressions." --Thomas Jefferson to
      Lafayette, 1816. ME 19:240

      "[The first step is] to concur in a declaration of rights, at least,
      so that the nation may be acknowledged to have some fundamental
      rights not alterable by their ordinary legislature, and that this may
      form a ground work for future improvements." --Thomas Jefferson to
      John Jay, 1788. ME 7:18, Papers 13:190


      The Extent of a Republic
      "Where the citizens cannot meet to transact their business in person,
      they alone have the right to choose the agents who shall transact it;
      and... in this way a republican or popular government... may be
      exercised over any extent of country." --Thomas Jefferson to Isaac H.
      Tiffany, 1816. ME 15:65

      "A government by representation is capable of extension over a
      greater surface of country than one of any other form." --Thomas
      Jefferson to Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours, 1816. ME 14:491

      "I suspect that the doctrine, that small States alone are fitted to
      be republics, will be exploded by experience, with some other
      brilliant fallacies accredited by Montesquieu and other political
      writers. Perhaps it will be found that to obtain a just republic (and
      it is to secure our just rights that we resort to government at all)
      it must be so extensive as that local egoisms may never reach its
      greater part; that on every particular question a majority may be
      found in its councils free from particular interests and giving,
      therefore, a uniform prevalence to the principles of justice. The
      smaller the societies, the more violent and more convulsive their
      schisms." --Thomas Jefferson to Francois d'Ivernois, 1795. ME 9:299

      "It seems that the smaller the society the bitterer the dissensions
      into which it breaks... I believe ours is to owe its permanence to
      its great extent, and the smaller portion comparatively which can
      ever be convulsed at one time by local passions." --Thomas Jefferson
      to Robert Williams, 1807. ME 11:390

      "Our present federal limits are not too large for good government,
      nor will [an] increase of votes in Congress produce any ill effect.
      On the contrary, it will drown the little divisions at present
      existing there." --Thomas Jefferson to Archibald Stuart, 1786. ME
      5:259

      "The character which our fellow-citizens have displayed... gives us
      everything to hope for the permanence of our government. Its extent
      has saved us. While some parts were laboring under the paroxysm of
      delusion, others retained their senses, and time was thus given to
      the affected parts to recover their health." --Thomas Jefferson to
      Gen. James Warren, 1801. ME 10:231

      "Every nation is liable to be under whatever bubble, design, or
      delusion may puff up in moments when off their guard." --Thomas
      Jefferson to Charles Yancey, 1816. ME 14:381

      "Montesquieu's doctrine that a republic can be preserved only in a
      small territory [has been proved a falsehood]. The reverse is the
      truth. Had our territory been even a third only of what it is we were
      gone. But while frenzy and delusion like an epidemic gained certain
      parts, the residue remained sound and untouched, and held on till
      their brethren could recover from the temporary delusion; and that
      circumstance has given me great comfort." --Thomas Jefferson to
      Nathaniel Niles, 1801. ME 10:232

      "I know that the acquisition of Louisiana has been disapproved by
      some, from a candid apprehension that the enlargement of our
      territory would endanger its union. But who can limit the extent to
      which the federative principle may operate effectively? The larger
      our association, the less will it be shaken by local passions." --
      Thomas Jefferson: 2nd Inaugural, 1805. ME 3:377

      "If ever this vast country is brought under a single government, it
      will be one of the most extensive corruption, indifferent and
      incapable of a wholesome care over so wide a spread of surface." --
      Thomas Jefferson to William T. Barry, 1822. ME 15:389

      "I have much confidence that we shall proceed successfully for ages
      to come, and that, contrary to the principle of Montesquieu, it will
      be seen that the larger the extent of country, the more firm its
      republican structure, if founded, not on conquest, but in principles
      of compact and equality." --Thomas Jefferson to Francois de Marbois,
      1817. ME 15:130

      "My hope of [this country's] duration is built much on the
      enlargement of the resources of life going hand in hand with the
      enlargement of territory, and the belief that men are disposed to
      live honestly if the means of doing so are open to them." --Thomas
      Jefferson to Francois de Marbois, 1817. ME 15:131

      "I see our safety in the extent of our confederacy, and in the
      probability that in the proportion of that the sound parts will
      always be sufficient to crush local poisons." --Thomas Jefferson to
      Horatio G. Spafford, 1814. ME 14:120


      The Proper Size of States
      "How may the territories of the Union be disposed of, so as to
      produce the greatest degree of happiness to their inhabitants? The
      ultramontane States... will not only be happier in States of moderate
      size, but it is the only way in which they can exist as a regular
      society. Considering the American character in general, that of those
      people particularly, and the energetic nature of our governments, a
      State of such extent as one hundred and sixty thousand square miles,
      would soon crumble into little ones. These are the circumstances
      which reduce the Indians to such small societies. They would produce
      an effect on our people similar to this. They would not be broken
      into such small pieces, because they are more habituated to
      subordination, and value more a government of regular law. But you
      would surely reverse the nature of things, in making small States on
      the ocean, and large ones beyond the mountains. If we could, in our
      consciences, say, that great States beyond the mountains will make
      the people happiest, we must still ask, whether they will be
      contented to be laid off into large States? They certainly will not;
      and, if they decide to divide themselves, we are not able to restrain
      them. They will end by separating from our confederacy, and becoming
      its enemies." --Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1786. ME 5:360

      "A tractable people may be governed in large bodies; but, in
      proportion as they depart from this character, the extent of their
      government must be less. We see into what small divisions the Indians
      are obliged to reduce their societies." --Thomas Jefferson to James
      Madison, 1786. ME 6:10

      "[If] we treat them as fellow citizens, they will have a just share
      in their own government; they will love us, and pride themselves in
      an union with us. [If] we treat them as subjects, we govern them, and
      not they themselves; they will abhor us as masters, and break off
      from us in defiance." --Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1786. ME
      5:360


      How Republican is America?
      "The people through all the States are for republican forms,
      republican principles, simplicity, economy, religious and civil
      freedom." --Thomas Jefferson to Edward Livingston, 1800. ME 10:164

      "If, then, the control of the people over the organs of their
      government be the measure of its republicanism, and I confess I know
      no other measure, it must be agreed that our governments have much
      less of republicanism than ought to have been expected; in other
      words, that the people have less regular control over their agents,
      than their rights and their interests require. And this I ascribe,
      not to any want of republican dispositions in those who formed these
      constitutions, but to a submission of true principle to European
      authorities, to speculators on government, whose fears of the people
      have been inspired by the populace of their own great cities, and
      were unjustly entertained against the independent, the happy, and
      therefore orderly citizens of the United States. Much I apprehend
      that the golden moment is past for reforming these heresies. The
      functionaries of public power rarely strengthen in their dispositions
      to abridge it, and an unorganized call for timely amendment is not
      likely to prevail against an organized opposition to it." --Thomas
      Jefferson to John Taylor, 1816. ME 15:22

      "The great body of our native citizens are unquestionably of the
      republican sentiment. Foreign education, and foreign connections of
      interest, have produced some exceptions in every part of the Union,
      north and south, and perhaps other circumstances... may have thrown
      into the scale of exceptions a greater number of the rich. Still
      there, I believe, and here, I am sure, the great mass is
      republican... Our countrymen left to the operation of their own
      unbiased good sense, I have no doubt we shall see... our citizens
      moving in phalanx in the paths of regular liberty, order, and a
      sacrosanct adherence to the Constitution." --Thomas Jefferson to
      James Sullivan, 1797. ME 9:378

      "Our preference to [the republican] form of government has been so
      far justified by its success, and the prosperity with which it has
      blessed us. In no portion of the earth were life, liberty and
      property ever so securely held." --Thomas Jefferson: Reply to
      Virginia General Assembly, 1809. ME 16:333


      ME, FE = Memorial Edition, Ford Edition. See Sources.
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