The first founder I will discuss is Thomas Jefferson. I feel that Thomas Jefferson, who many times has been hijacked by Conservatives and Tea Partyers, in my opinion spoke to the essence that is the Occupy movement. While, the right holds Jefferson as their anti-tax, anti-Federal government hero that Glenn Beck has claimed to be his favorite founding father. However, through a wanton misrepresentation of certain quotes, writings and beliefs of this founder, I fear that the right has misconstrued Thomas Jefferson, who in my opinion would have championed the Occupy Movement.
Where would Thomas Jefferson stand on the issue of economic inequality that our nation is currently dealing with? The economy that Thomas Jefferson envisioned would have been a more agrarian based one, and little could have prepared him to envision the massive industrialization and change in the American landscape that we have today. Yet, I feel that as the individual farmer was paramount to Thomas Jefferson, the workers of our nation would have been just as important to him.
The economic inequalities that could arise in the United States was something of great concern to Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to James Madison stated:
“I am conscious that an equal division of property is impracticable, but the consequences of this enormous inequality producing so much misery to the bulk of mankind, legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property…Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions or property in geometrical progression as they rise.” (http://observationalepidemiology.blogspot.com/2010/12/thomas-jefferson-on-income-inequality.html)
Glenn Beck’s favorite founder can clearer be seen favoring a progressive tax rate to help ease inequality in property. Inequality cannot be removed from an economy. With 43% of the national wealth being controlled by 1% of the population we are seeing an inequality that border lines on tyranny of the 1%. Economic inequality at times is an unavoidable outcome of reality, however, how much inequality because a greater burden on the next subject that we face; civil liberties.
Thomas Jefferson views on civil rights, even though he was a slave owner, would match the Occupiers more closely than the tea party and conservatives. In his legal argument of 1770, Thomas Jefferson stated:
“Under the law of nature, all men are born free, every one comes into the world with a right to his own person”
In these twenty-three words we can sum up nearly any response Thomas Jefferson would have as far as civil rights were concerned. If everyone comes into this world with the right to be his own person, how can we limit the rights of persons? How can we dictate who can, or can’t marry; How can we justify who can, or can’t have health care; How can we justify holding certain rights from certain populations of society that are afforded to others. Now I know that the fact that Thomas Jefferson owned human property, he is not the greatest choice to use to explain civil liberties. However, in his original draft of the Declaration of Independence he attempted to distance the newly forming American from slavery. Unfortunately, for the sake of compromise and creating this great nation that distancing would have to be pushed off for young American men who came of military age in the 1860’s. Insofar as religion would come into the context of Civil Rights, Thomas Jefferson in his A bill for Establishing Religious Freedom of 1777, which would be adopted by Congress in 1786 stated:
“Our civil rights have no dependance on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.”
Thomas Jefferson and his close compatriot, author of the United States Constitution James Madison who would bring this bill for religious freedom to the floor of Congress in late 1785 saw the separation of Church and State to be paramount to the existence of a Republic, such as ours.
Now we reach the topic, which I believe is one of the major grievances of the Occupiers, which are the existence of special interest and corporate money pervading our election process. Jefferson stated:
“I hope we crush in its birth the aristocracies of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country” Furthermore referred to the merchants of his day as “the least virtuous of citizens (who) possess the least of the amore patriae.”
These merchants and corporations are the greatest threat to our democracy that we have. Seeking only profits, with little concern for the American people they have purchased our legislature and ignore the regulations placed on them to protect the people and the market. While, I agree that Thomas Jefferson mistrusted government just as much as corporations, I cannot picture Jefferson being in favor of the crony capitalism, legalized bribery that lobbying has become would not have been tolerated by Jefferson. In his notes on Virginia, Jefferson stated:
“The time to guard against corruption and tyranny is before they shall have gotten hold of us”
Unfortunately we have failed to respond in a timely manner and the corruption and tyranny has appeared in the sense of corporate personhood.
In all my readings of Thomas Jefferson, I find it hard to believe that he would have found a corporation as being a person. He so guarded, and demanded the respect for individual liberty, that the tyranny that corporate personhood has forced on the individuals is not a tyranny that Jefferson would protect. Whether or not the answer is from through government, I speculate that Jefferson would feel that doing nothing to protect the individual from the corporation would be a greater evil than intervening for the good of the people.