09 November 2012

Thomas Jefferson On the Danger of a Concentration of Power On Government

Thomas Jefferson, Collected Papers and Correspondence Vol. 12, Letter to George Logan:

Poplar Forest near Lynchburg, Nov. 12, 1816

Dear Sir,

I received your favor of Oct. 16, at this place, where I pass much of my time, very distant from Monticello...

Your idea of the moral obligations of governments are perfectly correct. The man who is dishonest as a statesman would be a dishonest man in any station. It is strangely absurd to suppose that a million of human beings collected together are not under the same moral laws which bind each of them separately.

It is a great consolation to me that our government, as it cherishes most its duties to its own citizens, so is it the most exact in its moral conduct towards other nations. I do not believe that in the four administrations which have taken place, there has been a single instance of departure from good faith towards other nations. We may sometimes have mistaken our rights, or made an erroneous estimate of the actions of others, but no voluntary wrong can be imputed to us.

In this respect England exhibits the most remarkable phaenomenon in the universe in the contrast between the profligacy of its government and the probity of its citizens. And accordingly it is now exhibiting an example of the truth of the maxim that virtue and interest are inseparable.

It ends, as might have been expected, in the ruin of its people, but this ruin will fall heaviest, as it ought to fall, on that hereditary aristocracy which has for generations been preparing the catastrophe.

I hope we shall take warning from the example and crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.

Present me respectfully to Mrs. Logan and accept yourself my friendly and respectful salutations.

Thomas Jefferson