Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Patience during the reign of witches

A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles. It is true that in the meantime we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt......If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are at stake.

-- Thomas Jefferson, from a letter he sent in 1798 after the passage of the Sedition Act

This Jefferson quote has been making the blog rounds over the past several days. I saw it again this morning on John Perry Barlow's blog, where a commentor has the interesting - and insightful question, "...The identity of the letter's recipient would be [a] revealing fact, as well."

A Google search revealed that Jefferson had addressed the letter to a John Taylor of Virginia, a politician and writer who served in the Virginia house of delegates and in the United States Senate. A little more searching uncovered the letter itself, which is as fascinating and as timely in its entirety (after you get past the detailed description of a mould board in the opening paragraphs :-)) as the "reign of witches" excerpt. Consider this:

"It is the old practice of despots to use a part of the people to keep the rest in order, and those who have once got an ascendency and possessed themselves of all the resources of the nation, their revenues and offices, have immense means for retaining their advantages. But our present situation is not a natural one."

or this...

"Time alone would bring round an order of things more correspondent to the sentiments of our constituents; but are there not events impending which will do it within a few months? The invasion of England, the public and authentic avowal of sentiments hostile to the leading principles of our Constitution, the prospect of a war in which we shall stand alone, land-tax, stamp-tax, increase of public debt, &c."

Substitute "Iraq" for "England" and you have a fairly close correspondence to our present situation; the prospect of a war in which we shall stand alone, increase of public debt.

Best to read the full letter for yourself, especially my Southern friends, as Jefferson eerily -- or perhaps not so eerily in 1798 - predicts the damage that secession will have upon the United States.

As Jefferson closes his letter, "better luck, therefore, to us all..."

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