Jefferson’s immortal deletion
As we approach the November elections, a lot of people (especially those in the tea party movement) are concerned that government is acting like our master, not our servant. Politicians expect us to take whatever new controls, taxes, bailouts, or welfare schemes issue from Washington as if we were the subjects of a monarch, duty-bound to take orders and obey.
Now there’s a new flash of inspiration for those who are resisting the trend toward statism. It comes from one of the greatest of the Founding Fathers by way of an unlikely source: the document preservation department at the Library of Congress.
As is well known, Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Using ink on parchment, it was his custom to cross out his mistakes and write a new word nearby in a separate space. But scholars have long been puzzled by the one exception to that rule, found on an early draft of the Declaration. Instead of crossing out his mistake, Jefferson obliterated a word and over it wrote the word “citizens.”
Thanks to spectral imaging technology, research scientists have recently found a way to read the word that Jefferson wanted no one else to see: it’s the word “subjects.” That’s right, “subjects”–as in subjects of the King, subjects of His Majesty.
American colonists, like their countrymen back in England, had referred to themselves as subjects for more than a century. But on the brink of revolution, here was Jefferson, eradicating an important vestige of the idea that government is the master and individuals are the loyal servants. From an article in The Washington Post:
“Seldom can we re-create a moment in history in such a dramatic and living way,” Library of Congress preservation director Dianne van der Reyden said . . . .
“It’s almost like we can see him write ‘subjects’ and then quickly decide that’s not what he wanted to say at all, that he didn’t even want a record of it,” she said. “Really, it sends chills down the spine.”
Living as we are in a time when government’s power over private companies, private pocketbooks, and private lives is expanding at an unprecedented rate, I take sustenance from Thomas Jefferson’s ardent determination to make it crystal clear that government is the individual’s servant, established to protect individual rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.
Everyone who takes pride in his status as a citizen of the United States of America should take a moment to salute Thomas Jefferson, and then dedicate himself to understanding and upholding the Founders’ political ideals.
[Update: Thanks to Steve Simpson for linking here. Congress Shall Make No Law readers, welcome!]
Image: Wikimedia Commons