What Would Jefferson Think? 
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What Would Jefferson Think?

What Would Jefferson Think?

By: Karen Kwiatkowski

America celebrates Independence Day with many flags and no reflection.    We refer to the day as July 4th rather than Independence Day, and rightfully so.  The United States has become a country where half of the people pay all the taxes, so the other half (both poor and disenfranchised, wealthy and connected) can happily receive the central government’s redistributed benefits.  The United States has become a country where one in seven Americans, 44 million people, depend upon food stamps, conveniently issued as nondescript “debit” cards so as to hide their prevalence from their fellow shoppers, and to funnel fees into the major banks for the privilege.   Forty-four million people constitute the population of a mid-size nation, like Colombia, Tanzania or the Ukraine.  The USDA Food Stamp program has created a sub-nation inside the borders of the United States wholly dependent upon the government to eat.

This nation also has 56 million people who receive Social Security benefits, and many of those recipients absolutely rely upon this money to maintain their lifestyle.   Yes, most paid the social security tax for many years, and some of them have not yet consumed all that they paid in over their working years.  Regardless, this 56 million is nearly the equivalent to having the whole population of France or Italy within our country’s borders, dependent on what the rest of the country produces.

It is not enough to consider the dependence of the 44 million Americans on the federal food stamp program, or the 56 million Americans dependent upon the federal Social Security program.  We must also include those who are dependent on government jobs (direct or contracted) and on government pensions.  This includes active duty and retired military members and their families, the Guard and Reserve, civilians employed by the federal government, government-dependent contractors, and public education workers from preschool to the state universities, and the private colleges, that rely on federal government grants and federally funded student aid programs.   Americans who work directly for the federal government is now number 22 million (about the population of Romania or Taiwan) " and that doesn’t count the government contractors, those who work in the massive defense industry, and state employees, especially those employed in public education. 

We are indeed blessed. 

President Thomas Jefferson offered a prayer for our nation in 1801.  It’s a lovely petition, and worth thinking about today.  He wrote,

Almighty God, Who has given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honorable ministry, sound learning, and pure manners.  Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people, the multitude brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endow with Thy spirit of wisdom those whom in Thy name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth. In time of prosperity fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail; all of which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This is clearly a Christian prayer, and there is a tendency in modern America to either apologize for Christianity, to diminish its import, or just ignore it because so few Americans who claim to be Christians are truly interested in walking the walk.  Why not, when a recent “born again” Christian president of the United States said of Afghanistan, “I must say, I'm a little envious.  If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed." "It must be exciting for you ... in some ways romantic….”

We have a current president, also claiming a Christian influence, who with his bankers, oil corporation advisors, and military men but without consulting Congress, or asking for a Constitutional declaration of war, began massive military attacks on Libya four months ago.  The current president continues his predecessor’s similarly contrived decisions to call on his militarized intelligence agencies to fight undeclared wars in Yemen and Pakistan, all without public explanation or Congressional approval.    The current president’s failure to end the ongoing and apparently interminable wars started by his born again predecessor in Iraq, Afghanistan and Colombia must also be mentioned.    The past few presidents have all gone beyond the Rubicon in counterbalancing Jefferson’s plea to “Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way.”   

Jefferson’s prayer reminds us of the great bounty of our great land, itself persisting and lovely even as our government has devolved from republicanism into socialism and proto-fascism.  Might we still strive to be worthy of the great blessing of religious and economic liberty, even as that blessing suffers the death of a thousand cuts by a government that despises our freedom, and a population that presumes the government, upon which they have become so dependent, must be correct about its distrust of our liberty?

Jefferson hoped for sound learning and pure manners, wise government leaders, justice and peace.  The evolution of the United States has instead led to government schools, no manners, no justice unless you can afford it, and perpetual war.   One would be tempted to think God never heard this particular prayer for America.

We have had times in our country’s history when everything Americans had come to know, to believe in, to trust, was swept away.  The end of the antebellum South, for many, was such a time, and the destruction and reconstruction of the Southern states as a Federal conquest represented a major turning point against liberty in America, even as the 13th Amendment claimed that slaves were now free, the 14th established that they were citizens, and the 15th, ratified in 1870, claimed they were not to be discriminated against in that citizenship.   Even with these federal mandates,  the cultural and societal prejudice against former slaves and their descendants was not overcome in any great way until over one hundred years later, and many recognize that even today, prejudice an injustice has not been eliminated.  Today, we have no slavery, but rather than being a liberated people, we have become dependent on a federal state, regulated from dawn till dusk, monitored by, directed by, owned by and fearful of the state.  That is the very definition of a slave’s existence.  Our own homes, our property, businesses, and economic activity, as Ron Paul reminded us in his recent presidential debate, is only leased from the state, which demands its annual rent in the form of taxation and fees, under threat of confiscation and imprisonment.

These transformational shifts are not only for communities and nations.  In our own lives, there are times when what we have come to believe in as true and unchangeable, becomes untrue, and changes.  We call these moments crises, and we usually come out the other side of those storms wiser, braver, more confident, and stronger.   This faith is also part of Jefferson’s prayer, this hope in the future.  It may be the only part of the prayer that resonates on this Independence Day.

On the other side of these crises, we find the meaning of independence.   We find out what is real and what is important.  As the fictional character from “Gone With the Wind” tells his daughter, “Do you mean to tell me, Katie Scarlett O'Hara, that Tara, that land doesn't mean anything to you?  Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin' for, worth fightin' for, worth dyin' for, because it's the only thing that lasts.”

I suspect it was not by accident that the first line of Jefferson’s prayer is about the land we have been given.  What has lasted in this nation is indeed the land, and among many of the people, an abiding faith in the promise of liberty, and a continued hope for the blessings of peace and justice.  Beyond this, very little may be honestly celebrated on July 4th, 2011.  

There is good news.  An imminent return to independence, a national rise in fundamental self-sufficiency of individuals, families and communities who have weathered a great storm, and the unstoppable growth of the people’s confidence and fresh gratitude as a result of a battle for liberty in America forced and won, is more thrilling than all of the fireworks we will enjoy across the country this week. Happy Independence Day!


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