The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history, whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small elite.
– Thomas Jefferson
That is simple. In the Colonies we issue our own money. It is called Colonial Scrip. We issue it in proper proportion to the demands of trade and industry to make the products pass easily from the producers to the consumers. In this manner, creating for ourselves our own paper money, we control its purchasing power, and we have no interest to pay no one.
– Benjamin Franklin
In light of recent events where Americans rights to determine fair pay, fair benefits, and a safe work environment, I thought it was time to revisit the underpinnings of Jeffersonian ideals: self-determination
The revolt of the British colonies in North America has been defined as the first assertion of the right of national and democratic self-determination in the history of the world.
Resenting domination from across the seas, and especially the imposition of taxes without representation, the American colonists invoked natural law and the natural rights of man, drawing inspiration from the writings of John Locke to support their view. Locke taught that political societies are based upon the consent of the people who compose them, each of whom agrees to submit to the majority. Man has a natural right to life, liberty, and property. Sovereignty belongs to the people and is therefore limited by the necessity to protect the individual members.
Thomas Jefferson emphasized Locke’s theories as American ideals and epitomized the republican spirit of the century. In drafting the Declaration of Independence in June 1776, Jefferson stated his fundamental philosophy of government, upon which the modern concept of self-determination rests. He asserted that “all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and unalienable Rights [“certain unalienable Rights” in the Continental Congress’s final draft], that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”; that the “just Powers” of government are established “by the Consent of the governed” to protect these rights; and that when government does not, “it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government.”
In considering the American Revolution as the seminal example of the modern principle of self-determination, it is important to focus attention on both elements of Jefferson’s view. He was concerned not only with throwing off the foreign yoke but also with ensuring that the government was that of the people and that their will was supreme.
Since the formation of the United States, American statesmen have continually expressed sympathy for the basic principle of self-determination. In 1796, President George Washington stated that he was stirred “whenever, in any country, he saw an oppressed nation unfurl the banner of freedom.” Three years earlier, Thomas Jefferson, then the American secretary of state, had said: “We surely cannot deny to any nation that right whereon our own is founded—that every one may govern itself according to whatever form it pleases and change those forms at its own will.”
Jefferson’s view, supported by his fellow Virginians James Madison and James Monroe, was widely accepted by the American public during the ensuing years although never actually implemented as official policy. Nevertheless, regardless of its original intent, throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the Declaration of Independence provided a beacon of hope both to European peoples struggling for independence against autocratic governments and to colonial peoples seeking to advance toward independence. Frequently, American idealists threatened to drag the nation into European affairs by demanding that the government underwrite a policy of liberation abroad. For example, when the Greeks staged an abortive independence movement against the Turks in the 1820s, the Monroe administration was assailed by Daniel Webster in Congress and by many others for its apparent indifference to the cause of liberty in other parts of the world. Although realists like John Quincy Adams opposed the expression of sentiments unsupported by action, President James Monroe nonetheless placed on record his public support of the Greek struggle for self-determination in his famous message of December 1823.
“Let the watchwords of all our people be the old familiar watchwords of honesty, decency, fair-dealing, and commonsense.”… “We must treat each man on his worth and merits as a man. We must see that each is given a square deal, because he is entitled to no more and should receive no less.””The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us.”
Just a note: Theodore Roosevelt was a Republican and founder of what we now call the Progressive movement. The present day GOP is a far cry from TR’s beliefs. I think you will find this short article very interesting when comparing notes on who believes in what these days.
TR met the challenges of his time with a combination of rhetoric and deft political action. Describing the presidency as “a bully pulpit” he used his position to crusade for reform at home and peace abroad.
Determined to give Americans what he called “a Square Deal”; i.e., a more just and equitable society, TR worked to increase the regulatory power of the federal government. He persuaded Congress to pass laws that strengthened the Interstate Commerce Commission and established a new federal Department of Labor and Commerce. Under his leadership, the federal government also brought forty-four suits against corporate monopolies. In addition, TR was instrumental in the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and the Meat Inspection Act of 1906. Long concerned about the environment, he encouraged the Newlands Reclamation Act of 1902 to promote federal construction of dams to irrigate small farms and placed 230 million acres under federal protection.
From the Square Deal to the New Deal
Eleanor Roosevelt (wife of President Franklin Roosevelt), was TRs cousin.
ER and TR also shared many of the same progressive political concerns including a strong central government committed to human welfare, government regulation of business and industry, and improved living conditions for all Americans. She incorporated many of his ideas into New Deal programs. ER, however, surpassed TR in her commitment to civil liberties, civil rights, human rights, and world peace, and she had a more expansive view of human and political relations than he did.
From Theodore Roosevelt speech on Republican Progressives:
The Republican party is now facing a great crisis. It is to decide whether it will be, as in the days of Lincoln, the party of the plain people, the party of progress, the party of social and industrial justice; or whether it will be the party of privilege and of special interests, the heir to those who were Lincoln’s most bitter opponents, the party that represents the great interests within and with out Wall Street which desire through their control over the servants of the pubic to be kept immune from punishment when they do wrong and to be given privileges to which they are not entitled.
In his recent speech at Philadelphia President Taft stated that he was a Progressive, and this raises the question as to what a Progressive is. More is involved than any man’s say-so as to himself.
A well-meaning man may vaguely think of himself as a Progressive without having even the faintest conception of what a Progressive is. Both vision and intensity of conviction must go to the make-up of any man who is to lead the forward movement, and mildly good intentions are utterly useless as substitutes.
The essential difference, as old as civilized history, is between the men who, with fervor and broad sympathy and imagination, stand for the forward movement, the men who stand for the uplift and betterment of mankind, and who have faith in the people, on the one hand; and, on the other hand, the men of narrow vision and small sympathy, who are not stirred by the wrongs of others. With these latter stand also those other men who distrust the people, and many of whom not merely distrust the people, but wish to keep them helpless so as to exploit them for their own benefit.