So, like, for a long time, as a threat to people in power, protesters trot out this line from Thomas Jefferson: "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants." It's been tossed back and forth between the left and right like a football at recess at the special school, although most often it's proudly displayed by the yahoos in some extreme right wing nutzoid movements, be it militias or the townhall idiots. And it'd be a poignant quote, one that gets us back to our roots as a revolutionary society. Except that Jefferson was actually talking about the blood of ignorant people who rise up in arms against the American government, too. In fact, it was mostly their blood.
The entire letter makes this clear, and, as with so many things properly understood in relation to the Founders, it is stunningly prescient. Jefferson was talking to John Adams' son-in-law about Shays' Rebellion, a truly fascinating episode in the early history of the nation, pre-Constitution, but post-Revolution, where rural Massachusetts citizens rose up against the state's government over issues of taxes and debt. They were crushed, of course, and many of the politicians of the time were all a-twitter with how this was an attack on liberty and how the rebels should be put to death.
And while he could be something of a drama queen in his rhetoric - well, really, they all could be (it's the effect of long-term wig-wearing) - Jefferson's essential message in his letter was, more or less, "Chill. Stupid people will act stupidly." Or, as he put it, "I say nothing of it's motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, & always well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty."
See, Jefferson was forgiving the dumb, saying it was better to have idiots uprising than to have no civic engagement at all. But we have to understand that they're dumb and that the dumber they are, the more they will rage in their dumbess. Prior to the famous quote, Jefferson wrote, "We have had 13 states independent 11 years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century & a half for each state. What country before ever existed a century & a half without a rebellion? & what country can preserve it's liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two?"
Putting aside Jefferson's ease with people getting killed (and the fact that he wasn't even in the nation at the time; he was in Paris), it's pretty easy to conclude that President Obama's strategy of not condemning the protesters while trying to get the facts out there is far more Jeffersonian than the inflammatory rhetoric of any pundit or politician who pushes the protests.
So that dickless, punk-ass piece of prison-rape bait who brought a gun to Obama's New Hampshire townhall while carrying a sign that said, "It is time to water the tree of liberty"? Do you think he was thinking his blood was gonna be in the watering can? As for the farmers of Shays' Rebellion, most of them begged for clemency from the government they wanted to bring down (and almost all received it), so, you know, their blood wasn't really required.
Jefferson concluded with advice for those of us in Left Blogsylvania and those in the media fascinated by the whole townhall screamer phenomena: "Our Convention has been too much impressed by the insurrection of Massachusetts: and in the spur of the moment they are setting up a kite to keep the hen-yard in order." In other words, this is easily contained and don't get too bent out of shape.
Of course, just because he said it doesn't mean Thomas Jefferson is right about everything.
More on that soon.