Saturday, April 19, 2008

Founding Wisdom: Jefferson

This post is originally taken from the Institute for Balanced Government and reposted here in its entirety.

In a letter to Justice William Johnson dated June 12, 1823, Thomas Jefferson wrote (source: Jefferson, Writings; Library of America, p. 1476):

"I believe the States can best govern our home concerns, and the General Government our foreign ones. I wish, therefore, to see maintained that wholesome distribution of powers established by the constitution for the limitation of both; and never to see all offices transferred to Washington, where, further withdrawn from the eyes of the people, they may more secretly be bought and sold as at the market."

It is difficult to both dispute the vision of Jefferson and argue that what we have today with respect to the administration of the people's business is either proper or effective. Indeed, as Jefferson foresaw, the poorest administration of government is the one whereby the domestic matters which belong to the people are spirited away to a distant sphere of responsibility. This breeds distrust, apathy and contempt among the people for their own government.

As the Founders themselves told us time and again, it is this concept of the division of powers among the spheres - balanced government - which accounts for much of the genius of our system. Certainly, the separation of power among the branches of government is important, yet this mechanism wasn't entirely new among governments in the 18th century. And of course the specific mechanisms created (especially balancing the representation scheme between the House and the Senate) also display the mark of genius, or at least thoughtful study and consideration.

Despite the often bitter partisanship between Jefferson and Hamilton and the then-Republicans and the Federalists in general, we can see from this example that there were concepts that were universally accepted and weren't subject to partisan disagreement. The concept of Balanced Government is just such an idea.