Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Tree of Liberty

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

Thomas Jefferson said those words a long time ago. But does anyone know what he was talking about? Do the tea baggers know what he was talking about when they proudly prance around in their Tree of Liberty t-shirts at their tea bag parties? Probably not.

Jefferson was referencing Shays' Rebellion in Massachusetts. Maybe the full Tree of Liberty Quote would be helpful for context.

"Yet where does this anarchy exist? Where did it ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusetts? And can history produce an instance of a rebellion so honourably conducted? I say nothing of it's motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and 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 lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. And what country can preserve its liberties, if it's rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure."

Jefferson's words still ring true today. The tea bag parties might not have been "honourably conducted," but they were founded in ignorance rather than wickedness. For the most part. For the record, Jefferson said it was OK to kill a couple of ignorant tea baggers every twenty years or so for the sake of liberty. Luckily, we have moved beyond the need for such violence against ignorant tea baggers these days. Also:

"A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have."

These words in 20th century vernacular are not the words of 18th century Jefferson no matter what you might read on the editorial pages of the Charleston Post and Courier. Gerald Ford said these anti-American words while president.

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