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Was Thomas Jefferson the first "progressive" politician?

TimothyD 2011/09/12 22:32:30
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It is important before answering this question, to bear in mind to distinguish modern U.S. progressives' particular methods, with the general ideology. Economic progressivism, in the shortest possible explanation, is a socio-economic political ideology that grew out of classical liberalism, espousing equal civil rights and equality of opportunity no matter one's economic status (although it can be well-argued that many working applications are counter-productive - welfare, as an example). However, the end desire of progressivism is similarly described by modern politicians and theorists as well as the first self-ascribed progressives in the early 20th century. The best quotable example of summary is from a stump speech by Theodore Roosevelt:

"The difference between Mr. Wilson and myself is fundamental. The
other day in a speech at Sioux Falls, Mr. Wilson stated his position
when he said that the history of government, the history of liberty, was
the history of the limitation of governmental power. This is true as an
academic statement of history in the past. It is not true as a
statement affecting the present....The liberty of which Mr. Wilson
speaks today means merely the liberty of some great trust magnate to do
that which he is not entitled to do. It means merely the liberty of some
factory owner to work haggard women over-hours for under-pay and
himself to pocket the profits. It means the liberty of the factory owner
to close his operatives into some crazy deathtrap on a top floor, where
if fire starts, the slaughter is immense....We propose, on the
contrary, to extend governmental power in order to secure the liberty of
the wage workers, of the men and women who toil in industry, to save
the liberty of the oppressed from the oppressor. Mr. Wilson stands for
the liberty of the oppressor to oppress. We stand for the limitation of
his liberty not to oppress those who are weaker than himself."


-"The Liberty of the People" campaign speech, 1912


In the immediate post-Revolutionary era, Thomas Jefferson was an ardent proponent of "partible" inheritance - government mandates for the division of wealth and estate of accomplished citizens among their children. Previously wealth had been transferred in full, unabridged, to the eldest son. Thomas Jefferson effectually proposed a form of wealth redistribution, to such an end is hard to misinterpret:

"There is...an artificial aristocracy
founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue or talents.... The
artificial aristocracy is a mischievous ingredient in government, and
provisions should be made to prevent its ascendancy."


Thomas Jefferson feared plutocracy.

Another factoid supporting the idea that Jefferson was a sort of classically-liberal "progressive" is his amendment proposal - never included in the ratified Bill of Rights - that the public be afforded protections against monopolies on commerce. Included in discussion on Constitutional corporate regulation was a debate on the personhood of corporations - with Jefferson writing to various friends (among them James Madison), that corporations should be barred from contributing to Federal elections.

“I hope we shall…crush in its birth the aristocracy of our
moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a
trial of strength and to bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

–Thomas Jefferson, letter to George Logan, November 12, 1816

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  • RobJohn 2011/09/29 05:29:34
    No
    RobJohn
    He was a liberal and individualist
  • Keen Tojones 2011/09/13 02:30:48 (edited)
    Yes
    Keen Tojones
    Jefferson understood what a plutocracy could lead to. Anybody who so confidently boasts, "I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.", also has an understanding of what can happen when men (and women) do not have the power to use their minds. Imagine being born brilliant in poverty and having some ill bred bastard with alot of money tell you that you simply are not good enough.

    It's a little difficult to work your way out of poverty when your wages are so paltry that you cannot even afford pork chops.

    Anyone who thinks that environment and nurture play no roles in what a man becomes does not know their history or human nature. Of course government should be concerned about the safety of workers and worker's wages.

    I think Jefferson's philosophy was mostly garnered from watching other slave owner's, his experience with the English and his very down to earth father.

    Washington was too old, Adams was too academic.
  • jackolantyrn356 2011/09/13 01:03:03
    Yes
    jackolantyrn356
    Essential;ly progressive was a different critter than today.
  • TimothyD jackola... 2011/09/13 11:08:33
    TimothyD
    Maybe not entirely. Thomas Jefferson's legal perspective that corporations fell into a separate category of personhood than individuals, and coupled with the fact that he was a strong supporter of completely banning corporate influence in Federal elections, are positions that are today occupied by the most liberal of U.S. Congress and a position which the Roberts Court has viewed as a radical abridgement of free speech. For me, personally, no matter what modern progressives have to say on the issue of corporate influence in elections (most lobbying is done by pro-Democratic organizations anyhow, in terms of dollar amounts) the fact of the matter is a Founding Father, together with another James Madison, likely others, believed this to be a serious issue for American government and demanded rigorous regulation to defend against the so-called "aristocracy" from controlling the political machinery.

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