Kudos to the Baltimore Sun for its July 4th editorial. Contrary to the keen imagination of another former “Jefferson Fellow” now at Oxford, I (Scott), as far as I know, had nothing to do with the Sun editorial. :-}
The Baltimore editorial begins with the reference to Thomas Jefferson’s First Inaugural. (Yes, this is the same Jefferson address I invoked here at jwn last November 2nd, in challenging Senator George Allen’s claim to being a “Jeffersonian”). In the Sun’s version,
In his first presidential inaugural address in 1801, he (Jefferson) ticked off a long list of essential principles of government, featuring highlights of the Bill of Rights, and called preservation of the government “in its whole constitutional vigor” the “anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad.” These principles “should be the creed of our political faith,” he said. “Should we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty and safety.”
The editorial credits Jefferson for having been “prophetic” about how the US government has (yet again) committed “a long train of abuses” (as Jefferson once wrote about another George III) against our constitutional liberties, in “moments… of alarm.”
If I had written the editorial, I’d have pointedly noted how for Jefferson, “freedom of the press, and freedom of person under the protection of the habeas corpus, and trial by juries impartially selected” were among the principles that:
“form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed of our political faith.”
Through his long public life, Jefferson had extensive first hand experiences with the challenges of protecting such principles in perceived times of national emergency, including the treatment of prisoners of war. As I noted last November, Jefferson would have been particularly horrified by our present cavalier disregard of habeas corpus protections, given that he:
affirmed that habeas corpus applied to both citizen and alien alike, and.. argued against suspending it even in times of war or rebellion. In a 1788 letter to James Madison, Jefferson warned that the want of habeas corpus “will do evil…” and that suspensions thereof can become “habitual” and the “minds of the nation almost prepared to live under its constant suspension.”
In similar vein, the Sun editorial closes with an all too appropriate warning:
“Public outrage at the discovery of such clandestine abuses has typically resulted in the sort of corrective action Jefferson recommended. Such a process may be under way soon again as Congress and the courts begin to apply some restraints on an administration that as much as or more than any other has considered itself above the law. There’s little time to waste before Americans become so accustomed to their lost liberty that the loss becomes acceptable.“
Harpers Magazine on July 4th featured a related, and also all-too-relevant Jefferson quotation about our present “Reign of Witches.” As Scott Horton notes, Jefferson was writing in 1798 to a friend on his hope that the Federalists had “overplayed their hand” with the Alien & Sedition Acts (an early version of today’s Patriot Act). Yet Jefferson nonetheless was concerned that he could be arrested if his letter was publicized, given how paranoid the country had become then (as now).
“A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles. It is true that in the meantime we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt… And if we feel their power just sufficiently to hoop us together, it will be the happiest situation in which we can exist. If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are at stake.”
Helena here has repeatedly expressed her optimism that the tide in Washington has turned…; may the reign of the neocon warlocks soon pass over.