“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.”
“God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion.” ~ Thomas Jefferson, In a 1787 letter to William Stephens Smith1787 letter to William Stephens Smith, the son-in-law of John Adams.
These quotes from Thomas Jefferson get thrown around a lot, but what do they mean? They are often used by those who say, or insinuate, that we need to overthrow the government and restore our Federalist Constitutional Republic. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Patriot And The Militia
The true patriots, the armed citizen militia is a defensive force, not an offensive army or mob. In fact, the militia is tasked with putting down insurrections, rebellions and invasions. Though it is NOT a self directed force.
U.S. Constitution: Article I, Section 8, Clause 15
“To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;”
Congress is supposed to provide the means and protocols to “call forth” the militia for these official duties. Absent that “calling forth,” law abiding, armed citizens, have an individual responsibility for self defense, defense of others and defense of property.
ALL duties of the militia are defensive, both individually and collectively when called forth. It is NOT an offensive, insurrectionist or rebel force.
The 20 Year Rebellion
From that same letter, Jefferson talks about Shays’ Rebellion.
“The British ministry have so long hired their gazetteers to repeat and model into every form lies about our being in anarchy, that the world has at length believed them, the English nation has believed them, the ministers themselves have come to believe them, and what is more wonderful, we have believed them ourselves. Yet where does this anarchy exist? Where did it ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusets? 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 20 years without such a rebellion.”
His purpose was to point out that such offensive rebellions and insurrections were born of ignorance and/or government propaganda, misinformation. When governments collude with “fake news” to scare or panic the population, breeding fear and resentment, that misinformation must be corrected. That lack of truth breeds ignorance that manifests in rebellion. In reference to Shays’ Rebellion, he states, “They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness.”
The Tree Of Liberty
“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 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 it’s natural manure.”
Thomas Jefferson is arguing here that rebellions are caused by ignorance and deceit. When they rise, it is an opportunity to correct the facts, educate the ignorance of the rebels; and remind the government of the consequences of their deceit.
NOT to overthrow the government and start over.
As Jefferson stated in the Declaration of Independence, “all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”
However, if a time comes, “when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
The States created the federal government and it would be the States that would dissolve or redesign it. Just as the colonies did when they declared independence, fashioned the Articles of Confederation and then formed this Constitutional Republic. In such a case, the militia, “the whole body of the people,” the true patriots, would DEFEND the states and state sovereignty through this process.
The Founders and Framers wisely provided for the peaceful means of revolution while maintaining the strongest possible defensive structure of an armed population. When Thomas Jefferson said, “God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion.” He was not referring to the overthrowing of the government, he was referring to a rebellion born of the ignorance of portions of the population and against the propaganda often perpetrated by government. Even their own newly formed government, in their own time, like the Shays’ Rebellion and not long after it, the Whiskey Rebellion.
Jefferson envisioned the likelihood that in every generation there would be those compelled by ignorance or propaganda to take up arms in an offensive rebellion. Such rebellions should not topple the government, but serve as an educational opportunity for the misinformed; and a reminder to those who govern that they do so ONLY with the consent of the governed.
“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 and pacify them.”
Feeding the “Tree of Liberty” is NOT an honorable patriotic act. To put it in more modern terms, it is “useful idiots” rebelling out of ignorance. Whether it be their own ignorance or ignorance induced by propaganda and misinformation. The only beneficial, “patriotic,” aspect of such rebellions is in its presumed effect on the “powers that be” in reminding them that the people still retain that “spirit of resistance.” IF the actions of government continue down the road of “a long train of abuses and usurpations,” then it is the “right” and “duty” of the people “to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
The generational 20 year rebellions and refreshing of the tree of liberty are not the actions of true patriots, but rather actions born of ignorance and tyranny. They may serve to remind our elected officials of their place in the hierarchy of this We The People Republic. However, they do so NOT based on informed patriotic resolve, but rather through the sacrifice of the ignorant and misinformed.
True Patriot Or Useful Idiot
Jefferson saw such sacrifice as beneficial in the preservation of Liberty. The question is, if you’re talking in terms of rebellion and refreshing the tree of liberty, are you simply they latest sacrificial “useful idiot”? Or are you truly prepared to go the distance, lobby the states to abolish the “Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
If you are rebelling for “light and transient causes,” then you are the “useful idiot.” If you truly believe that our government “evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism,” then you need We The People and the States on your side. Not half way, resulting in another Civil War, but a solid and substantial majority. The true patriot rights the wrongs of “light and transient causes,” as they arise. The ignorant “patriots” martyr themselves as “useful idiots” to remind “the powers that be” of our “spirit of resistance.”
While that is not an inconsequential sacrifice, it is not the informed and honorable patriotic approach. It is also often unsuccessful and detrimental to the cause of true Patriotism and Liberty. Resulting in nothing more than a scapegoat with which government propaganda may tarnish all patriots, the militia and the Federalist Constitutional Republic as a whole.