You think regime change is new? I’ll bet it would surprise you to know that Thomas Jefferson was the first U.S. president to engage in it.
Administrative detention? You know, the kind that is going on in Guantanamo, Bagram, and who knows where else? You think that started with GW Bush? Nope. Thomas Jefferson. And by the way, his excuse was the same then as Bush and Obama’s is now: the security of the nation.
You think fascism started with Mussolini? Think again. Jefferson — who was voted into office on ideals of a dis-empowered, decentralized national government and retention of strong state powers — nearly destroyed the economy and caused a civil war, and was practically drummed out of office for his executive imposition of coercive national economic policies. Personal adulation (another element of fascism)? Jefferson couldn’t live without it. Nearly all of the common elements of fascism were fulfilled by Jefferson.
You think apartheid started in South Africa? Jefferson did his utmost to retain slavery as an institution.
You think Haiti’s troubles were caused by France? Jefferson was the first president to sign a law to prohibit trade with the new republic.
You probably think warrantless surveillance or seizure is new? Jefferson authorized the imposition of martial law and unlawful seizure of properties and persons – rifling post offices and arresting persons (including a judge) without warrant. He unlawfully suspended habeas corpus and even tried to get Congress to impeach the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for not coming down with the verdict he wanted. In flagrant violation of the concept of checks and balances, and separation of powers, Jefferson’s henchman argued in Congress that the judiciary was not a separate branch but merely an arm of the executive, subject to his whims!
You think American imperialism is new? Jefferson may have called it “an empire of liberty,” but his purchase of Louisiana guaranteed the continuation and expansion of slavery for years to come. (And by the way, Louisiana was not granted the right to representative government under Jefferson.)
You think that political persecution and political prisoners are recent additions to the political landscape? In America, while Burr was not the first, he certainly was (and continues to be) the best known. Jefferson destroyed other men besides Burr, but taking down Burr was the greatest feat of them all. The view of Burr as brilliant, magnetic, and powerful is not inaccurate, but the idea that these enviable traits were joined with faults of character that caused his fall IS incorrect.
I intend to show that Burr did everything “right,” everything for which Jefferson showed the way, set the example, and gave permission. There was really nothing new in anything Burr did; Jefferson paved the way for it all. And then when Burr acted with Jefferson’s explicit example and even his sanction, Jefferson took him down and made him out to be a criminal, not only charging him with treason (the sentence for which was death) but setting paid assassins out to kill him before he was even charged, told the nation he was guilty (again before any charges were brought, any evidence produced, or any conviction obtained), had him illegally arrested and transported across a wilderness of many hundreds of miles, and then personally conducted the prosecution. Not happy with the results of those appalling pursuits, Jefferson then tried to go after anyone who supported Burr and even tried to impeach Chief Justice John Marshall for daring to issue an independent, rational decision which led to Burr’s acquittal.
Thomas Jefferson, whose precepts of individual human rights we continue to quote today and in which I deeply believe, betrayed his own ideals. And in the process, he didn’t just destroy the life and reputation of Aaron Burr (who, to this day, we still blame and vilify); he destroyed something of ours, something so deeply embedded in our psyches that when Jefferson’s own people saw what he was doing, they were so deeply shocked, they were dumbfounded, made silent, speechless and powerless. A veil fell over their eyes; they repressed their own judgment and became his tools.
This is what James Douglass calls “the unspeakable.” The public conveniently forgot Jefferson’s betrayal of American ideals and remembered only his great principles. And we continue to this day in denial and ignorance.
This denial and ignorance is costing us dearly. By refusing to see what Jefferson actually did, Americans were able to hang onto his ideals, but as phantoms of thought only. In actual fact, the ideals died where they were begun.
Denying, repressing, or lying about fundamental ideals always eventually backfires and erupts into violence, (civil) war, and death. It can take decades, scores, even centuries, but what goes around will always come around.
We need to understand what happened to us and I believe that the story of Aaron Burr holds an important key.
Take this journey with me, help me correct the record and reconstruct the men: Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, and those who played various other parts in this greatest of all American epics. Take part in recreating our country as it was intended to be … and we want it to be: America the land of liberty.
Pledge to join the Burr Project on kickstarter!
Note: Lest there be any misunderstanding, I am FOR the PRINCIPLES espoused by and identified with Thomas Jefferson. In fact, this project, through its work to reconstruct Aaron Burr, attempts to resurrect and preserve the deepest, most fundamental of those principles.
This project will not produce a standard history or biography. It will be an amalgam of forms and approaches. To see samples of this work-in-progress, go to http://thejvbforum.blogspot.com/. To see this and other work of mine, go tohttp://www.redroom.com/author/jennifer-van-bergen. To see older articles and work by me, go to http://www.jvbline.org. (For newer pieces, google my name. I usually publish on Counterpunch.)
After the kickstarter funding period, I may set up a separate blog for the Project. All backers will of course be invited to follow the blog and comment.