"This is the Fourth of July
"JEFFERSON STILL LIVES"
By ALBEN W. BARKLEY, Senator from Kentucky
Delivered at the Jefferson Day Celebration, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va., July 4, 1943
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 628-631.
ALL over the world today, and especially all over America, the memories and significance of this day are such as to stir our souls and lift them to new heights of emotion and resolution. The celebration and observations of this day are marked by a trinity of aviations. It constitute a sort of triple observation of events linked forever in the history of America.
It marks the 200th Anniversary of the birth of Thomas Jefferson.
It is the 167th Anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence which Jefferson wrote.
And it is the 117th Anniversary of the day on which he died in the 84th year of his life.
This day, therefore, is more intimately associated with thename and deeds of Jefferson than with those of any other single American in all our history.
The Fourth of July without Jefferson would be like Christmas without the Man of Sorrows.
In saying this I do not detract from the renown of any other illustrious names associated with the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution. But Jefferson is the man who gave tone, color, substance and vital breath to the document which proclaimed our independence and gave the reasons for that Proclamation.
It was Jefferson who wrote the words and set the music to the immortal epic of our liberties. He was acknowledged by his comrades as the premier in the expression of American faith and determination in an era of transcendent movements in fixing the fate and welfare of America and the world.
No man can, in the space of one speech or one book, draw an adequate portrayal of Thomas Jefferson. No comprehensive or satisfactory biography of him has yet been written. This is unfortunate but perhaps not strange. He was a man of such versatility, such breadth of research and range of intellectual and spiritual vision, of such prophetic understanding and yet of such simplicity of approach to and the mastery of every subject which absorbed his talents, that it is not easy to garner the vastness of his life and labors into one vehicle of expression, whether it be a single discourse or a collection of volumes.
His interest in, his accomplishments for, and his contribution to agriculture alone would afford the subject for fascinating discussion and contemplation.
His excursions in the field of science, his achievements as an applied mathematician, his facility for mastering the difficulties of ancient and modern languages; his familiarity with the philosophical and metaphysical literature of the world's great thinkers; his knowledge of botany and zoology and his use of that knowledge in the cultivation of his lands and the beautification of his beloved home atop the "Little Mountain"; his devotion to the divine art of music and his contribution to that art, in which he says he spent no less than three hours per day for at least twelve years of his life; his warm and tender devotion to his family and his relations and his friends; his solicitude for the welfare of those for whom he was responsible, whether white or black, free or slave; each and all of these qualities of the man, and more that might readily come to mind, furnish material for interesting and fruitful discourses without number.
But it is not in these particular fields that I shall dwell on this occasion.
It has been truthfully said that some men are born great, some men achieve greatness and some men have greatness 1 thrust upon them.
Rare indeed is the man who combines all of these sources of greatness in himself.
Jefferson was born great. This is, he was born with the background and the environment and the physical and intellectual qualities that marked him from earliest boyhood for a rendezvous with Destiny.
He certainly achieved greatness. The roll of his outstanding, and as it now appears indispensable, contributions to the welfare and history of organized society in his day and for all time, cannot be exceeded for number or importance by those of any other man in our history or any history.
Assuredly, he had greatness thrust upon him. Modest, almost diffident in his adversion to public display, preferring in his heart the peace and quietude of his mountain sanctuary, yet he was drawn forth from it by the force of events and by the people's choice to a service and to honors covering a period of half a century.
When, if ever, has there lived such a mortal man born of woman and created in the image of God?
As I stand here at this hour in the shadow of the home he loved and the great seat of learning which he established, it seems as though his spirit hovers about us, and that his tall and manly form, with hands clasped behind him in contemplation, might be seen to stride across this campus in benediction upon his handiwork.
It is in the field of Statecraft, however, that Jefferson made his greatest impact upon our institutions.
Statescraft does not necessarily mean the holding of public office. If the mere holding of public office was a guaranty of statesmanship we would have little to worry about in this country or in the world. We know there is no such guaranty and we know that there are many men who may be called statesmen who never held a public office, who never commanded the applause of listening Senates or bent the pregnant hinges of the knee that thrift might follow fawning.
They may be found in the pulpits, in the school rooms of the colleges or universities or in humbler scholastic stations. They may be found in medical or legal professions or in the counting rooms of business or finance. They may be found in the fields of cultivation and production close to nature and to Nature's God.
Jefferson would have adorned the field of statecraft, of philosophical statecraft, if he had never held an elective or appointive office.
But the occupancy of these public stations from the Burgesses to the Presidency, afforded the setting and the opportunity for the display of his transcendent abilities and human sympathies and for the skill with which he was endowed in translating his ideals into laws and proclamations and constitutions.
Most of these things which bear his name might not have come, or might not have come at that period, nor borne his impress upon them, had he not been in an official station where his aspirations for mankind could take form and be embedded in statutes written for the guidance and supervision of the people's affairs.
Jefferson has been called a dreamer. By his bitter enemies he was called a demagogue. By the reactionaries, the tree-sitters and the stand-patters of his day, those whose timid or selfish souls are always in every age afraid to advance three paces from the satus quo, he was denounced as a revolutionist.
Some of these things he may have been and undoubtedly was.
He was a dreamer. He dreamed amid the hills and mountains beyond the Tidewater of a brighter day for the oppressed children of men. He dreamed of a new independent nation of free people dedicated to the establishment of self-government among men. He believed that men could govern themselves if given the opportunity and he dreamed all through his long life that this eternal principle might find vindication in ever broadening fields in America and throughout the world.
He was beyond question a revolutionist. I do not mean that he sought to destroy existing orders merely for the pleasure of seeing them topple. His iconoclasm was not capricious. If he could have seen the rights of men as he believed in them recognized and established under the existing government in the colonies, he might never have sponsored the separatist movement embodied in the American Revolution.
But to him the liberties of the people, their right to govern themselves, were more important than forms of government and when he became convinced that these inherent rights could not be secured or preserved without a revolution, hebecame a revolutionist. He not only became a revolutionist for the special purposes he set out to accomplish for mankind, but he recommended revolution to all peoples and all generations as a remedy against the same or similar intolerable conditions as those which he challenged and helped to overthrow.
The very doctrines which he set forth in the Declaration of Independence were revolutionary. They were so considered by a majority of the people of the mother country and by a considerable element of the people of America at that time.
It is true, of course, that during the long and struggling history of mankind many men had proclaimed doctrines akin to those advocated by Jefferson, who himself acknowledged his indebtedness to them.
But when Jefferson constructed the Declaration of Independence he built it out of the experience, the suffering, the humiliation and the hopes and convictions of men who never conceded or believed that God created man in His own image and proscribed some of them in the enjoyment of rights essential to all of them.
When Jefferson started out to draw the Resolution which he had been commissioned to frame, he did not indulge in ambiguities.
He did not say "We have a feeling that there is something wrong" or that "There is a suspicion abroad in the land that there are some inequalities that should be adjusted," or that, "It is claimed that there ought to be a more substantial equalization of the privileges that are enjoyed under Government."
He boldly and unequivocally proclaimed "We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
In his conviction, there was no dispute, argument, doubt or equivocation about the equality of men. It was not to be debated in any form. It was not to be submitted to a jury, after argument, from whose verdict an appeal might be taken to a higher tribunal. It was not a problem to be submitted to the decision of a political campaign.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident"—beyond the peradventure of doubt—to be seen and acknowledged by all authorities—that all men are created equal."
The equality which Jefferson proclaimed was not physical nor intellectual equality, nor moral or financial equality. We know that there are variations in the physical, moral and intellectual equipment of men which preclude any leveling off process for these divergent qualities.
What Jefferson was talking about and what the Continental Congress meant when it adopted his Declaration was that all men are equal in their right to enjoy the privileges of freedom under a government of their own choosing which derives all its just powers from the consent of those who are governed.
It was a revolutionary doctrine to announce that these human beings were not only equal but that they had been endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. These rights were not to be the subject of barter or sale. They could not be alienated by the people themselves, much less could they be alienated by some governmental agency that is presumed to have power over their lives and destinies.
These men for whom he spoke—in all ages, lands and generations—for the truths which he announced as self-evident were timeless and without boundary—were not only equal but were endowed from on high with rights which could not be taken from them; and among these rights were Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
It seems almost incredible that in view of the length of days and years and ages which has elapsed since the creation of Man, and since even the dawn of history, it has been only 167 years since man's equality was proclaimed in the fullness of sweeping comprehension as set forth in the American Charter of Liberties. If these things were self-evident why had it taken 6,000 years of recorded history and seventeen centuries of the Christian religion for even a small portion of mankind to realize it?
The answer to that question would take me beyond the scope of my present task.
But the answer to it is sufficiently apparent to explain why Jefferson was looked on and denounced as a revolutionary firebrand who was seeking to overthrow established society and build flames of unobtainable hope among the common people who were and should remain subservient to the aristocracy of wealth and position they had served so long.
While the immediate occasion for this burst of devotion to the equality and freedom of man was the intransigent policy of the British Government, the views he expressed and the language with which he clothed them were suitable for all generations of men, and are as appropriate today in the world as it is now as they were when Jefferson proclaimed them.
In the Declaration of Causes of taking up arms issued July 6, 1775, he said this:
"We have counted the cost of this contest and find nothing so dreadful as voluntary slavery. Honor, justice and humanity forbid us to surrender tamely that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us. We cannot endure the infamy and guilt of resigning succeeding generations to that wretchedness which inevitably awaits them if we basely entail the hereditary bondage upon them.
"Our cause is just. Our union is perfect. Our internal resources are great, and, if necessary, foreign assistance is undoubtedly obtainable. We most solemnly, before God and the world, declare that, exerting the utmost energy of those powers which our beneficent Creator has graciously bestowed upon us, the arms we have been compelled by our enemies to assume we will, in defiance of every hazard, with unabating firmness and perseverance, employ for the preservation of our liberties; being with one mind resolved to die free men rather than to live as slaves."
That quotation taken from a document that antedated the Declaration of Independence by one year, might well have been uttered yesterday by the President of the United States. For in terms as cogent and as unimpeachable it portrays the present determination of our government and our people in the world-wide struggle we are waging now to preserve the things about which Jefferson was talking. One of the great things which made Jefferson the political, philosophical and intellectual leader of his day was his faith in man. This does not mean that he trusted the judgment or disinterestedness of every individual human being in all the world, but it means that he trusted mankind. He was convinced that man would avoid error when the facts were known. Hence he trusted man as a whole rather than 1 few who would enslave him. Hence he wanted him to be free. Political freedom was the goal of his life's devotion.
He had faith in the ability of man to fix his relation with lis Creator. He held it to be a cardinal requirement in a democracy, and logical and appropriate under any government, that man's soul should be and remain unfettered by any restraint imposed by government; and because he believed this he fought for and accomplished the emancipation of man's soul by the Virginia Statutes for religious liberty.
For this he was denounced as an Atheist. He was pillared by those who invoked the power of the state to bind man's eternal soul in the chains of a state-imposed and state-supported religion.
But he was gloriously vindicated in the constitution of his country and in the enlightened opinion of mankind.
Jefferson knew that political and religious liberty, essential as they were, did not constitute the whole category of freedoms which should flourish in a democracy.
Therefore, he chartered the way for intellectual freedom to go hand in hand with political and religious freedom, by advocating and striving to inaugurate a system of public education which would loose the chains of ignorance which bound and shackled the minds of the people.
In a letter of George Wythe, August 13, 1786, he had this to say:
"I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other surer foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness. Preach, my dear sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish and improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils, and that the tax that will be paid for the purpose is not more than one thousandth part of what will be paid to Kings and Nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance."
One of the great disciples of Thomas Jefferson was Abraham Lincoln. All through his writings and public papers we may depict the influence of Jefferson upon Lincoln. In the midst of a great war between the states in an address at the battlefield of Gettysburg, Lincoln began as follows:
"Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought form upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure."
It has been eighty years since the delivery of that brief and immortal address. We might, with equal truth and equal
solemnity, now say:
"Eight score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are createdequal.
"Now we are engaged in a great world war testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure."
We who live today and who believe in the immortal principles which Thomas Jefferson wove into the fabric of our life are called upon to struggle beyond a wider field and more far-flung battle lines but the issue is no less centered around the rights of the people in this struggle than it was in the day of Jefferson. It was natural for the timid soul in 1776 to hesitate about paying the price for the creation of liberty on this continent and for its extension throughout the world.
We have timid souls now in our midst and throughout the world who question whether we should have embarked in this struggle in defense of our liberties and our institutions but unless our nation had arisen in all its might and power to preserve what Jefferson helped to create for us, we who speak and think of him today would have been unworthy of his heritage.
Jefferson died on the fiftieth Anniversary of the immortal document which his brain conceived and his brain inscribed. He wanted to live until that day of Anniversary.
On that same day died John Adams, his life-long associate in the establishment of liberty and his friend until the grim reaper claimed his reward.
Jefferson's last words were, "This is the 4th of July." John Adam's last words were, "Jefferson still lives." Those words of John Adams were prophetic and it is true and will be forever true that Jefferson still lives.