“Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” Thomas Jefferson
“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Thomas Jefferson
“To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.” Thomas Jefferson
Of all those doors that were shuttered as a result of the recent government shutdown, the turn of the latch that most resonated with my personal being was the one on the entrance to the City Tavern in Philadelphia. As someone who has spent many of my days and evenings on both sides of the bar, I know firsthand the plight of those that pull the pints and tend the tables. And there is no act of Congress that will replace the lost revenue of those who depend so heavily on the generosity of those from the general public that can actually get through the front door.
But beyond the fiscal concerns and hardships brought on by the current state of political paralysis in Washington, there was the irony of having to close those places that are meant to honor our past and to further our faith in the future function of our government.
While the majority of Americans have bolstered their own patriotic passions by visiting some memorial or battlefield, I have decided that I much prefer the reconstructed confines of that colonial era establishment to rouse my own feelings of national fervor. There are a couple of reasons for my fondness of the City Tavern. One, you can actually toast our liberties with something a bit more in keeping with what the Founders would have put in their cups. And two, other than those that succumbed to the slow poisoning brought on by an over indulgence of Blackstrap, mutton chops, and Flip, there is not the usual senseless loss of life attached to this consecrated piece of ground–truly a place where giants once roamed.
Among those extraordinarily gifted gentlemen that attended to some portion of their corporal needs at this outstanding American public house were Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. And it is in their words and insights that we can find the potential source and possible solution to our current political debacle. Like many of the nation’s founders, both men had some healthy concerns about the future course of the new government.
In a letter to the American people published prior to his retirement from the presidency in 1796, George Washington warned against the possible damage political parties might bring upon the republic. Having already been witness to the extreme acrimony and partisanship between Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party and Alexander Hamilton’s Federalists, Washington was leery of political parties operating within a popularly elected government. He feared that the competing political organizations would attempt to silence and punish legitimate opposition, promote regionalism and create undue fears and suspicions among the population.
Unfortunately, American’s have on far too many occasions throughout our history been the sorry victims of our first president’s prognostications. And like most organized groups and institution, the lofty well-intentioned principles of both Republicans and Democrats have all too often become secondary to the self-interests and survival of the party. So it should come as no surprise that a substantial segment of the nascent Congressional class has seized upon the writings of Thomas Jefferson as a source for their inspiration and rationalization for the defunding and dismantling of government. But before they consider closing some doors again, they should also consider these words from Mr. Jefferson.
“The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.”
On September 17, 1787, one of the longest, and perhaps most contentious political debates in our nation’s history came to an end with the signing of the United States Constitution. With the closing of the doors of the Pennsylvania State House after 114 days of secret meetings, George Washington and a good number of the beleaguered and exhausted delegates found their way to the City Tavern. There they were able to put aside personal political differences, and rise above the rancor by raising a glass to the common welfare of all Americans.
Perhaps, it is not so much the words of the Founders, but rather the behavior of those individuals that we should attempt to incorporate into our politics. But in order to open that door to a place where men of reason and benevolence gather for the greater good of the people, we will first have to open our minds and our hearts to that greater possibility!
Posted by: Chris Poh