Much has been written about George W. Bush's 4th of July appearance at Monticello, mainly to report on the protesters who showed up at this event. What hasn't gotten much notice, however, is that Bush added to the audacity of this appearance by having the gall to misquote Thomas Jefferson's last known statement about the Declaration of Independence, editing out what was also Jefferson's last known dig at unions between government and religion.
These were Bush's words: "In one of the final letters of his life, he wrote, 'May it be to the world, what I believe it will be -- to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all -- the Signal of arousing men to burst the chains, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government.'"
The quote butchered by Bush is from a letter written by Jefferson on June 24, 1826 to Roger C. Weightman, declining an invitation to attend a 50th anniversary celebration of the Declaration of Independence in Washington, due to his failing health. Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, less than two weeks after writing this letter.
Here is what Jefferson really wrote: "May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government."
Reading about Bush's visit to Monticello reminded me of something I put together a few years ago. Trying to imagine what a conversation between Thomas Jefferson and our current president might be like, I took some of the most profound words of these two great leaders, and assembled this hypothetical little chat.
TJ: "Every one must act according to the dictates of his own reason and mine tells me that civil powers alone have been given to the President of the United States, and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents."
Dubya: "I'm the commander -- see, I don't need to explain -- I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation."
TJ: "The most effectual means of preventing the perversion of power into tyranny are to illuminate ... the minds of the people at large, and more especially, to give them knowledge of those facts which history exhibits, that they may ... know ambition under all it shapes, and ... exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes."
Dubya: "A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it."
TJ: "I am for free commerce with all nations, political connection with none, and little or no diplomatic establishment. And I am not for linking ourselves by new treaties with the quarrels of Europe, entering that field of slaughter to preserve their balance, or joining in the confederacy of Kings to war against the principles of liberty."
Dubya: "My foreign policy is -- Fidel Castro is a dictator."
TJ: "Peace with all nations, and the right which that gives us with respect to all nations, are our object."
Dubya: "But there needs to be a focused, coalition effort in the region against peace."
TJ: "The most successful war seldom pays for its losses."
Dubya: "And by spending enough to win a war, we may not have a war at all."
TJ: "A right to property is founded in our natural wants, in the means with which we are endowed to satisfy these wants, and the right to what we acquire by those means without violating the similar rights of other sensible beings."
Dubya: "All of us here in America should believe, and I think we do, that we should be, as I mentioned, a nation of owners. Owning something is freedom, as far as I'm concerned. It's part of a free society... It's a part of -- it's of being a -- it's a part of -- an important part of America."
TJ: "The interests of the States ought to be made joint in every possible instance in order to cultivate the idea of our being one nation..."
Dubya: "There's an old saying in Tennessee -- I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee -- that says, fool me once, shame on -- shame on you. Fool me -- you can't get fooled again."
TJ: "While there are powers in Europe which fear our views, or have views on us, we should keep an eye on them, their connections and oppositions, that in a moment of need, we may avail ourselves of their weakness with respect to others as well as ourselves, and calculate their designs and movements, on all the circumstances under which they exist."
Dubya: "There I was sitting around the table with foreign leaders looking at Colin Powell and Condi Rice..."
TJ: "Every man is under the natural duty of contributing to the necessities of the society."
Dubya: "And so, in my State of the -- my State of the Union -- or state -- my speech to the nation, whatever you want to call it, speech to the nation -- I asked Americans to give 4,000 years -- 4,000 hours over the next -- the rest of your life."
TJ: "And it is declared and enacted, that no person unborn or under the age of twelve years at the passing of this act...shall, after the age of fifteen years, be a citizen of this commonwealth until he or she can read readily in some tongue, native or acquired."
Dubya: "You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test."
TJ: "Its crowd of skepticism kept me from sleep."
Dubya: "Sometimes when I sleep at night I think of Hop on Pop."