Two hundred and thirty six years ago a young man named Thomas Jefferson was assigned the task of writing a document that would communicate to the King of England that his subjects in the American Colonies no longer wished to be under English rule. The Continental Congress debated and revised the wording of the Declaration, finally approving it on July 4 marking the legal separation of the colonies from Great Britain. Now celebrated as our nation's day of independence; every year on July 4th Americans commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence with fireworks, parades and barbecues.
As Jefferson crafted the Declaration of Independence, the words that he wrote “.... that all men are created equal, that are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights...” were not only an act of treason against the British crown, but also a potential declaration of war against the most powerful military force in the world. These iconic words became a rallying cry for colonial patriots during the American Revolution and continue to inspire generation after generation of Americans today.
On a recent visit to this founding father's historic home at Monticello, Virginia its impossible not to be struck by the courage and the inspiration of Thomas Jefferson. His vision of liberty and freedom greatly shaped America as we know it today. Just days after my visit to Monticello, the United States Supreme Court declared the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as 'Obama Care.'
In a 5-4 split decision, The Supreme Court ruled that the Federal government could indeed compel every American to buy healthcare insurance and penalize those that did not comply. A mandate from the Congress of the United States that would require every individual to comply with the law to purchase a service that some don't want, need or can't afford. Within days of the 236th anniversary of the passage of the Declaration of Independence, the United States Supreme Court voted to approve a Declaration of Dependence. I was struck with the thought - What would Thomas Jefferson think about the ruling from the court?
Perhaps he would ponder the words from his first Inaugural Address in 1801 when he said “a wise and frugal government, which shall refrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”
If Jefferson was alive today could he even grasp the size and scope of our Federal government? Of course he never could have imagined the advancements in medicine or our present day healthcare system. But Jefferson did clearly advocate for self-government and personal fulfillment.
My visit to Monticello in the days before the Supreme Court decision on Obama Care did give pause to reflect on the proper role of the Federal government as outlined by our Founding Fathers. Another wise man once stated “The government that can give you everything you want is the same government that can take everything you have.”
Think about fast forwarding Jefferson to the twenty first century. It is difficult to imagine that Jefferson would take any other position than the stance that an individual mandate to purchase anything is outside the powers granted to the Federal government.
Jefferson's views about the role of government didn't always prevail even in his own day. But the question of the power of government was a key issue during the election of 1800, sometimes referred to as the “Revolution of 1800.” This election when then Vice President Thomas Jefferson defeated incumbent President John Adams was a realigning election. This was the only time in our nation's history where the President and the Vice President were in two different parties and the election was clearly about the role of the Federal government.
It is easy to draw the parallel between the contest of 1800 and the election of 2012, both are centered on the reach and responsibility of the Federal government.
The question each voter will weigh before voting in November is: do we want the right to self determine what health insurance we want and what price we will pay or do we want the Federal government to determine the level of health care we will receive and who what the cost will be? We all want the safety and security of health insurance, but by declaring dependence on the government to pay for our health insurance we also surrender the independence and freedom to make decisions regarding our healthcare.
When it comes to this paradigm of reliance on the government vs. self-reliance we know which side Thomas Jefferson would be on, but we can only look back on the words and wisdom of individuals like Thomas Jefferson and hope that modern day Americans will try to apply his principles as we shape our government for future generations.
Fortunately we had individuals like Jefferson two-hundred and thirty years ago who were willing to risk everything to question how our government operates in order to build the foundation of individual freedom that we celebrate on Independence Day.