While speaking at Hampton University today, President Barack Obama did something subtle. He took Thomas Jefferson and the actions of the Revolutionary War patriots away from the Tea Party and applied them to all America, “What Jefferson recognized, like the rest of that gifted generation, was that in the long run, their improbable experiment, America, wouldn’t work if its citizens were uninformed.”
Here is the full video of Obama’s remarks from C-SPAN:
Within his remarks, Obama took a jab at the right wing media, and their struggles with facts, “You’re accepting your degrees as America wages two wars – wars that many in your generation have been fighting. Meanwhile, you’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t rank all that high on the truth meter. With iPods and iPads; Xboxes and PlayStations; information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment. All of this is not only putting new pressures on you; it is putting new pressures on our country and on our democracy.”
The theme of Obama’s address was education, and he used Tea Party heroThomas Jefferson to make his point, “Years after he left office, decades after he penned the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson sat down, a few hours’ drive from here, in Monticello, to write a letter to a longtime legislator, urging him to do more on education. Jefferson gave one principal reason – the one, perhaps, he found most compelling. “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free,” he wrote, “it expects what never was and never will be.””
The President continued, “What Jefferson recognized, like the rest of that gifted generation, was that in the long run, their improbable experiment – America – wouldn’t work if its citizens were uninformed, if its citizens were apathetic, if its citizens checked out, and left democracy to those who didn’t have their best interests at heart. It could only work if each of us stayed informed and engaged; if we held our government accountable; if we fulfilled the obligations of citizenship.”
Later he put the Colonists of the Revolutionary War in a different context for Hampton grads, “So, yes, an education can fortify us to meet the tests of our economy, the tests of citizenship, and the tests of our time. But what makes us American is something that can’t be taught – a stubborn insistence on pursuing a dream. The same insistence that led a band of patriots to overthrow an empire. That fired the passions of union troops to free the slaves and union veterans to found schools like Hampton.”
Obama is a student of history, so it is no accident that a quote from noted slave owner Thomas Jefferson was included in his address to historically black Hampton University, but there was also something else going on here. The Tea Party movement has redefined the Revolutionary War period and Thomas Jefferson in a very narrow way. To the Tea Party movement, the revolution was strictly about a tax protest and the battle against tyranny.
If a person only got their information from the Tea Party, or Fox News, they would believe that the only thing Jefferson ever said of value was, “God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. …And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”
Jefferson would likely be mortified to know that his quote was being misused to undermine the legitimacy of a constitutionally elected president. President Obama was able to point out today that there is more to Jefferson and the Patriots than the Tea Party presents. Obama used the language of the Tea Party in a progressive way to reinforce his message about the importance of education and dreams. In short, Obama took Jefferson and the Patriots back from the Tea Party and restored them to their rightful place as important figures in history for all Americans.
Jason is the managing editor. He is also a White House Press Pool and a Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association
6 Replies to “President Obama Takes Back Thomas Jefferson From the Tea Party”
It is true that the tea party’s use of Jefferson is ill used at best. I dont think jefferson would koin their little tea party if he were alive today. Jefferson was a very complex individual and must be taken in far larger content than a few sayings.
Now the trick is, will the tea party notice he is missing?
But thank god we got him back. Well written jason
You know, I wandered away thinking as I listened to Obama give this speech, that the chances of the tea party recalling their own candidates were they successful in obtaining the government that say they want, is around 125%.
Just a thought
@Shiva, Thanks, I thought this was a very minor part of the speech that seemed to have been overlooked by everyone, but in politics nothing is done by accident, so there was a reason why he used the words and quotes that he did.
@Shiva, The Tea Party will be marginalized as soon as unemployment goes down. The Tea Party is just a renamed version of the radical right. There are some very similar faces and names in the “new” organization.
He’s taking him back in the way a thief takes a car… changes the plates, gives it new paint, destroys the VIN’s… he’s certainly not advocating for no federal government, and no judicial review the way Jefferson did.
“I believe the States can best govern our home concerns, and the General Government our foreign ones.” –Thomas Jefferson
The Constitution… meant that its coordinate branches should be checks on each other. But the opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional and what not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action but for the Legislature and Executive also in their spheres, would make the Judiciary a despotic branch.” –Thomas Jefferson
The judiciary of the United States is the subtle corps of sappers and miners constantly working under ground to undermine the foundations of our confederated fabric. They are construing our constitution from a co-ordination of a general and special government to a general and supreme one alone. – Thomas Jefferson
“My general plan would be, to make the States one as to everything connected with foreign nations, and several as to everything purely domestic.” –Thomas Jefferson
A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned – this is the sum of good government.
A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be your constant companion of your walks.
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