Happy Birthday, Thomas Jefferson – Your Ideas Live On!
Thomas Jefferson, America’s first secretary of state, second vice president and third president would likely relish the title bestowed on him by the 32nd U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt – Apostle of Freedom. However, apostles require future generations to perpetuate their ideas and give them new life in succeeding centuries. The National Constitution Center and the American Legislative Exchange Council are among the entities that take the responsibility of sustaining Jefferson’s legacy very seriously.
The National Constitution Center has established Thomas Jefferson’s birthday (April 13) as Freedom Day – a day to celebrate the freedom guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution Center has made resources available to teachers of children of all ages to help them explore the meaning and understanding of freedom. Access some of the materials as well as a link to a live video feed of some of today’s events here.
ALEC proudly follows in the Jeffersonian tradition by advocating free markets, limited government and federalism in order to guard against tyranny and secure the unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. An ardent proponent of federalism, we trust that Thomas Jefferson would see in the recently launched ALEC Center to Restore the Balance of Government the 21st century continuation of his work. As real solutions to America’s challenges can be found in the states – America’s 50 laboratories of democracy – the Center focuses on realizing Jefferson’s vision that power should not be amassed with the national government.
ALEC model policy adheres to these core principles. Thomas Jefferson supported the Article V Constitutional Convention of the States to “correct breaches of the Constitution,” lamenting in 1798 that if he could “obtain a single amendment to our Constitution… [it would be] taking from the Federal Government the power of borrowing.” ALEC model policy calling for an Article V Constitutional Convention to discuss a balanced budget amendment would address some of Jefferson’s concerns.
Displaying an enormous degree of prescience, Thomas Jefferson understood the importance of protecting intellectual property rights (IPR) to encourage invention, creativity and innovation. The Founders, including Thomas Jefferson, a prolific inventor, considered IPR protections so important that it is included in the U.S. Constitution in Article I, Section 8, Clause 8:
To promote the progress of science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the Exclusive Right to their Respective Writings and Discoveries
However, even Jefferson would likely be astonished at how important IP has become to the modern U.S. economy. Forty million American jobs owe their existence to IP-intensive industries, which account for 75 percent of America’s exports and more than one-third of America’s GDP. True to Jefferson’s legacy, ALEC has adopted model policy that supports the protection of intellectual property rights.
Thomas Jefferson also commented on the importance of extending free markets to international trade – another issue area where ALEC has an extensive portfolio of model policy. In a letter to Thomas Mann Randolph in 1790 Jefferson wrote, “An exchange of surpluses and wants between neighbor nations is both a right and a duty under the moral law.” Almost one quarter century before David Ricardo conceived of the comparative advantage theory in 1817 that describes why countries engage in international trade even when one nation’s manufacturers can produce every good more efficiently than workers in other countries, Thomas Jefferson wrote “could it [commerce] be relieved from all its shackles in all parts of the world, could every country be employed in producing that which nature has best fitted it to produce, and each be free to exchange with others mutual surpluses for mutual wants, the greatest mass possible would then be produced of those things which contribute to human life and human happiness; the numbers of mankind would be increased and their condition bettered”.
In keeping with the Jeffersonian tradition, ALEC supports the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement (TPP) and the negotiation of a high-standard Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement (TTIP) that will not restrict markets. ALEC is looking even further into the future to assess if it is time to open trade with Cuba. Thomas Jefferson’s words and ideas live on in ALEC work.