Thomas Jefferson on Financial Regulation

From his correspondence:

Your idea of the moral obligations of governments are perfectly correct. The man who is dishonest as a statesman would be a dishonest man in any station. It is strangely absurd to suppose that a million of human beings collected together are not under the same moral laws which bind each of them separately. [. . . .]

I hope we shall take warning from the example and crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country. Present me respectfully to Mrs. Logan and accept yourself my friendly and respectful salutations.

– Thomas Jefferson; November 16, 1816.

Lest we, again, let the “tea parties” quote our history out of context, we must remember that this nation was built as a haven for men, not corporations, and distrust of the latter is as much  a part of our history as distrust of centralized government. Perhaps more.



  1. You are absolutely correct in your assertion. Neither corporations nor the government can be fully trusted by the People. Yet, when these two untrustworthy agencies are in conflict, the American who loves his country must ally himself with whichever side has the least capacity for restricting his liberty. That is almost always the corporations.

    1. If the corporations lack the capacity to restrict our liberty, it is only because there is government. That is why you are wrong.

    2. Damn, Kris, I’ve been trying to come up with a way to just say that for like an hour, and you nailed it. Well done!

    3. There’s also the absurdity of assuming that one side must always be more virtuous than the other — how about looking at what they’re actually disagreeing about? If A and B are disagreeing, I would want to know what it was about before deciding — even if A was a close friend and B was a stranger. Friends can be wrong.

      Further, the assertion that you must always side with corporations over government basically means that one can never support any kind of regulation, since there will always be some company that doesn’t like any given rule imposed on them.

      And further: if government is sufficiently reduced in size the way the libertarians want, there could easily come a day when the corporations would pose more of a threat to personal liberty — if that is not already the case. Laws aren’t the only way to take away freedom, you know.

      So… no, jonolan, your claim is totally bogus for at least 4 reasons.

  2. Corporations restrict our liberty all the time. The pollute our air and water – see the Gulf of Mexico at the moment – and expect someone else to pay for it. The control real wages, and work to keep them as low as possible. They manage how much and how often we see doctors, and they determine whether we can obtain life saving drugs only when it makes them a healthy profit.

    You sir, are no friend of mine if you think corporations are the lessor of two evils – and doubly so if you think you can control them better then you can control government.

  3. […] but both iterations of it are uniquely American concepts, each grounded in Jeffersonian thought.  For your unwashed hippie: I hope we shall take warning from the example and crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied […]

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