Energetic Government

CHAPTER 9 | Document 1

Thomas Jefferson, Answers to Demeunier's First Queries

24 Jan. 1786Papers 10:19--20

It has been often said that the decisions of Congress are impotent, because the Confederation provides no compulsory power. But when two or more nations enter into a compact, it is not usual for them to say what shall be done to the party who infringes it. Decency forbids this. And it is as unnecessary as indecent, because the right of compulsion naturally results to the party injured, by the breach. When any one state in the American Union refuses obedience to the Confederation by which they have bound themselves, the rest have a natural right to compel them to obedience. Congress would probably exercise long patience before they would recur to force; but if the case ultimately required it, they would use that recurrence. Should this case ever arise, they will probably coerce by a naval force, as being more easy, less dangerous to liberty, and less likely to produce much bloodshed.

It has been said too that our governments both federal and particular want energy; that it is difficult to restrain both individuals and states from committing wrongs. This is true, and it is an inconvenience. On the other hand that energy which absolute governments derive from an armed force, which is the effect of the bayonet constantly held at the breast of every citizen, and which resembles very much the stillness of the grave, must be admitted also to have it's inconveniences. We weigh the two together, and like best to submit to the former. Compare the number of wrongs committed with impunity by citizens among us, with those committed by the sovereigns in other countries, and the last will be found most numerous, most oppressive on the mind, and most degrading of the dignity of man.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 9, Document 1
The University of Chicago Press

The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Edited by Julian P. Boyd et al. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950--.

Easy to print version.