Jefferson vs Lincoln: A False Choice


Josh Eboch at the Tenth Amendment Center writes that Americans must choose between Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.  Yet that choice has already been made.  The American Experiment has given us the greater of the two evils presented for selection.

However, this was and still is a false choice.  America has gone down the path of violence because with the very first step they compromised the principle of individual sovereignty and self ownership.

It is too narrow to view American history as a conflict between the idea of federalism advocated by Jefferson and Lincoln’s nationalism.   This is merely one aspect of a greater conflict described by Murray Rothbard as the struggle between liberty and power.

Eboch rightly places Jefferson above Lincoln, but why should an individual need to choose any ruler at all?  Someone who understands the natural right of voluntary association that is inherent in the tenth amendment should also see that the same right applies to all governments, not just the Federal Government.

Certainly Jefferson is preferable to the rabid, mass-murdering Abe.  Yet, even as president, Jefferson could not defend freedom because government necessarily violates rights.  As Rothbard wrote:

“All State intervention rests on the binary intervention of taxes at its base; even if the State intervened nowhere else, its taxation would remain. Since the term “social” can be applied only to every single individual concerned, it is clear that, while the free market maximizes social utility, no act of the State can ever increase social utility. Indeed, the picture of the free market is necessarily one of harmony and mutual benefit; the picture of State intervention is one of caste conflict, coercion, and exploitation.”

The Austrian School of economics has annihilated every excuse for State action.  Jefferson and Lincoln had visions for America that were superficially different, but fundamentally the same: subjugation of individuals against their will.  That Jefferson mistook his vision for something that would realize the ideals of individual liberty does not change this.  Once the principal that man can rule over man was conceded, our current woes became inevitable.  Lincoln, of course, was instrumental in preventing the correction of that mistake.

Eboch criticizes Lincoln for saying that secession is illegal, but Lincoln was correct.  Government outlaws secession by definition.  If you have the option of seceding peacefully, then you are not burdened by a government — you are part of a club.  Of course, just because something is illegal does not mean that it is morally wrong.  Individuals have a natural right to live their lives however they like, even if the government will not let them.  This includes the rights of secession and nullification.

All government is incapable of coexisting with, let alone promoting, liberty.  We cannot continue to have it both ways.  The preposterous dichotomy between individual liberty and the inherently immoral State has predictably led to the failure of the system that tried to combine them.  As individuals, we cannot revere the right of secession and voluntary association and at the same time worship the involuntary rule of government.

Jefferson’s real legacy is his ideology, even if he was unable to realize it.  Liberty, natural rights, and a life of pursuing happiness instead of fleeing the State.  It is time to choose.  If Americans are truly heirs to the Jefferson legacy, then it has always been and must always be our right and moral duty to withdraw consent from all governments, as they are inherently destructive of life, liberty and property.

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