Mr. Jefferson Comes Home

The edifying sight of Ron Paul calmly explaining the contemporary application of American Revolutionary principles to the smirking disbelief of the plastic men and 9/11 junkies of the Republican field calls to mind the reaction of the reprobates who unexpectedly encounter Kurt Russell in John Carpenter’s film “Escape from New York”: “Snake Plissken—I thought you were dead!”

Paul has re-introduced the Founders into American political discussion, whence they had been banished long ago by New Dealers who dismissed the “horse and buggy Constitution” and, more recently, by the rootless airport-lounge-souled Republicans who regard the Bill of Rights as outmoded in our global wireless blah blah blah world.

The revolutionary fuse is lit. Quick, to the wick!

How wonderfully coincident that just as Paul is speaking the hauntingly resonant language of the early Republic, Alan Pell Crawford, Hoosier boy cum historian of his adopted Old Virginia, has published Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson, a superb and revealing study of Thomas Jefferson in retirement (if not ever repose) that makes Jefferson—the older, wiser, even more radical Jefferson—newly and provocatively relevant.

Crawford did his time on the Hill, working for Sen. James Buckley (“a genuine conservative”) and none other than Congressman Ron Paul (for whom he will vote). In 1980, he anatomized the swindle known as the “New Right” in Thunder on the Right, which made him, for a time, something of a darling of the liberal Left. He would later marry, raise a family, put down roots in Richmond—all those things the New Right claimed to support in those hysterical fundraising letters its bilkers-in-chief composed between cruises at the Brass Rail.

Yet Crawford insists that Jefferson in his dotage was defending the same principles of liberty and local self-governance as had the young Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence and in the 1798 Kentucky Resolutions, which he had ghosted while vice president. The Kentucky Resolutions, written in protest of the Alien and Sedition Acts, insisted, “whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force.”

“Jefferson reiterated these principles throughout his life,” writes Crawford, “and it is surely evidence of their radicalism —and of Jefferson’s timeless relevance—that they retain their power to offend even now.”

Do you doubt it? Then witness the Paul maul. Speak for a decentralized, peaceful republic and the chickenhawks will peck.

“Real politics,” Crawford tells me in an interview, “isn’t possible at [the national] level or at this stage of history, at least through the official channels. We have crossed some line, and there is no going back. All that is left for the official channels to do is wage war, tax, manipulate, command allegiance, and engorge themselves. All real politics is done elsewhere, and it is an illusion to expect otherwise.”

“I can’t stand to hear Democrats and Republicans argue anymore, because it is a phony argument,” he continues. “They are merely competing for jobs. No good can come of it. Only the raw exercise of force and the subtler exercise of manipulation.” He singles out as illustrative the “significant moment when the professionals of both parties went down to Florida [after Election Day 2000] and took over from the Democratic precinct workers and treated them (as did the media) with utter scorn.”
Ron Paul is truly the Thomas Jefferson of our age.