M. N. Roy Jawaharlal Nehru



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Part I.

In Paine's writings we also find a vivid description of various types of government. To uim, a mixed type of government is a reductio ad absurdum. Monarchy and aristocracy represent the corrupt fonn. These governments are, in Paine's opinion, incompatible with the true end of government. Democracy he considered as inadequate to the affairs cf an extensive population. Representative government,



  1. THOMAS PAINE

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  1. thus, is the only logical and adequate system. Paine stood for a republican government built upon universal suffrage and run by re­presentatives elected by the nation. He adopted substantially the doctrine of Rousseau that all legitimate government is republican. "What is called a republic is not any particular form of government.. . . Jt is a word of a good original referring to what ought to be the character and business of government. . . .Republican government is no other than government established and conducted for the interest of the public, as well individually as collectively."*

  2. Distinction between Laws and Acts

  3. Living in the age of reason, Paine tried to re-interpret the con­ception of law. Obviously influenced by the idea of law that Rousseau particularly emphasized, Paine took occasion to point out that by no means all the enactments of a legislature are entitled to the name and character of law. "All laws", he remarks, "are acts, but all acts are not laws." Much that has the form of legislation is in fact but business contract agency, negotiation—the normal procedure by which an association of men carries out certain purposes. Distinct from these administrative instructions, laws are only those acts of the assembly that have universal application. This distinction Paine employed in putting forth his own opinion as "to the then troublesome affairs in America of the finances and the paper money."

  4. Natural Rights and Written Constitutions

  5. Lastly, it is also significant to note his views on the form and content of the written constitution, f-aine held that it was not only essential to limit the authority of the government but that the "exact and detailed definition of its authority must be embodied in a cons­titution," and from this point of view the English political system is very defective. Written constitutions could alone secure the natural rights and popular liberty from being encroached upon by the govern­ment. To Paine, a constitution was not an ideal but a fact. It must be visible. A constitution is antecedent to government; the latter is a creature of the former. It is not the government but the people who make the constitution. And from this point of view England has no constitution.


    1. 6 In fVritings,-Con\\£-,'s ed.. Vol. II, p. 421.

    Paine was very enthusiastic abo?Jt the \merican constitution. "The American constitution," he said, "were n liberty what grammar is to language. They define its pans of speech and practically cons­truct them into syntax."78 He also commended the American consti­tution for its having a special provision for revision and amendment from time to time. But he did not favour the threefold classification of the powers of government in the American constitution. He



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  1. percei, ed and pointed out that there were in fact but two kinds of power, first the making, and second the executing, of laws. In making this position Paine, of course, developed what Montesquieu had casually remarked that "the judiciary is not in its essence distinct from, but is merely one aspect of, the executive power."79

  2. His Estimate

  3. Paine was a great humanitarian like Mahatma Gandhi, who re­garded all of humanity as his country and thought of himself as a universal man. When still young, he had enro"?d under the banner of freedom and remained its loyal and energetic apostie to his last day. In its name he had helped create one country, the United States, played a large role in the life of another, France, and left his deep mark on still a third, England. Without formal education, without benefit of family connections, he had won in his lifetime enduring fame, notoriety and influence. He had stirred the hearts and shaken the minds of his contemporaries as few men did, and carved for him­self a permanent place in the annals of history. His faith in reason and the power of reason to solve human problems was one of the great dreams of his time.

  4. 12

  5. THOMAS JEFFERSON (I 743-1 826)



  6. His Political Career

  7. Born on April 13, 1743, at Shadwell, Jefferson was"a typical Ameri­can of his region and generation. . . .Living among planters and frontiersmen who knew and controlled their own lives with an easy mastery, he believed in the capacity of the free people of the whole country to see their own interests and pursue them as bis own neighbours about him."80 After his formal schooling, he continued to live in the brilliant colonial capital of Williamsburg for the next nineteen years, as a law student and law-maker. His preceptor in the legal profession was the learned and distinguished George Wythe. Jefferson was admitted to the bar in 1767 and practised his profes­sion brilliantly until the courts were closed at the outbreak of the American Revolution. In 1769, he was elected for his first term as a legislator, and he continued to serve in the Virginia House of Bur­gesses until that body ceased to function in 1775.


    1. 2 Ford, Paul L., ed., Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson (N. Y., 1914), pp. 66 f.

    Jefferson, being precluded by his illness from participating in the first Virginia Convention in 1774, attended the second Virginia Con­vention at Richmond in 1775. He was chosen as a delegate of the Old Dominion to the second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, where he took his seat on June 21, 1775. In 1776, Jefferson won lasting renown as author of the Declaration of Independence. In the fall of that year he left Congress and returned to Virginia, where he entered the House of Delegates. In the Virginia Assembly he pursued his memorable programme of legislative reform, seeking to bring the law of that Commonwealth into conformity with republican principles and to eliminate those features which were supposed to be the vestiges of English monarchal institutions. Jefferson was convinced that "our whole code must be reviewed, adapted to our republican form of government, and, now that we had no negatives of councils, governors and kings to restrain us from doing right, that it should be corrected, in all its parts, with a single eye to reason and the good of those for whose government it was found."' The important measures enacted during his service in the House of Delegates were the laws for aboli-



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  1. tion of primogeniture and entail. These statutes promoted equal distribution of property, instead of permitting the whole estate of a land-holder to pass intact to his eldest son, and so for generation after generation. These reforms, along with freedom of religion and diffusion of knowledge, he considered as forming a system by. which every fibre would be eradicated of ancient or future aristocracy "and a foundation laid for a government truly republican."81

  2. After retiring from the House of Delegates, Jefferson was chosen as the second republican Governor of Virginia on June 1, 1779 (succeeding Patrick Henry in that office). He served two one-year terms as chief executive, after which he had no public office until after his wife's death in 1782. Between 1783 and 1800 he served in America in different capacities and outside America as a plenipoten­tiary, in conjunction with John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, to negotiate treaties of commerce with European nations and as a minister to the French Court. On March 4, 1801, he was sworn in as third President of the United States. He served two terms, leaving the rustic capital of Washington on March 11, 1809, after the in­auguration of his successor, James Madison. Thereafter he lived in retirement in Virginia, holding no public trust except as Rector of the University of Virginia to the establishment of which Jefferson devoted his later years. During this period he was fond of saying that politics was a subject "which. . . .1. . . .leave to the generation which it concerns. They are to feel the good and evil of measures, and therefore have the right to direct them."* Nevertheless, it was heartening to the aged statesman to learn that his tenets of republi­canism were not being abandoned. "It is a comfort to me when I find the sound principles of the Revolution cherished and avowed by the rising generation."82

  3. Regarding Jefferson's political writings it may be said that although he remained prominent in political life and advocated democratic theories of government, he produced no systematic treatise containing a statement of his political principles. But these (his principles) may be studied in his State Papers and in his voluminous correspondence, which often contain luminous and stirring discussion of current political problems.

  4. Jefferson : The Central Figure in American History


    1. Ibid", p. 77.

    2. To J. A. Bingham, July 2, i 822. Massachusetts Historical Society. Jefferson's Papers. Cf. To James Monroe, January 28, 1809. Works,

    3. XI, 96.

    Jefferson is the central figure in American history and, if freedom



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  2. 347

  1. and democracy survive in our generation, he may yet prove to be the central figure in modern history. He was not only one of the Founding Fathers, the source and inspiration of much of American democracy i nd of American nationalism ; he was, too, a world figure. Certainly, no other public man contributed so richly to so many chapters in modern history.

  2. He was, of al' the Founding Fathers, indeed of all the men of the eighteenth century, the most contemporary. Both in his public and his private life he addressed himself continuously to problems of permanent and universal interest. What he wrote and what he did —about tl,e nature of society, of government and the relations of man to government, the meaning of republicanism and democracy, the significance of education and of toleration and of experimentation to democracy—is as relevant today as it was in the eighteenth century. It is, no' wi. hstanding profound changes in politics and economy, as relevant for France, Germany and Italy in Europe and for India in Asia as it was for the young United States.

  3. Nor has any other American revealed himself or illuminated the history of American people more fully in his writings. Even his public writings constitute a record of incomparable importance : imagine American history without the Declaration of Independence, the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, the Ordinance of 1784, the Biil for the Diffusion of Knowledge, the Kentucky Resolutions, the First Inaugural Address, the Louisiana Treaty. Jefferson fur­nished both the soil and the seed from which many of the American national institutions grew. His versatility is by now a familiar, almost a hackneyed, subject. He was a scientist and an inventor ; he was the greatest American architect of his day ; he was a farmer, experi­menting endlessly with crops and stock ; he was a man of letters ; he was a bibliophile, collecting not one but two of the greatest private libraries in the country : he was something of a philologist; he was a student of the classics—as who was not in that age—and of the Bible, compiling .his own for good measure ; he was a lawyer and a collector of law reports.

  4. Whatever he learned, whatever he knew, fitted into and enriched his philosophy. For of all American statesmen, Jefferson was the most philosophical. One abiding purpose runs through his whole life, one pervasive philosophy dominates it. He insisted that man should be free and he wa? persuaded that, once free, mankind would progress towards happiness and virtue. He was enraptured with the vision of mankind free from political tyranny, from the bondage of superstition and of ignorance, from the sins of the past, from noverty, from war. He had an eighteenth-century faith in the perfectibility of man, but it was not merely a visionary faith ; it was faith rooted in the reality of New World experience.

  5. Jefferson's republican convictions were formed early in his life,



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  1. upon what was then the Western frontier ; when he was only twenty-two years old they seem to have been crystallized by a speech of ^Patrick Henry in opposition of the British Stamp Act. From that time on he was a leader in every movement for freedom and indepen­dence, usually somewhat in advance of other 'rebels', finding what he said or wrote disapproved of at the time, only to win later assent. He developed with experiences which enlarged responsibilities gave him, but it was uninterruptedly in one direction. Political expediency may have caused him to deviate on special points, but there are few men in public life whose course has been so straight. Natural sympathies, actual experiences, and intellectual principles united in him to produce a character of singular consistency and charm. He was that rare person in politics, an idealist whose native faith was developed, checked and confirmed by extremely extensive and varied practical experiences.

  2. Although Jefferson's political ideas were greatly influenced by many political thinkers, he gave his own orientation to their concepts, and there was something distinctive, something original, in his politi­cal principles. What was new and significant was that all his ideas were set forth in the context of American circumstances which the American mind was prepared to work upon. He was as profoundly convinced of the novelty of the action as a practical 'experiment'—a favourite word of his in connection with the institution of self-govern­ment—as he was of the orthodox character of the ideas as mere theory.

  3. Natural Rights of Man


    1. 6 Reader Jefferson : A Treasury of Writings about Thomas Jefferson, ed. by Francis Coleman Rosenberger (E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., New York, 1953), p. 211.

    Jefferson, as a radical democrat, used the language of the time in his assertion of 'natural rights' upon which governments are based and which they must observe if they are to have legitimate authority. What is not clear is that whether the word moral can be substituted for the word natural whenever Jefferson used the latter in connection with law and rights, not only without changing his meaning but making h clearer to a modern reader. Not only does he say : "I am convinced man has no natural right in opposition to his social duties," and that "man was destined for society," but also that "questions of natural right are triable by their conformity with the moral sense and reason of man."* In a letter to de Nemours, Jefferson developed his moral and political philosophy at some length by making a distinction "between the structure of the government and the moral principles" on which its administration is based. It was here that he said, "We of the United States are constitutionally and conscientiously democrats" and then went on to give the statement a moral interpretation. Man is created with a want for society and with the powers



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  2. 349

  1. to satisfy that want in concurrence with others. When he has procur­ed that satisfaction by instituting a society, the latter is a product which man has a right to regulate "jointly with all those who have concurred in its procurement." "There exists a right independent of force" and "justice is the fundamental law of society." It means that man is social by nature and that his sociable and co-operative nature has given birth to society ; at the same time it signifies that his role in the regulation of society remains significant and equal with his other fellow beings w>h whom he co-operates in forming it.

  2. The Will of The People as Basis of Government

  3. Although Jefferson did not clearly propound any social contract theory like Rousseau, he regarded like the latter, his contemporary, the will of the people as the basis of any government. Rather, he was more clear and definite than Rousseau about the role which each individual is to play in the working of government. Like the latter, he did not attempt to substitute the word 'general will' for the 'will of the people'. And by the'will of the people' he definitely meant the actual will of the people, and not the real or some sort of abstract will of the citizens which Rousseau was struggling with. As a thorough individualist he expressed his opinion : "I consider the people who constitute a society or nation as the source of all authority in that nation ; as free to transact their common concerns by any agents they think proper ; to change these agents individually or the organization of them in form or function whenever they please ; that all the acts done by these agents under the authority of the nation are the acts of the nation, are obligatory on them and ensure to their use, and can in no wise be annulled or affected by any change in the form of the government, or of the persons administering it."83

  4. As such, Jefferson's individualism is not weakened either by the notion of 'general will' of Rousseau, or by the idealism of Thomas Hill Green. Green was an idealist and thought that the freedom of the individual was confined to the realization of self-consciousness. "The good will is free, not the bad will." Green believed as did Rousseau, that the quality which characterized a man was 'moral freedom'. Like them, Jefferson did not believe that true freedom was only realizable in the state which was 'objective freedom'. Un­like them, he affirmed clearly that the rightful basis of any govern­ment was found in "the will of the nation, substantially declared." The forms and agencies of government may be modified or reorga­nized by the people at any time or to any extent. In his letter to the Abb'e Arnoux (Paris) on July 19, 1789, he had made his opinion quite clear regarding the role which the people are to play in the actual administration of the government affairs. He wrote : "It is necessary to introduce the people into every department of govern-



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  2. GREAT POLITICAL THINKERS

  1. ment as far as they are capable of exercising it, and this is the only way to insure a long continued and honest administration of its powers."

  2. Thus the will of the people as the moral basis of government and the happiness of the people as its controlling aim were so firmly established with Jefferson that it was axiomatic that the only alter­native to the republican position was fear, in lieu of trust of the people. Given fear of them, it followed, as by mathematical necessity, not only that they must not be given a large share in the conduct of government, but that they must themselves be controlled by force, moral or physical or both, and by appeal to some special interest served by government—an appeal which, according to Jefferson, in­evitably meant the use of means to corrupt people. Jefferson's trust in the people was a faith in what he sometimes called "their common sense and sometimes their reason. They may be fooled and misled for a time, but give them light and in the long run their oscillations this way and that will describe what in effect is a straight course."84

  3. The Purpose of Government

  4. In view of Jefferson's above remarks and statements regarding the very basis of the government, it becomes quite clear as to what he considered to be the purpose of a rightful government. He proposed to reform the lav/ of Virginia "with a single eye to reason, and the good of those for whose government it was framed." While President of the United States, he declared that "the will of the people. . . .is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object."85 In counselling students what books from his library they should read, Jefferson said ; "I endeavour to keep their attention fixed on the main objects of all science, the freedom and happiness of man. So that, coming to bear a share in the councils and government of their country, they will keep ever in view the sole objects of all legitimate government."86

  5. The classical Jeffersonian expression of the purpose of govern­ment is, of course, contained in the Declaration of Independence : that all men are created equal, endowed with certain natural rights ; and "that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."87

  6. The object of the government is, therefore, the protection of pre­existing God-given rights, which all men, enjoy under the law of nature. The mode by which just government is created is consent.



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  1. The resemblances are obvious between Jefferson's theory and Locke's state of nature, governed by the law of nature, namely, reason, which state is superseded by civil society through the social compact.

  2. It follows from this conception of the nature of government and the method of establishing it that not all of the rights enjoyed by citizens under the 'state of nature' before entering into the social contract we surrendered to the government when the contract was formed. Accordingly Jefferson laid stress on constitutional limitations. The powers of government are not unlimited.18 They extend only as far as provided by the constitution or basic fundamental law estab­lishing the scope of governmental powers. An area of reserved natural rights remains after the governmenf is created. Hence a bill of rights, specifying the boundaries of the area which the government may not invade, is an important feature of every constitution.

  3. The Principles of a Good Government

  4. Since "the purposes of every society do not require a surrender of all our rights to our ordinary governors," Jefferson concluded that "a bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every govern­ment on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inferences." A system of internal checks and balances which shall restrain the government from invading the sphere reserved by the bill of rights becomes an important feature of a well organized government. In view of the disproportionate strength of the government in comparison with the individual citizen, it is imperative that the structure of the government be such as to bring one organ of government into operation automatically as a countervailing force whenever another organ threatens to exceed its rightful powers. Therefore, according to Jefferson, "the first princi­ple of a good government is certainly a distribution of its powers into executive, judiciary and legislative, and a subdivision of the latter into two or three branches." "Hence the English constitution, acknowledged to be better than all which have preceded it, is only better in proportion as it has approached nearer to this distribution of powers." It is then easy to show "by a comparison of our constitu­tions with that of England, how much more perfect they are." Jeffer­son lamented that Americans "do not sufficiently know the value of our constitutions and how much happier they are rendered by them than any other people on earth by the government under which they live."18


    1. Works, VIII, 471 (Jefferson's draft of Kentucky Resolutions).

    2. To John Adams, September 28, 1787. Works, V, 349 f.

    Freedom of religion, freedom of the press, trial by jury, habeas corpus, and a representative legislature were enumerated by Jefferson when specifying what he considered as "the essentials constituting free government."



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  1. Included by Jefferson among natural rights were the following : life, liberty and pursuit of happiness ; expatriation ; self-government; freedom of religion ; freedom from retroactive legislation ; freedom from imprisonment for debt; freedom from perpetual obligation ; freedom of communication between constituents and representatives ; commerce with neighbouring nations ; innocent navigation : the right to labour for a livelihood ; self defence against wrong-doers and aggressors ; coercion against the delinquent party to a compact; and the right to an impartial judge.

  2. On general principles, Jefferson knew that possession of unusual and irresponsible power corrupts those who wield it; that officials are, after all, human beings affected by ordinary weaknesses of human nature, "wares from the workshop, made of the same materials." Hence they were continually to be watched, tested and checked, as well as constitutionally limited in their original grant of powers. He firmly stated the principle that "the excellence of every government is its adaptation to the state of those to be governed by it." It was an axiom in his mind that liberty could not be safe but "in the hands of the people themselves, and, too, of the people with a certain degree of instruction."11 If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents. There is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves, nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.

  3. In fact he was no friend of what he called 'sanctimonious rever­ence' for the constitution. He adhered to the view, expressed in the Declaration of Independence, that people are more disposed to suffer evils than to right them by abolishing forms to which they are accustomed. It was the more important, accordingly, to recognize that "laws and institution must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind" and that institution must change with change of circumstances brought about by "discoveries, new truths, change of opinions and manners." Were he alive, he would note and scourge that lack of democratic faith which, in the professed name of demo­cracy, asserts that the "ark of the overhauling of the fundamental law was the alternative to change effected only by violence and the repetition of the old historic round" of oppressions, rebellions, refor­mations. ..." There was but one thing, and that was unchangeable, and that was the "inherent and inalienable rights of man."

  4. What has been said demonstrates also Jefferson's belief that the best form of government is that in which popular participation is assured. For not only is protection of the rights of the people the only legitimate object of government, but the best form of govern-

  5. 14 Letter to George Washington, Paris, January 4, 1786.





  1. 353

  1. ment is that which most effectively affords such protection. Only a republican form of government, where the people themselves parti­cipate in political processes, meets this test. Jefferson was convinced that the people themselves were the only safe guardians of their own interests. He noted the evils of hereditary and oppressive govern­ments which provoked the people to rebellion. The remedy for such uprisings, he insisted, was to correct the grievances suffered by the people, or to inform and educate them if the revolt was caused, by a supposed grievance which did not in fact exist. Punishment for resistance to government should not be so severe as to encourage acquiescence by the people in violation of their rights. He believed "that government to be the strongest of which every man feels him­self a part." Hence he considered the American republic to be "the strongest government on earth" where every man at the call of the law would "meet invasions of public order as his own personal concern."18

  2. The Principle of Federalism

  3. No government can continue good but under the control of the people. The people should share not only in the enactment of the laws, but also in their enforcement. This could be accomplished, according to Jefferson, through the jury system, in combination with popular election of the legislative assembly and of the executive magistrate. He regarded a government as republican only to the degree that "every member composing it has equal voice in the direc­tion of its concerns."1* He declared also that "the republican is the only form of government which is not eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind.""

  4. With regard to the machinery of government, Jefferson also favoured the principle that all questions should be decided by those whom they concern. This meant the application of a system of federalism or 'governmental gradation'. Local concerns would be dealt with at the local level. Jefferson favoured the division of countries into 'wards', for the administration of affairs affecting only groups of that size. County, state, national, and international concerns would be handled by progressively wider units in the political hierarchy.


    1. To Edward Tiffin, Feb., 2, 1807. Writings, XI, 147; First Inaugural, Works, IX, 196 (C/ p. 43).

    2. To Sammuel Karcheval, July 12, 1816. Writings, XII, 4.
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