Jefferson's Words Best Choice for July 4

Two hundred and twenty-six years ago this week, the Second Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia gave birth to the greatest experiment in human freedom the world has yet recorded—the United States of America.  The document the Congress ratified was, of course, the Declaration of Independence.  Its principal author was Thomas Jefferson, later our third President.

Jefferson's eloquence continues to inspire.  I could think of no better way to commemorate our country's founding than to assemble the following remarks by Jefferson, a man I regard as America's foremost Founding Father.

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On the proper role of government:  "A wise and frugal government which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned - this is the sum of good government."

On fiscal responsibility:  "I place economy among the first and most important virtues and public debt as the greatest of dangers.  To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt.  We must make our choice between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude.  If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of caring for them, they will be happy."

On keeping government in line:  "What country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that the people preserve the spirit of resistance?  This spirit is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive.  It will often be exercised when wrong but better so than not to be exercised at all.  I like a little rebellion now and then.  It is like a storm in the atmosphere."

On prosperity:  "Agriculture, manufacturers, commerce and navigation, the four pillars of our prosperity, are the most thriving when left most free to individual enterprise."

On vigilance:  "The time to guard against corruption and tyranny is before they shall have gotten hold of us.  It is better to keep the wolf out of the fold than to trust to drawing his teeth and talons after he shall have entered."

On religion:  "I must ever believe that religion which produces an honest life is substantially good, and we have been authorized by One whom you and I equally respect, to judge of the tree by its fruit.  .I never told my own religion nor scrutinized that of another.  I never attempted to make a convert, nor wished to change another's creed.  I have ever judged another's religion by their lives . for it is in our lives and not from our words, that our religion must be read."

On America's founding principles:  "[They] should be the creed of our political faith, the text of civic instruction, the touchstone by which to try the services of those we trust; and should we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety."

Now that you've read these words of wisdom, ask yourself this:  How well have Americans lived up to Jefferson's advice in the past 200 years?