Mondays with Murray: Rothbard's Conflicting Views on Thomas JeffersonSubmitted by Marc Clair on Mon, 06/24/2013 - 15:36
Many libertarians and classical liberals hail Thomas Jefferson as an example of a great American statesman and generally praise him as a great historical spokesman for liberty. Thomas DiLorenzo among others have even referred to Ron Paul as the “Thomas Jefferson of our time.” So what was Murray Rothbard’s view on Thomas Jefferson?
In last week’s edition of Mondays with Murray, when answering the question of who he saw as the best U.S. president from the libertarian viewpoint (Martin van Buren in his view), Murray Rothbard referenced Thomas Jefferson, saying that he was an excellent orator for liberty but effectively “sold out” once he was in office. This insight gives us a glimpse into how Rothbard saw Jefferson. In perusing some of his writings on Jefferson, it appears that Rothbard had some conflicting view on Thomas Jefferson.
On one hand, Rothbard often criticized Jefferson’s political career, specifically the time surrounding his Presidency. Here is Rothbard on his disappointment with the so-called “Jeffersonian Revolution”:
The Republicans replaced the Federalists in what has justly been called “The Revolution of 1800.” Unfortunately, Thomas Jefferson was not really the best man to lead that Revolution. A brilliant libertarian-republican theoretician before achieving power and after leaving it, Jefferson is a classic case of corruption of principle from being in power. The first Jefferson Administration, however, was certainly one of the finest libertarian moments in the history of the United States. Expenses were lowered, the army and navy were sharply reduced, the bureaucracy was cut, the public debt retired, and the federal excise tax, and the Alien and Sedition Acts, were repealed. In the second term, however, the course was reversed, as Jefferson began expanding government, and gearing up for economic war and eventually military conflict with England.
Even in his criticism of Jefferson’s presidency, his admiration simultaneously shines through, as he praises Jefferson’s the bold cutting of taxes, spending, and debt during his first term. But as Jefferson stayed in power through his second term, he began to look more and more like the power hungry, big government politicians he had made a career out of detesting.