Requests for Information related to Thomas Jefferson



>This is more of a personal question.  When I was in high school, I read
>a saying by Thomas Jefferson on factions.  The general gist of the
>passage was that factions were good for society because it helps
>the power of the elite.  For the past 3 months, I've racked my brain
>trying to find that passage so I can quote it correctly.  If you know of
>what I am talking about, I would greatly appreciate any help you could
>provide.  Thank you in advance.

To my knowledge, everytime Jefferson speaks of factions, he does so in
a negative context.  A faction is usually taken to mean a group of people
who seek their own interests AS OPPOSED TO the best interests of the
whole nation, or of the larger group of which the faction is a part.  As
such, a faction can never be productive of anything good for everyone.
Now, Jefferson DOES speak of the value of having different PARTIES
as a check on one another.  For example:

"I am no believer in the amalgamation of parties, nor do I
consider it as either desirable or useful for the public; but only
that, like religious differences, a difference in politics should
never be permitted to enter into social intercourse or to disturb its
friendships, its charities or justice.  In that form, they are censors
of the conduct of each other and useful watchmen for the public."
--Thomas Jefferson to Henry Lee, 1824.  ME 16:73

"A respectable minority [in Congress] is useful as censors." --
Thomas Jefferson to Joel Barlow, 1802.  ME 10:319

"Perhaps this party division is necessary to induce each to watch
and delate to the people the proceedings of the other." --
Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, 1798.  ME 10:45

He also spoke of the importance of two house of legislature for breaking
up cabals:

" electing a proper number of representatives of persons,
dividing them by lots into two chambers and renewing the
division at frequent intervals in order to break up all cabals." --
Thomas Jefferson to John Cartwright, 1824.  ME 16:45

And, of course, Jefferson applauded differences in opinion, and saw no
need for uniformity.

"It is a singular anxiety which some people have that we should
all think alike.  Would the world be more beautiful were all our
faces alike? were our tempers, our talents, our tastes, our forms,
our wishes, aversions and pursuits cast exactly in the same
mold?  If no varieties existed in the animal, vegetable or mineral
creation, but all moved strictly uniform, catholic and orthodox,
what a world of physical and moral monotony would it be!" --
Thomas Jefferson to Charles Thomson, 1817.

The idea that "factions were good for society because it helps diffuse
the power of the elite" is not one that is familiar to me from my study of
Jefferson's writings.  I don't have a quote in which he used the word
"elite," though that doesn't mean that he did not.  He more often spoke of
the rich, or the artificial aristocracy.  And I cannot think of a quote that
might approximate the idea of breaking up the power of the ruling class.
He did, of course, have much to say about the separation of powers,
both between state and federal, and between the different departments
of the federal.  Those could be considered DIVISIONS of power in order
to prevent its consolidation in the hands of a few.  This is expressed as

"An elective despotism was not the government we fought for, but
one which should not only be founded on true free principles, but
in which the powers of government should be so divided and
balanced among general bodies of magistracy, as that no one
could transcend their legal limits without being effectually
checked and restrained by the others." --Thomas Jefferson:
Notes on Virginia Q.XIII, 1782.  ME 2:163

That is the closest I can come to the idea you are seeking, however.

I'm sorry I can't provide more help than that.

Best wishes,

Eyler Coates


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