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TEACHING FREEDOM a series of speeches and lectures honoring the virtues of a free and democratic society

Vexing the Ghost of Thomas Jefferson By Daniel Hannan To hear an audio recording of Hannan’s remarks, visit

British journalist and European Parliament member Daniel Hannan delivered the following remarks to TFAS supporters and alumni attending the 46th Anniversary Annual Conference in Charlottesville, Va. Following an afternoon visit to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Hannan spoke to conference attendees of his admiration for Jeffersonian principles and what he calls a shared inheritance. Daniel Hannan is a writer and blogger, and has been a conservative Member of European Parliament for South East England since 1999. He is secretary-general of the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists, the league of antifederalist Centre-Right parties in Europe. He attended Marlborough and Oriel College, Oxford where he studied modern history. He speaks French and Spanish and loves Europe, but believes the EU is making its constituent nations poorer, less democratic and less free. Hannan has written eight books, including “The New Road to Serfdom,” which was a New York Times best seller. His most recent publication is “A Doomed Marriage: Britain and the EU.” He is currently writing a book about the Anglosphere. His blog at typically attracts 200,000 hits a week from 80,000 unique users.

Hannan rose to international acclaim in 2009 when he delivered a speech in the European Parliament criticizing Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s response to the global financial crisis. The speech titled, “The devalued Prime Minister of a devalued Government,” has close to 3 million views on YouTube. No man is an island the poet tells us, and as no man, so no generation exists sundered from its past for its posterity. A nation is much more than an aggregation of individuals who happen to live under the same jurisdiction. Over dinner last night, TFAS President Roger Ream made a remark that was of the kind that often goes in one ear and out the other. He said, “It’s the duty of every generation to prepare the next one for leadership.” It’s one of those things that because we’ve heard it before, because it’s true to the point of almost being a truism, we don’t stop and think about what it means. Ponder what’s behind Roger’s sentiment. What is a nation? Americans are not a random set of individuals who happen to be born to another random set of individuals. You are inheritors of a unique and sublime

tradition, and with that heritage comes the duty to keep fast the freedoms that you inherited from your parents and pass them on intact to your children. What is that American heritage? This is after all The Fund for American Studies, not the Armenian or Angolan or Albanian studies. Well, it was the creation of some far sighted and patriotic men in Philadelphia who saw ancient roots for it, roots that stretched deep into the soggy, cold earth of medieval England. They traced them. Jefferson traced the roots of American liberty back a very long way, back through the glorious revolution, back even before the great charter to the folk right of Anglo-Saxon freedoms that had existed medievally. If you were looking intently in Jefferson’s book room today behind his bedroom, you will have seen some of the histories that told the same

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2 minded to endure the degradations of the others. Possessing a chosen country with room enough for our descendants to the thousandth and thousandth generation. Entertaining a sense of our equal right to the use of our own faculties, to the acquisition of our own industry to honor, and confidence from our fellow citizens resulting not from birth but from our actions and their sense of them.”

Hannan takes questions and meets with TFAS supporters after delivering his remarks.

Americans are not a random set of individuals who happen to be born to another random set of individuals. You are inheritors of a unique and sublime tradition, and with that heritage comes the duty to keep fast the freedoms that you inherited from your parents and pass them on intact to your children.”

story of how a free people in England had lost their liberties at the time of the Norman conquest. He saw himself very much as not a revolutionary but a conservative in the sense that he wanted to restore the rights he believed he had been born with as a freeborn Englishman. Or rather, he was using the word revolution in its literal sense, to mean a complete turn of the wheel, a turning upright of that which had been set on its head. Thomas Jefferson distilled those ideas in the old courthouse in Philadelphia to that purest and most potent form. What is your birthright as Americans? Well, look, we’ve heard an awful lot of

the third president’s words tonight. I could fill the whole speech, actually. He’s one of those figures whose words apply with uncanny aptness to our present discontents and our precise circumstances. But I’m going to give you one longish quote. Bear with me. This is from his first inauguration address in 1801. But again, as with Roger’s eloquent summary of what it is that TFAS does, think about what he’s saying. This is how he describes America’s dream and America’s task. “Kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean from the exterminating havoc of one quarter of the globe. Too high-

“Enlightened by a benign religion, professed indeed and practiced in various forms, yet all of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man. Acknowledging and adoring an overruling providence which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter.” “With all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow citizens. A wise and frugal government which shall restrain men from injuring one another, 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.” If only every one of your successors in the White House had kept faith with those principles. If only they had had the modesty to recognize that they were passing through institutions bigger than they were. Here’s a little paradox. This idea of one generation holding in trust freedoms for the next, is one which your third president had very little time for. You won’t find a bigger Jeffersonian than this one on either side of the Atlantic, but he wasn’t perfect. Man has fallen. Perfection is not for this life, and Thomas Jefferson had

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3 his flaws. There was one thing that he was wrong about, and that was the French Revolution and the ideology that it inspired. And he particularly believed that there was no obligation laid on one generation by the hand of its predecessors. In a letter to Madison at the time, he talked about it. He said, “It is selfevident to me that this generation holds the earth in usufruct that one generation has the right to do as it pleases.” That sentiment horrified his contemporary, perhaps the greatest of all conservative philosophers, Edmond Burke. Burke famously put forward the idea that there is a partnership between the generations. There is a partnership between the dead, the living and those yet to come.

Jeffersonian vision. It’s human nature to take things for granted. I often find talking to American friends that people don’t appreciate how unusual the defining characteristics and attributes of American democracy are - from term limits and balanced budget amendments through to the direct election of everyone from the school board to the sheriff, the dispersal of power, state’s rights, ballot and referendum mechanisms.

In a letter he wrote in 1800 to Gideon Granger of Connecticut, “Our country is too large to have all its affairs directed by a single government. Public servants at such a distance and from under the eye of their constituents must be invited to corruption, plunder and waste.”

Your Constitution didn’t only serve its purpose in the sense of keeping you free and prosperous, it also drove your fathers to carry the promise of freedom to other continents. That’s our shared inheritance.”

I said before that Jefferson was not perfect. His actions didn’t always match his words. I suppose that’s another way of saying he was a human being. He occasionally comported himself in a rancorous and fractional way. He was unsupportive, to put it neutrally, first to George Washington and then to Adams.

I’m delighted that in this regard, at least The Fund for American Studies is Burkean rather than Jeffersonian. It’s an extraordinary thing that you get to pass on. It’s a unique, sublime privilege that you’ve had from the past. It’s a lot more fun than being The Fund for Albanian or Armenian Studies.

This is something that has enlightened the world. And what’s the basis of it? How did it work out? Well, if I had to try and draw together the threads of Jeffersonian thought into the main political principles on which basis the republic developed, I would say there are three. First, that the individual should be as free as possible from state coercion. Second, that decisions makers wherever possible should be elected and accountable. Third, that power should be dispersed, that decisions should be taken as closely as possible to the people that they affect. Now, when it’s stated like that, it sounds almost banal. It sounds obvious, but all of the unique features of American democracy have their origin in that

All of these are, if you like, the phenotype of the original Jeffersonian genotype. His was the DNA. That’s the working up all of them have in common, the desire to elevate the citizen over the state rather than the other way around. We know there is a whole wealth of evidence from political scientists and economists that when government is dispersed and democratized and local, it becomes more efficient. There is less duplication. There is less to waste. You have happier and more engaged citizens. We have a wealth of knowledge from the 20th century that teaches us that. Thomas Jefferson intuited what we now see inherently. He felt it in his bones.

An incredibly good description of the European Union, and by the way, what an incredibly good description of the direction in which your present leaders seem bent on taking you.

So, there was a mismatch between these sublime ideals and the way he sometimes behaved in office. Let’s be honest about that. Now, I’m guessing I don’t completely understand your party system, but I’m guessing that it’s for that reason that the Democrats have always claimed him as one of theirs. Nonetheless, to see the uniqueness of his achievement, compare your system to virtually anyone else’s, even in the Western democracies. Compare the Constitution here, both in the way it was adumbrated and the way in which it’s worked since, with the constitution that was recently adopted in the European Union. You might think that I’m making a ridiculous and bizarre comparison. How can I possibly compare that tawdry process on the other side of the Atlantic to what happened in Philadelphia. You know what, it’s not I who am making this comparison. It was first made by the author of the European Constitution. It was a former French president called Valéry Giscard d’Estaing.

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In the passing decades, I have seen bit by bit my country lose its freedom ... And I used to say, ‘At least there is one place where the traditional concept of English liberty is secure.’ So, you can imagine how I feel now when I stand before you, and I see you repeating all the mistakes that have been made elsewhere.” In the year 2001, when the constitutional convention met at Laeken, he said, “This is our Philadelphia moment,” and he went on to liken himself to Thomas Jefferson.

of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, guarantees our right to strike action, affordable housing and free healthcare. You can, I think, intuit where I’m going with this, what the difference is.

Well, where does one begin with that? Actually, here’s a place to begin – Jefferson wasn’t there at the time that the Constitution was being drawn up. He was ambassador to Paris. But we can extrapolate a good deal from a comparison between the two experiments.

How about this as the real difference? Your Constitution was ratified by separately convened bodies in each of the thirteen members. I think to be exactly precise about this, it came into effect when eleven had ratified it. Rhode Island and North Carolina came into line a little bit later.

Your Constitution with all of its amendments is 7,200 words long. The European Constitution is 78,000 words long. Yours concerns itself with the big broad-brush issues, the relationship between state and federal authorities. The European Constitution, now renamed the Lisbon Treaty, busies itself with every imaginable detail of government policy; the rights of asylum seekers, the status of disabled people, space policy. Such is the presumption of one generation that they assume to lay down with constitutional force these things for all time. The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson’s greatest achievement, promised life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The European Union’s equivalent, called the Charter

The European Constitution was repeatedly rejected in referendums in country after country. By 53 percent of French voters, by 54 percent of Irish voters, by 62 percent of Dutch voters, and was then imposed anyway. So, don’t take for granted the extraordinary political inheritance that began with the inhabitants of this famous house. It’s up to all of you to keep it secure. Jefferson observed in a letter, “It cannot be to our interests that all Europe should be under a single monarchy.” Barack Obama knows better. He’s strongly in favor of all Europe being under a single monarchy and keeps on nagging my country to join it. But I’m going to come back to that. Why am I here? Some of you might be thinking this is a bit funny, having an

TFAS Board of Regent member, Ambassador Julia Chang Bloch, listens to Hannan’s remarks.

elected representative from the United Kingdom coming and hymning the praises of the author of the Declaration of Independence. Well, I’m not sure that things were quite that simple. Go back to his writings and his speeches. Thomas Jefferson saw himself very strongly as part of an old English Whig tradition. He called it in one letter, “The tradition of the Whigs before the revolution,” meaning before the Glorious Revolution of 1688. One of the loveliest and most wistful lines in the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson was made to take it out by his colleagues, but it’s a beautiful line. He said, “We might have been a great and free people together.” He was standing up for an ancient tradition of people being bigger than their bosses. This sublime, almost miraculous common law idea that the state doesn’t get to set the rules, that the law was somehow already there, luminously, before the government was ever dreamed of, binding the king just as surely as it bound his meanest subject. To say that now sounds almost banal, but that it should sound banal is tribute to the achievement of Jefferson and the other revolutionaries that they took this idea and they made it into the nation that we see around us.

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5 No English speaker can be indifferent to the fortunes of this republic. We’re too closely bound together. We’ve been through too much down the ages. Your Constitution didn’t only serve its purpose in the sense of keeping you free and prosperous, it also drove your fathers to carry the promise of freedom to other continents. That’s our shared inheritance.

sake. What would have Thomas Jefferson made of calling your official a czar? Even in his worst nightmares, he would have never thought of such an authoritarian title.

supervision. When we see a country now largely run by executive decree with parliamentary supervision sidelined. You can imagine how that makes me feel.

When we see the most important feature of the revolution, the thing that they had grown up fighting against and were determined to prevent, which is the executive outgrowing legislative

I was talking on the bus on the way over to Art Kalotkin, who was telling me that he’d had a cousin who was so pleased to be here that he’d called his child Paul Revere. The Paul Revere story is telling.

In the three great ideological conflicts of the 20th century, in the First and Second World Wars, and in the Cold War, how many countries were consistently on the right side? How many were solidly for the side that wanted to elevate the citizen over the government rather than the other way around? It’s a pretty short list, but it includes all the main English-speaking democracies. What happened at the time of the revolution is that a tradition that was our joint inheritance was elevated here even as it was being lost in the country where it was first adumbrated. In the passing decades, I have seen bit by bit my country lose its freedom. We’ve lost our sovereignty to Brussels. We’ve lost our independence as people. We’ve seen power shift from elected representatives to the standing bureaucracy of the state. We’ve seen government grow. We’ve seen taxes and spending grow to a degree that would have prompted revolutions on both sides of the Atlantic at the time of the unrest. And I used to say, “At least there is one place where the traditional concept of English liberty is secure.” So, you can imagine how I feel now when I stand before you, and I see you repeating all the mistakes that have been made elsewhere. When I see power here shifting from the fifty states to the federal government, shifting from the elected representative to the unelected, to the czar for heaven’s

Following these remarks, Hannan continued his conversation with TFAS alumni and supporters while attending day three of the 46th Anniversary Annual Conference at James Madison’s Montpelier. Hannan wrote a 4th of July commentary on his participation in the TFAS conference. To read his piece visit, Top: Hannan enjoys a tour of Madison’s home with TFAS alumni (l.-r.) Betsy Bryant (IBGA 05), Cecily Hastings (ICPES 05), Courtney Rohrbach (IPVS 05) and Lindsey Parke (IBGA 05). Bottom: Conference attendees Eugenia Hawrylko, her husband Raymond Aab and President Roger Ream speak with Hannan while walking the grounds of Montpelier.

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6 Who can tell me what Paul Revere was shouting on his famous ride through Eastern Massachusetts? The British are coming, right? Who can tell me what’s wrong with that story? You only have to think about this for a couple of seconds, right? The entire population of Massachusetts was British. It would have been an extraordinary thing to shout, “The British are coming.” What he actually said was, “The regulars are out,” or according to one quote, “The red coats are out.” But the point is, at that stage, this was a civil war within a single polity. I am very happy, as most people on both sides

of the Atlantic were at the time, that it was the democratic rather than the monarchical cause that prevailed. The consequences in all parts of the Englishspeaking world were extremely happy for all of us.

His name was Joseph Warren. He was a doctor in Massachusetts, and he said to his countrymen, “You are to decide the question upon which rests the happiness and freedom of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves.”

Let me close by quoting somebody other than Thomas Jefferson. In 1775, Jefferson was returning to Monticello after the Virginia Congress to prepare for his role with the Virginia militia. At the time that was happening, the man who had sent Paul Revere on his famous ride said something, which bears repeating.

My friends, you are the inheritors of a sublime tradition. Act worthy of yourselves. Honor the vision of your founders. Venerate the shade of Thomas Jefferson and what he stood for. Never be afraid to speak to and for the soul of this nation of which by good fortune and God’s grace you are privileged to be part.

Teaching Freedom is a series of remarks published by The Fund for American Studies, a nonprofit educational organization in Washington, D.C. The speakers featured in each issue delivered their remarks at a TFAS institute or conference or serve as faculty members of an institute. The speakers who participate in the educational programs contribute greatly to the purpose and mission of TFAS programs. The speeches are published in an effort to share the words and lessons of the speakers with friends, alumni, supporters and others who are unable to attend the events. To read past issues of Teaching Freedom, visit:


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Vexing the Ghost of Thomas Jefferson by Daniel Hannan  

British journalist and European Parliament member Daniel Hannan delivered the following remarks to TFAS supporters and alumni attending the...