In 1801, at his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson faced a divided nation. The election had been highly contentious, the sides torn between those who wished to dissolve the union and those who wished to preserve it. After Jefferson won the election, thus saving the federal government, there were many who wished to run his opponents out of the country or in some way punish them for their opposition. In his address, Jefferson spoke these words:
“All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions….If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”
This is the guiding philosophy of my life, but unfortunately, today, too many Americans seem to have forgotten these principles of a democratic republic. Yes, the majority rules, but the minority deserves equal respect and protection under the law. Anything less is tyranny and oppression. Today, the words of Jefferson need to be heard and heeded more than ever. Even the most misguided fool deserves a voice in this country as long as “reason is left free to combat” them, but now as much as ever, we need to eradicate political intolerance from both ends of the spectrum and re-cultivate a culture of common ground. If the polar extremes continue to have their way, our democratic republic will die, and we will find ourselves under the yolk of a police state enforcing one side’s unbending rules.
Right now, the greatest threat to our nation is that the extremes are the voices most being heard. Those of us who still believe in the system set forth by our founders, those of us who still believe in true liberty, not a fascist facade prescribed by political allegiance, need to speak up. We must make our voices heard above the din of the extremists. Those of us who want to live in a country where we are free to worship as we see fit, speak our minds without fear of imprisonment, and live our lives as we best see fit must come together and demand that our elected officials and mass media stop promoting only the extremes. I still believe there is time to save our country, but we have to raise our voices now. We have to stop bickering over every divisive issue and demand elected officials who live up to Jefferson’s vision of following the rule of the majority while protecting the rights of the minority. We have to shine the light of reason on the irrational. If you agree, make your voice heard.