The best government is …. what?

Thomas Jefferson Leadership

… the way to have good and safe government, is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent to. Let the national government be entrusted with the defence of the nation, and its foreign and federal relations; the State governments with the civil rights, laws, police, and administration of what concerns the State generally; the counties with the local concerns of the counties, and each ward direct the interests within itself. It is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great national one down through all its subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man’s farm by himself; by placing under every one what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best. What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun? The generalizing and concentrating all cares and powers into one body …

Source: To Joseph C. Cabell, February 2, 1816

Patrick Lee’s Explanation

Wise leaders don’t concentrate power; they delegate it broadly.

Thomas Jefferson believed in keeping government and its decisions as close as possible to people affected by those decisions. His was not a top-down view or bottom-up one. His view might be described, “Which government is best suited to manage this operation?” The optimum governmental unit was the individual farmer, administering his own lands as he saw fit.

Here is how Jefferson thought governmental powers should be divided:
– National:       Defense & foreign relations
– State:            Civil rights, laws, police, & matters within the state
– County:         Local concerns
– Ward:            Very local concerns, government within walking distance
– Individual:     Personal concerns, what he could best manage all alone

If you visualized those powers in a pyramid, the national government would be at the top but with very few powers. The individual would be at the bottom with broad authority over his own affairs. Most authority would rest at the county level and below.

Turn that pyramid upside down, with a broad national government at the top, and you have the situation Jefferson feared most. The individual is now in a point at the bottom, burdened by a top-heavy government that “destroyed the liberty and rights of man.” That consolidation of federal power had that effect in “every government which has ever existed under the sun.”


Thomas Jefferson has great confidence
in your decision-making ability for your affairs.

The federal government’s, not so much.
Invite him to speak. 573-657-2739

The Moral Liberal Thomas Jefferson Editor, Patrick Lee, is a professional speaker, actor and writer. Since 1990, he has inspired, entertained and educated audiences from Maine to Hawaii with his authentic, first person leadership presentations as President Thomas Jefferson, Frontiersman Daniel Boone, and Lewis & Clark Co-Leader William Clark. He also appears as himself, The Hopeful Humorist™, with a program of motivational humor, patriotism and inspiration.

His business address is ThomasJeffersonLeadership.com.