… where two measures are equally right, it is a duty to the people to adopt that one which is most agreeable to them; & where a measure not agreeable to them has been adopted, it is desireable to know it, because it is an admonition to a review of that measure to see if it has been really right, & to correct it if mistaken. it is rare that the public sentiment decides immorally or unwisely, and the individual who differs from it ought to distrust & examine well his own opinion.
To William Findley, March 24, 1801
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders want to know if they get it wrong.
Findley had expressed his opinion to the new President about the fitness of certain Pennsylvanians for federal office. Jefferson thanked him for his views, and while non-committal, reviewed his standards for who should stay in office and who should go, discussed in a previous post.
Jefferson then outlined some general principles on majority rule:
1. If two choices are both right, people should choose the one they like best.
2. If some disagree with a choice, they should make their displeasure known.
3. Knowing that, the choice can be reviewed and corrected if wrong.
4. Rarely does the public majority choose “immorally or unwisely.”
5. The individual who disagrees with the majority ought to question himself first, not the majority.
In general, Jefferson’s default position was to trust the majority, provided they did not use their position to restrict the rights of the minority.