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“Pardon my freedom”

Mark J. Fitzgibbons

In 1796 Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to James Madison, which may be known best for one sentence: “The accounts of the [United States] ought to be, and may be made as simple as those of a common farmer, and capable of being understood by common farmers.”

Madison was then a member of Congress.  The letter included a post script in which Jefferson complained about a position of Madison’s regarding Congress’s constitutional authority to establish post offices and post roads.  Jefferson wrote:

Have you considered all the consequences of your proposition respecting post roads? I view it as a source of boundless patronage to the executive, jobbing to members of Congress & their friends, and a bottomless abyss of public money. You will begin by only appropriating the surplus of the post office revenues; but the other revenues will soon be called into their aid, and it will be a scene of eternal scramble among the members, who can get the most money wasted in their State; and they will always get most who are meanest.

What prescience!

The small-government constitutional conservative Jefferson concluded the post script to his fellow small-government constitutional conservative, Madison (with emphasis added): 

Think of all this, and a great deal more which your good judgment will suggest, and pardon my freedom.