Politics, Elections, & the Presidency: a Video Conversation with Thomas Jefferson
The last presidential election in your lifetime was in 1824, when you said you were “a mere looker-on” in the contest, and would not permit yourself to express an opinion on a candidate. You expressed hopes that the winner of the election would be a “friend of peace, of economy, of the republican principles of our Constitution and of the salutary distribution of powers made by that between the general and local governments.” How could voters apply those tests in a practical way to voting for presidential candidates?

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I believe that our voters hold the greatest power that any people have held in the history of the world. That they are ultimately responsible thereby for their government, and they should realize that their government, our government, will only be so virtuous, only be so wise, only be so moral, as we are ourselves. And thereby to discover anyone in government to be un-virtuous, immoral, dishonest, that they should be the same in any walk of life. And if we are to condone it then, well then we will surely elect it to office. I think we should understand that freedom is not free. It requires an eternal vigilance and that therefore we safeguard our liberties by preserving our natural rights and by utilizing them at the same time.

So I think it is most practical that our citizen body reflect that they make correct judgments for those they wish to elect to high office, to any office, and that they should consider it the more successful when they are an educated citizen body, now I do not deny that I would rather have an honest heart first and a knowing head second. But together what a great power they might engage.

So therefore I hope we might search forward for a complete educated citizen body to realize ignorance is not bliss, that an educated citizenry is a safe and well-defended citizenry. And certainly to realize that education will always prove the true corrective for the abuses of any authoritative power.