July 05, 2009

Jefferson and Sovereignty

Ilana Mercer says, “For the edification of libertarians prone to vulgar individualism, the Declaration of Independence is at once a statement of individual and national sovereignty.”  Jefferson surely would have found this perplexing, as the Declaration’s last section—the operative one—includes the boast that “these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States.”  Individual sovereignty?  Theoretically, in the state of nature, as explained in the famous second paragraph.  National sovereignty?  Only if we understand “nation” as Jefferson understood it:  as interchangeable with “state”—and only if we understand “state” according to the last definition of that term offered by James Madison in his Report of 1799:  as referring to the people of a state “in their highest sovereign capacity.”

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