Thomas Jefferson — not afraid to cut defense spending

War, indeed, and untoward events may change this prospect of things and call for expenses which imposts could not meet; but sound principles will not justify our taxing the industry of our fellow citizens to accumulate treasure for wars to happen we know not when, and which might not, perhaps, happen but from the temptations offered by that treasure.

These views, however, of reducing our burthens are formed on the expectation that a sensible and at the same time a salutary reduction may take place in our habitual expenditures. For this purpose those of the civil Government, the Army, and Navy will need revisal.

– Jefferson’s first State Of The Union, 1801

Jefferson knew he was on the verge of war with Tripoli. Nonetheless, in order to avoid unduly “taxing the industry of our fellow citizens,” he encouraged Congress to consider a “salutary reduction” not only of civil spending, but military spending as well.

The point is not that slashing spending is uniformly a wise thing. The point is that in Jefferson’s time, it was not yet taboo to consider a reduction in military spending as part of a budget-trimming/tax-reduction program.

(At the very least, can we consider reining in some of the more profligate private contracting boondoggles?)

DISCLOSURE: I am a longtime beneficiary of defense spending, up to and including possibly using the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill next year for graduate school.


Also, bonus quote! Jefferson also wanted to see the path to citizenship shortened, though his reasoning here is so full of qualifications that he gets thoroughly tangled in his own syntax:

I can not omit recommending a revisal of the laws on the subject of naturalization. Considering the ordinary chances of human life, a denial of citizenship under a residence of 14 years is a denial to a great proportion of those who ask it, and controls a policy pursued from their 1st settlement by many of these States, and still believed of consequence to their prosperity; and shall we refuse to the unhappy fugitives from distress that hospitality which the savages of the wilderness extended to our fathers arriving in this land? Shall oppressed humanity find no asylum on this globe? The Constitution indeed has wisely provided that for admission to certain offices of important trust a residence shall be required sufficient to develop character and design. But might not the general character and capabilities of a citizen be safely communicated to everyone manifesting a bona fide purpose of embarking his life and fortunes permanently with us, with restrictions, perhaps, to guard against the fraudulent usurpation of our flag, an abuse which brings so much embarrassment and loss on the genuine citizen and so much danger to the nation of being involved in war that no endeavor should be spared to detect and suppress it?

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