From the October 2006 Idaho Observer:
Doing What is Right
from Thomas Jefferson
If ever you find yourself environed with difficulties and perplexing circumstances, out of which you are at a loss how to extricate yourself, do what is right, and be assured that will extricate you the best out of the worst situations. Though you cannot see, when you take one step, what will be the next, yet follow truth, justice and plain dealing, and never fear their leading you out of the labyrinth, in the easiest manner possible. The knot which you thought a Gordian one, will untie itself before you. Nothing is so mistaken as the supposition that a person is to extricate himself from a difficulty by intrigue, by chicanery, by dissimulation, by trimming, by an untruth, by an injustice. This increases the difficulties tenfold; and those who pursue these methods, get themselves so involved at length, that they can turn no way but their infamy becomes more exposed.
Give up money, give up fame, give up science, give up the earth itself and all it contains, rather than do an immoral act. And never suppose, that in any possible situation, or under any circumstances, it is best for you to do a dishonorable thing, however slightly so it may appear to you. Whenever you are to do a thing, though it can never be known but to yourself, ask yourself how you would act were all the world looking at you, and act accordingly. The precept of Providence is, to do always what is right, and leave the issue to Him.
It is of great importance to set a resolution, not to be shaken, never to tell an untruth. There is no vice so mean, so pitiful, so contemptible; and he who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world’s believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions. Honesty which proceeds from the heart as well as the head may be more surely counted on.
Return with joy to that state of things, when the only questions concerning a candidate shall be, is he honest? Is he capable? Is he faithful to the Constitution? Every honest man will suppose honest acts to flow from honest principles, and the rogues may rail without intermission. Our part is to pursue with steadiness what is right, turning neither to the right nor left for the intrigues or popular delusions of the day, assured that the public approbation will in the end be with us.
I sincerely believe in the general existence of a moral instinct. I think it is the brightest gem with which the human character is studded, and the want of it as more degrading than the most hideous of the bodily deformities.
I shall expect from your justice that you will be equally ready to correct as to commit an error. It is not he who prints, but he who pays for printing a slander, who is its real author. Where wrong has been done, he who knows and conceals the doer of it, makes himself an accomplice, and justly censurable as such.
The right of opinion shall suffer no invasion from me. Those who have acted well have nothing to fear, however they may have differed from me in opinion: those who have done ill, however, have nothing to hope; nor shall I fail to do justice lest it should be ascribed to that difference of opinion. For even if we differ in principle more than I believe we do, you and I know too well the texture of the human mind and the slipperiness of human reason, to consider differences of opinion otherwise than differences of form or feature. Integrity of view more than their soundness, is the basis of esteem.
The timeless words above are from the heart of Thomas Jefferson as compiled by Eric Petersen and published in the book "Light and Liberty: Reflections on the Pursuit of Happiness." It took Petersen almost two decades to read the collected works of our most eloquent Founding Father and edit them into 154 pages of short, crystal clear essays that cut right through the confusing nonsense of our complicated, fast-paced world down to the quick of our moral being. I think the world would be a better place if people would internalize the simple decency reflected in the words and wisdom Thomas Jefferson left for us. Light and Liberty is available for $11.95 at www.modernlibrary.com. I believe that it should be at the bedside of everyone who believes that hope for a brighter future for their children and grandchildren is kept alive in their own hearts. (DWH)
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