"Never to keep an unnecessary soldier": Rachel Maddow's new book misquotes Thomas Jefferson

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has a new book out called Drift. I won’t review it because I’d have to buy it. The Soros-funded Media Matters assigns 10 people to each Glenn Beck book, but I’ll just have to go by her Amazon.com book description:

“One of my favorite ideas is, never to keep an unnecessary soldier,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1792. Neither Jefferson nor the other Found­ers could ever have envisioned the modern national security state, with its tens of thousands of “privateers”; its bloated Department of Homeland Security; its rust­ing nuclear weapons, ill-maintained and difficult to dismantle; and its strange fascination with an unproven counterinsurgency doctrine.

Written with bracing wit and intelligence, Rachel Maddow’s Drift argues that we’ve drifted away from America’s original ideals and become a nation weirdly at peace with perpetual war, with all the financial and human costs that entails. To understand how we’ve arrived at such a dangerous place, Maddow takes us from the Vietnam War to today’s war in Afghanistan, along the way exploring the disturbing rise of executive authority, the gradual outsourcing of our war-making capabilities to private companies, the plummeting percentage of American families whose children fight our constant wars for us, and even the changing fortunes of G.I. Joe. She offers up a fresh, unsparing appraisal of Reagan’s radical presidency. Ultimately, she shows us just how much we stand to lose by allowing the priorities of the national security state to overpower our political discourse.

Ronald Reagan’s radical presidency? (rolls eyes)

What about Nobel Peace Prize recipient Barack Obama’s illegal wars? Clinton’s military action in Bosnia? She talks about all that, doesn’t she?

I’m a quotation researcher and I’ll look up other quotes in the book if sent to me, but let’s look at “One of my favorite ideas is, never to keep an unnecessary soldier.” Here’s the actual quote (in a June 3, 1792 letter to Mr. Hammond):

I told him that the idea of having no military posts on either side was new to me: that it had never been mentioned among the members of the executive: that therefore I could only speak for myself and sa that, prima facie, it accorded well with two favorite ideas of mine, of leaving commerce free, and never keeping an unnecessary soldier; but when he spoke of having no military posts on either side, there might be difficult in fixing the distance of the nearest posts.

Jefferson never wrote “One of my favorite ideas is…,” but he wrote “two favorite ideas of mine.” Maddow leaves out “leaving commerce free.” Jefferson’s words, like the Constitution, are living and breathing and we can change them to fit the times and our tastes.

Let’s go back a few sentences earlier:

To influence the Indians, to keep off a rival nation and the appearance of having a rival nation, to monopolize the fur trade. He said he was not afraid of rivals if the traders would have fair play. He thought it would be better that neither party should have any military posts, but only trading houses. I told him that the idea of having no military posts on either side was new to me: …

The context was trade with Indians (Native Americans). Jefferson was not talking about the defense of the United States against another nation.

Strictly speaking, nobody wants “unnecessary” anything. When I was in New York City, I fought against unnecessary government (the useless office of “Public Advocate” and the powerless offices of the borough presidents). Businesses cut down on unnecessary packaging of their products to save money. We can disagree on what’s necessary — there’s the rub — but once something is deemed “unnecessary,” then who needs it?

Jefferson’s “never keeping an unnecessary soldier” was saying something that no one can disagree with. However, he was wary about “having no military posts on either side.”

When people take a quote, it’s usually taken out of the surrounding context. Can it at least be quoted correctly? If Jefferson never said “One of my favorite ideas is…,” then how can this be a valid quote?

What else is wrong with this book?

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