Hijacking Jefferson

The editors at the conservative web publication The Federalist--hyperbolically touted as "Requested by more Americans than any other publication on the Internet"--have a habit of hacking Thomas Jefferson quotes from their contexts and repurposing them for un-Jeffersonian ends. Feeling feisty, I challenged them on their claim to online ubiquity, and received an e-mail reply from one Faith Long who asked: "Ever heard of an e-journal?" OK, so The New York Times could be requested more than any other internet publicaton, but since it's not dubbed an "e-journal," The Federalist's got 'em beat? Hmm.

What really struck me about Faith's e-mail was the concluding signature that featured a Jefferson quote strewn among adages from Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, and Benjamin Franklin about (among other things) how great it is to die for your country:
The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. ... Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.
First off, the oft-quoted "resistance to tyrants" line doesn't appear in the same letter--sent by Jefferson in 1787 to William Smith--as the Tree of Liberty metaphor. In its proper context, the passage takes on an ominous cast in today's dark times:
What country before ever existed a century & a half without a rebellion? & what country can preserve it's liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it's natural manure.
Last time I heard from The Federalist, it was a forwarded e-mail "Patriot Alert" about boycotting French products to punish the French for not supporting preemptive war in Iraq. Here, Jefferson was heralded as an advocate of international coercion through commerce:
...Commerce, which if properly managed, will be a better instrument for obliging the interested nations of Europe to treat us with justice.
The line the folks at The Federalist left out--just preceding their excerpt:
War is not the best engine for us to resort to
Update: Following my e-mail, The Federalist changed their descriptor to "Requested by more Americans than any other Internet publication." Now if they could only be more Jeffersonian to Jefferson.

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