In 1787 the new US Constitution had just been constructed. William Stephens Smith the son-in-law of John Adams sent Jefferson a copy. Jefferson was minister to France and was in Paris at the time. The letter he wrote thanked Smith for sending him the document which he had not received by the time of the composition of the letter famous for its image of the Tree of Liberty. A key portion of the the letter is below.

The people can not be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had 13. states independant (sic) 11. years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century and a half for each state. What country before ever existed a century and half without a rebellion? And 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 and 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 and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.

It is clear that Jefferson did not have confidence in the lasting commitment of any government to the liberty of its people. He was sure, correctly as subsequent events seem to indicate, that any government not matter how well conceived would ineveitably drift to tyranny. And that armed resistance would be necessary for the rights and liberties of the people to be preserved or regained. This prescription for violent correction of corrupt governance has always startled and upset readers ever since its composition. But what other remedy is likely to be restorative when the government violates the principles on which it rests? A government that seeks or succeeds in jailing its opponents and confiscating their property under the camouflage of law unjustly applied has forfeited its legitimacy.

Of course, the people grown soft or supine under the manipulation of a government not committed to liberty may accept the gradual application of constraints and rules of conduct that their forebearers more committed to freedom reistsed. Liberty lost is hard to regain which explains the paucity of governments firmly adherent to its preservation and application. The Stockholm Syndrome applies to nations as resolutely as it does to small groups of captives. Many will sell their liberty for the government’s largess as easily as Esau surrended his birthright for a bowl of stew. A lasting government devoted to rights and limits may be beyond the capacity of its citizens to maintain. Jefferson’s tree may wither and fall from lack of care.