Seeing how Rachel Maddow once insisted the Constitution has no preamble -- this from a woman with a doctorate in political science from Oxford -- it hardly comes as a shock when she misquotes Thomas Jefferson to her liking.
In her new book, "Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power," Maddow attributes the following quotation to Jefferson, according the description of the book at Amazon --
"One of my favorite ideas is, never 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.
Jefferson's quote rings false for good reason -- it's not what he wrote. A sharp-eyed Barry Popik caught this and wrote about it at RedState over the weekend. The actual quotation, in a June 3, 1792 letter from Jefferson to British envoy George Hammond, published in Henry Augustine's "The Writings of Thomas Jefferson," reads as follows --
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 say 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 difficulty in fixing the distance of the nearest posts.
How about that, Maddow omits the part that just happens to be among her least favorite ideas -- "of leaving commerce free." Moreover, Jefferson cited this idea first, before that of "never keeping an unnecessary soldier."
Popik puts Jefferson's quotation in context by citing what he wrote 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: ...
As Popik points out, "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," Popik writes. "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 agree 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.' "
Don't hold your breath waiting for Maddow to acknowledge her dishonest trimming of Jefferson's "favorite ideas." She's too busy slamming Romney for deceit.