Thomas Jefferson on the Draft as "the last of all oppressions" (1777)

Thomas Jefferson

Found in The Works, vol. 2 (1771-1779)

Even when the revolutionary war was not going well for the colonists, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) reminded John Adams in a letter that the colonists would not stand for military conscription or the draft under any circumstances regarding it as "the last of all oppressions":

Our battalions for the continental service were some time ago so far filled as rendered the recommendation of a draught from the militia hardly requisite, and the more so as in this country it ever was the most unpopular and impracticable thing that could be attempted. Our people, even under the monarchical government, had learnt to consider it as the last of all oppressions.

Sometimes it comes down to the question of what is more important, the rights of individuals or the existence of the nation state? In this case, in the face of serious difficulties faced by the colonists in their war against the British Empire, Jefferson came down on the side of individual liberty. If it was tyranny to be conscripted under the monarchy, how would it be any different for the conscriptee if he were to be conscripted by another government in waiting? Jefferson concluded that, no matter the outward form of government, conscription is conscription and in any guise would be “the last of all oppressions.” For many of them, those who died as a result, it would indeed be the “last” oppression they would ever suffer under.