On March 4, 1801, Thomas Jefferson gave his first inaugural address as president of the United States of America. He was the third person to hold the office.

His nation was young, a shadow of the sprawling republic it is today just decades after victory in its Revolutionary War with Britain.

Jefferson sought to allay local fears speaking of political freedoms, states’ rights, the value of minorities, and of a professional military as the avenue towards international peace: “A well-disciplined militia, our best reliance in peace and for the first moments of war till regulars may relieve them.”

Yet, it was his other message to the world that is most remembered, and with good reason. Succinct and direct, it also resonates in Australia now.

Given the mediocrity of Australia’s federal government and its numerous embarrassments wrought on the international stage—be they climate change, trade, pandemic response and indeed defence—take a pause and you might sense the void Jefferson’s vision of good government seeks to fill.

He said:

It is proper you should understand what I deem the essential principles of our Government … peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.

In 1801 the ascendancy of Napoleon Bonaparte in France and his era of wars that would follow until his defeat in 1815, were already underway. So too in our present day, one-by-one the adherents of Trumpism are falling; Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison is one of the few hangers on.

How we long for international honesty. Of diplomacy with sincerity.

How we long for disentanglement, of friendships and peace without globalised puppet masters clumsily pulling the strings.

Such is the yearning that distinguishes a leader. Such is the essence that separates the lout.

© 2021 Adam Parker.