It’s one thing to have lofty goals. Achieving them takes more than strong rhetoric. You have to have a solid, actionable strategy.

In response to the hated Alien and Sedition Acts, Thomas Jefferson used the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798 to lay out the principles of nullification. But the resolutions themselves did not nullify the Alien and Sedition Acts. Instead, Jefferson and Madison first created a framework for future action.

On November 17, 1798, one week after passage of the Kentucky Resolutions, Thomas Jefferson sent a draft to James Madison, along with a letter. He wrote:

“I inclose you a copy of the draught of the Kentucky resolves. I think we should distinctly affirm all the important principles they contain, so as to hold to that ground in the future, and leave the matter in such a train as that we may not be committed absolutely to push the matter to extremities, & yet may be free to push as far as events will render prudent.”

Jefferson and Madison stated their principles, justified their actions, and then left the door open to proceed with a practical strategy they could adapt as circumstances evolved.

At the TAC, we try to follow this blueprint. We always keep the ultimate goal in front of us, but we act strategically when and how specific situations allow. It’s a balancing act – always keeping in mind that you don’t achieve radical change by abandoning radical principles.

William Lloyd Garrison took a similar tack in his battle against slavery in the U.S.

Garrison ranks as one of the greatest abolitionists in American history, and he understood this strategy too. He steadfastly stuck by his call for absolute and immediate emancipation of all slaves.

While it seems absurd to our 21st-century sensibilities, total abolition of slavery was an idealistic, radical, extremist position in the mid-1800s. Principled abolitionists were generally reviled, even in the North. The broader abolitionist movement was dominated by pragmatists content with modest policy changes here and there. A lot of them were merely jockeying for political power.

Garrison would have none of this. He believed slavery should end immediately, and he constantly said so. He wasn’t concerned about winning a popularity contest or convincing people he was properly mainstream. He unapologetically wore a badge of radicalism. He unwaveringly pursued the ideal.

But Garrison wasn’t just running around like a proverbial bull in a china shop. He had pragmatic reasons for maintaining his hard-core stance. He recognized that by pushing for the ultimate goal he was more likely to reach it.

“Urge immediate abolition as earnestly as we may, it will, alas! be gradual abolition in the end. We have never said that slavery would be overthrown by a single blow; that it ought to be, we shall always contend.”

Garrison understood that if he started by seeking half-measures, he would never end up with anything more than half-measures. He warned, “Gradualism in theory is perpetuity in practice.”

Economist and political philosopher Murray Rothbard put it this way in A Case for Radical Idealism:

“William Lloyd Garrison was not being ‘unrealistic’ when in the 1830s he first raised the glorious standard of immediate emancipation of the slaves. His goal was the morally proper one, and his strategic realism came in the fact that he did not expect his goal to be quickly reached …

Gradualism in theory indeed undercuts the goal itself by conceding that it must take second or third place to other non- or antilibertarian considerations. For a preference for gradualism implies that these other considerations are more important than liberty.”

At the TAC, we always keep the Constitution and liberty as our core objective. But we also recognize that it will take a series of small victories to reach our ultimate goal.

We’ll never abandon our radical idealism. But we will always work strategically, step-by-step, to achieve those objectives.

This report tells the current story of our efforts.

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Mike Maharrey

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