President Obama Monday invoked Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence to justify his expansive view of government, but Jefferson might be surprised to learn that the number of federal employees today is nearly equal to the entire population of the nation in 1776.
According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the current civilian federal workforce, excluding postal service employees, was 2.15 million in 2011. The Census Bureau estimates that in 1776, the entire population of the United States was just a bit higher, at about 2.5 million. The number suggests that every adult man and woman living at the time – at least – would have been needed to staff today’s federal government.
The comparison is ironic because Obama invoked Jefferson’s famous line from the Declaration about “unalienable rights” such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to launch an inaugural address that invoked the Founders as justification for Obama’s own statist agenda.
The Founders, who crafted a Constitution that is at bottom a document designed to limit the powers of federal government, would never have recognized the welfare state and redistributionist policies Obama supports. Jefferson in particular is viewed as a leading figure among them backing the cause of states rights and a limited federal role.
Obama suggested in his remarks that the federal government is instead the protector of such rights, a warped view of the Founders’ intentions.
In his first term as president, George Washington had only five Cabinet members and about 1,000 federal workers in his employ.
Under Obama, the civilian workforce has grown by nearly 200,000 from the level of 1.96 million in 2008.