Thomas Jefferson On Constitutional Originalists

Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale: (1805) [c...

Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale: (1805) [cropped] (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. I knew that age well; I belonged to it and labored with it. It deserved well of its country. It was very like the present but without the experience of the present; and forty years of experience in government is worth a century of book-reading; and this they would say themselves were they to rise from the dead.” —Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816. ME 15:40

“I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accomodate ourselves to them and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also and keep pace with the times.” –Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816. ME 15:40

“We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” –Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816. ME 15:41

Nothing is more likely than that [the] enumeration of powers is defective. This is the ordinary case of all human works. Let us then go on perfecting it by adding by way of amendment to the Constitution those powers which time and trial show are still wanting.” –Thomas Jefferson to Wilson Nicholas, 1803. ME 10:419

“[The European] monarchs instead of wisely yielding to the gradual change of circumstances, of favoring progressive accommodation to progressive improvement, have clung to old abuses, entrenched themselves behind steady habits and obliged their subjects to seek through blood and violence rash and ruinous innovations which, had they been referred to the peaceful deliberations and collected wisdom of the nation, would have been put into acceptable and salutary forms. Let us follow no such examples nor weakly believe that one generation is not as capable as another of taking care of itself and of ordering its own affairs. Let us… avail ourselves of our reason and experience to correct the crude essays of our first and unexperienced although wise, virtuous, and well-meaning councils.” –Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816. ME 15:41


…yes, he thought they were foolish and ignorant.


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