Jefferson and the “Living” Constitution

The biggest difference between conservatives and liberals over filling the current vacancy on the Supreme Court is perhaps the question of interpretation of the Constitution.  Conservatives insist that the Constitution is NOT a living document and the person to be appointed must agree that it’s meaning MUST be read in strict conformity to the ideas of it’s authors.  What were those ideas?  Here’s what Thomas Jefferson had to say on the subject:
Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1816,
“ Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, … too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to … the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. … I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions … But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes … more enlightened, … discoveries … made, new truths disclosed, and … opinions change … institutions must advance … and keep pace with the times. … of the adults living at any one moment of time, a majority will be dead in about nineteen years. At the end of that period, then, a new majority is come into place; or, in other words, a new generation. Each generation is as independent as the one preceding, as that was of all which had gone before. It has then, like them, a right to choose for itself the form of government it believes most promotive of its own happiness; consequently, to accommodate to the circumstances in which it finds itself , that received from its predecessors; and it is for the peace and good of mankind, that a solemn opportunity of doing this every nineteen or twenty years, should be provided by the constitution; so that it may be handed on, with periodical repairs, from generation to generation, to the end of time, if anything human can so long endure. It is now forty years since the constitution of Virginia was formed. … within that period, two-thirds of the adults then living are now dead. Have then the remaining third, even if they had the wish, the right to hold in obedience to their will, and to laws heretofore made by them, the other two-thirds, who, with themselves, compose the present mass of adults? If they have not, who has? The dead? But the dead have no rights. They are nothing; and nothing cannot own something. … This corporeal globe, and everything upon it, belong to its present corporeal inhabitants, during their generation. They alone have a right to direct what is the concern of themselves alone, and to declare the law of that direction; and …  make the constitution what they think will be the best for themselves.” Thomas Jefferson http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/presidents/thomas-jefferson/letters-of-thomas-jefferson/jefl246.php
[In other words, Thomas Jefferson, probably the greatest of all the founding fathers, was of the opinion that the constitution must be a living document.]


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