A treasury of Jefferson quotes on the Constitution

Editor’s Note: The quotes below were found on a CD, The American Freedom Library @ http://www.christiancdrom.com/aflpc.html ($19.95). The quotes originate in a book included on the CD, The Real Thomas Jefferson @ http://www.amazon.com/Thomas-Jefferson-American-Classic-Series/dp/0880800062/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1333650016&sr=1-1, by Allison, Maxfield, Cook, & Skousen ($15.61). Page numbering below comes from the CD.

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.377

CONSTITUTION (U.S.), Guiding Principles in Formation of.—To make us one nation as to foreign concerns, and keep us distinct in domestic ones, gives the outline of the proper division of powers between the [federal] and [state] governments. But to enable the federal head to exercise the powers given it to best advantage, it should be organized as the [state] ones are, into legislative, executive, and judiciary. The first and last are already separated. The second should be. When last with Congress, I often proposed to members to do this by making of the committee of the states an executive committee during the recess of Congress, and during its sessions to appoint a committee to receive and dispatch all executive business, so that Congress itself should meddle only with what should be legislative. But I question if any Congress (much less all successively) can have self-denial enough to go through with this distribution. The distribution, then, should be imposed on them.—To James Madison. Bergh 6:9. (1786.)

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.377

My general plan would be to make the states one as to everything connected with foreign nations, and several as to everything purely domestic.—Bergh 6:227. (1787.)

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.377

My idea is that we should be made one nation in every case concerning foreign affairs, and separate ones in whatever is merely domestic; that the federal government should be organized into legislative, executive, and judiciary, as are the state governments, and some peaceable means of enforcement devised for the federal head over the states.—Bergh 6:273. (1787.)

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.377

CONSTITUTION (U.S.), Jefferson’s Initial Evaluation of.—I like much the general idea of framing a government which should go on of [p.378] itself, peaceably, without needing continual recurrence to the state legislatures. I like the organization of the government into legislative, judiciary, and executive. I like the power given the [Congress] to levy taxes, and for that reason solely I approve of the greater house being chosen by the people directly. For though I think a house so chosen will be very far inferior to the present Congress, [and] will be very illy qualified to legislate for the Union, for foreign nations, etc., yet this evil does not weigh against the good of preserving inviolate the fundamental principle that the people are not to be taxed but by representatives chosen immediately by themselves. I am captivated by the compromise of the opposite claims of the great and little states, of the latter to equal and the former to proportional influence. I am much pleased, too, with the substitution of the method of voting by person, instead of that of voting by states; and I like the negative [i.e., veto] given to the executive, conjointly with a third of either house, though I should have liked it better had the judiciary been associated for that purpose, or invested separately with a similar power. There are other good things of less moment.

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.378

I will now tell you what I do not like. First, the omission of a bill of rights, providing clearly, and without the aid of sophism, for freedom of religion, freedom of the press, protection against standing armies, restriction of monopolies, the eternal and unremitting force of the habeas corpus laws, and trials by jury in all matters of fact triable by the laws of the land, and not by the laws of nations. To say, as Mr. Wilson does, that a bill of rights was not necessary because all is reserved in the case of the general government which is not given, while in the particular ones [i.e., in the state governments] all is given which is not reserved, might do for the audience to which it was addressed; but it is surely a gratis dictum, the reverse of which might just as well be said; and it is opposed by strong inferences from the body of the instrument, as well as from the omission of the cause of our present Confederation, which had made the reservation in express terms.…Let me add that a bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse or rest on inference. The second feature I dislike, and strongly dislike, is the abandonment in every instance of the principle of rotation in office, and most particularly in the case of the President. Reason and experience tell us that the first magistrate will always be reelected if he may be reelected. He is then an officer for life.—To James Madison. Bergh 6:386. (1787.)

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.378

CONSTITUTION (U.S.), Need for a Bill of Rights in.—I wish with all my soul that the nine first conventions may accept the new Constitution, because this will secure to us the good it contains, which I think great and important. But I equally [p.379] wish that the four latest conventions, whichever they may be, may refuse to accede to it till a declaration of rights be annexed. This would probably command the offer of such a declaration, and thus give to the whole fabric, perhaps, as much perfection as any one of that kind ever had.—Bergh 6:425. (1788.)

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.379

CONSTITUTION (U.S.), Ratification Near.—With respect to the new government, nine or ten states will probably have accepted by the end of this month. The others may oppose it. Virginia, I think, will be of this number. Besides other objections of less moment, she will insist on annexing a bill of rights to the new Constitution, [that is], a bill wherein the government shall declare that, 1, religion shall be free; 2, printing presses free; 3, trials by jury preserved in all cases; 4, no monopolies in commerce; 5, no standing army. Upon receiving this bill of rights, she will probably depart from her other objections, and this bill is so much to the interest of all the states that I presume they will offer it, and thus our Constitution be amended and our Union closed by the end of the present year. In this way, there will have been opposition enough to do good, and not enough to do harm.—Bergh 6:430. (1788.)

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.379

I have seen with infinite pleasure our new Constitution accepted by eleven states, not rejected by the twelfth, and that the thirteenth happens to be a state of the least importance. It is true that the minorities in most of the accepting states have been very respectable; so much so as to render it prudent, were it not otherwise reasonable, to make some sacrifice to them. I am in hopes that the annexation of a bill of rights to the Constitution will alone draw over so great a proportion of the minorities as to leave little danger in the opposition of the residue; and that this annexation may be made by Congress and the assemblies without calling a convention, which might endanger the most valuable parts of the system.—To George Washington. Bergh 7:223. (1788.)

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.379

CONSTITUTION (U.S.), Ratify, Then Amend.—At first I wished that when nine states should have accepted the Constitution, so as to ensure us what is good in it, the other four might hold off till the want of the bill of rights, at least, might be supplied. But I am now convinced that the plan of Massachusetts is the best, that is, to accept and to amend afterwards. If the states which were to decide after her should all do the same, it is impossible but they must obtain the essential amendments. It will be more difficult, if we lose this instrument, to recover what is good in it than to correct what is bad after we shall have adopted it. It has, therefore, my hearty prayers.—Bergh 7:29. (1788.)

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.379

CONSTITUTION (U.S.), Wisdom of.—The Constitution…is unquestionably the wisest ever yet presented to men, and some of the accommodations of interest which it has adopted are greatly pleasing to me, who have before had occasions [p.380] of seeing how difficult those interests were to accommodate.—To David Humphreys. Bergh 7:322. (1789.)

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.380

CONSTITUTION (U.S.), Tenth Amendment the “Foundation” of.—I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: that “all powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states or to the people.”… To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specially drawn around the powers of Congress is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition.—Bergh 3:146. (1791.)

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.380

The capital and leading object of the Constitution was to leave with the states all authorities which respected their own citizens only, and to transfer to the United States those which respected citizens of foreign or other states; to make us several as to ourselves, but one as to all others.…Can it be believed that under the jealousies prevailing against the general government at the adoption of the Constitution, the states meant to surrender the authority of preserving order, of enforcing moral duties and restraining vice, within their own territory?… Can any good be effected by taking from the states the moral rule of their citizens and subordinating it to the general authority, or to one of their corporations, which may justify forcing the meaning of words, hunting after possible constructions, and hanging inference on inference, from heaven to earth, like Jacob’s ladder? Such an intention was impossible, and such a licentiousness of construction and inference, if exercised by both governments, as may be done with equal right, would equally authorize both to claim all power, general and particular, and break up the foundations of the Union. Laws are made for men of ordinary understanding, and should therefore be construed by the ordinary rules of common sense. Their meaning is not to be sought for in metaphysical subtleties, which may make anything mean everything or nothing, at pleasure.…The states supposed that by their Tenth Amendment they had secured themselves against constructive powers. They were not …yet…aware of the slipperiness of the eels of the law. I ask for no straining of words against the general government, nor yet against the states. I believe the states can best govern our home concerns, and the general government our foreign ones. I wish, therefore, to see maintained that wholesome distribution of powers established by the Constitution for the limitation of both; and never to see all offices transferred to Washington, where, further withdrawn from the eyes of the people, they may more secretly be bought and sold as at market.—Bergh 15:448. (1823.)

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.380

CONSTITUTION (U.S.), “Necessary and Proper” Clause.—[By] the…general phrase…”to make all laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution the enumerated [p.381] powers,”…the Constitution allows only the means which are “necessary,” not those which are merely “convenient” for effecting the enumerated powers. If such a latitude of construction be allowed to this phrase as to give any non-enumerated power, it will go to every one, for there is not one which ingenuity may not torture into a convenience in some instance or other, to some one of so long a list of enumerated powers. It would swallow up all the delegated powers and reduce the whole to one power. Therefore it was that the Constitution restrained them to the necessary means, that is to say, to those means without which the grant of power would be nugatory.—Bergh 3:149. (1791.)

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.381

CONSTITUTION (U.S.), Subverted by the Treasury Department.—I told [President Washington] that…a system had there [in the Treasury Department] been contrived for deluging the states with paper money instead of gold and silver, for withdrawing our citizens from the pursuits of commerce, manufactures, buildings, and other branches of useful industry to occupy themselves and their capitals in a species of gambling, destructive of morality, and which had introduced its poison into the government itself. That it was a fact, as certainly known as that he and I were then conversing, that particular members of the [Congress], while those laws were on the carpet, had feathered their nests with paper, had then voted for the laws, and constantly since lent all the energy of their talents and instrumentality of their offices to the establishment and enlargement of this system; that they had chained it about our necks for a great length of time, and in order to keep the game in their hands had, from time to time, aided in making such legislative constructions of the Constitution as made it a very different thing from what the people thought they had submitted to; that they had now brought forward a proposition far beyond any one ever yet advanced, and to which the eyes of many were turned as the decision which was to let us know whether we live under a limited or an unlimited government. He asked me to what proposition I alluded. I answered, to that in [Hamilton’s] Report on Manufactures which, under color of giving bounties for the encouragement of particular manufactures, meant to establish the doctrine that the power given by the Constitution to collect taxes to provide for the general welfare of the United States permitted Congress to take everything under their management which they should deem for the public welfare, and which is susceptible of the application of money; consequently, that the subsequent enumeration of their powers was not the description to which resort must be had, and did not at all constitute the limits of their authority.—The Anas. Bergh 1:290. (1792.)

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.381

CONSTITUTION (U.S.), And Assumed Powers.—Whensoever the general government assumes un-delegated powers, its acts are [p.382] unauthoritative, void, and of no force.—Kentucky Resolutions. Bergh 17:380. (1798.)

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.382

Where powers are assumed which have not been delegated, a nullification of the act is the rightful remedy.—Kentucky Resolutions. Bergh 17:386. (1798.)

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.382

If, wherever the Constitution assumes a single power out of many which belong to the same subject, we should consider it as assuming the whole, it would vest the general government with a mass of powers never contemplated. On the contrary, the assumption of particular powers seems an exclusion of all not assumed.—Ford 9:452. (1814.)

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.382

CONSTITUTION (U.S.), Confidence to Be Placed in It, Not in Men.—It would be a dangerous delusion were a confidence in the men of our choice to silence our fears for the safety of our rights.…

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.382

Confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism. Free government is founded in jealousy, and not in confidence; it is jealousy, and not confidence, which prescribes limited constitutions to bind down those whom we are obliged to trust with power.…Our Constitution has accordingly fixed the limits to which, and no further, our confidence may go.…In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.—Kentucky Resolutions. Bergh 17:388. (1798.)

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.382

CONSTITUTION (U.S.), Original Meaning Should Be Preserved.—The Constitution on which our Union rests shall be administered by me according to the safe and honest meaning contemplated by the plain understanding of the people of the United States at the time of its adoption—a meaning to be found in the explanations of those who advocated, not those who opposed it.…These explanations are preserved in the publications of the time.—Bergh 10:248. (1801.)

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.382

On every question of construction, [let us] carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.—Bergh 15:449. (1823.)

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.382

CONSTITUTION (U.S.), Should Be Interpreted Strictly.—When an instrument admits two constructions, the one safe, the other dangerous, the one precise, the other indefinite, I prefer that which is safe and precise. I had rather ask an enlargement of power from the nation, where it is found necessary, than to assume it by a construction which would make our powers boundless. Our peculiar security is in the possession of a written Constitution. Let us not make it a blank paper by construction.—Bergh 10:418. (1803.)

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.382

CONSTITUTION (U.S.), Makes Each Department Independent.—My construction of the Constitution is…that each department [of the federal government] is truly independent of the others, and has an [p.383] equal right to decide for itself what is the meaning of the Constitution in the cases submitted to its action, and especially where it is to act ultimately and without appeal.—Bergh 15:214. (1819.)

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.383

CONSTITUTION (U.S.), Resolves Conflicts Between Governmental Departments.—The peculiar happiness of our blessed system is that in differences of opinion between these different sets of servants [in the three departments of the federal government], the appeal is to neither, but to their employers [i.e., the people], peaceably assembled by their representatives in convention.—Bergh 15:328. (1821.)

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.383

CONSTITUTION (U.S.), Limits Federal Jurisdiction.—It may be impracticable to lay down any general formula of words which shall decide at once, and with precision in every case, this limit of jurisdiction. But there are two canons which will guide us safely in most of the cases.

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.383

1st. The capital and leading object of the Constitution was to leave with the states all authorities which respected their own citizens only, and to transfer to the United States those which respected citizens of foreign or other states; to make us several as to ourselves, but one as to all others. In the latter case, then, constructions should lean to the general jurisdiction if the words will bear it; and in favor of the states in the former, if possible to be so construed. And, indeed, between citizens and citizens of the same state and under their own laws, I know but a single case in which a jurisdiction is given to the general government. That is where anything but gold or silver is made a lawful tender, or the obligation of contracts is any otherwise impaired. The separate legislatures had so often abused that power that the citizens themselves chose to trust it to the general rather than to their own special authorities.

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.383

2nd. On every question of construction, carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.—Bergh 15:448. (1823.)

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.383

CONSTITUTION (U.S.), Importance of Preserving.—To preserve the republican form and principles of our Constitution and cleave to the salutary distribution of powers which that has established…are the two sheet anchors of our Union. If driven from either, we shall be in danger of foundering.—Bergh 15:452. (1823.)

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.383

CONSTITUTION (U.S.), Preservation of, a Central Issue in Presidential Elections.—I hope the choice [of the next President] will fall on some real republican, who will continue the administration on the express principles of the Constitution, unadulterated by constructions reducing it to a blank to be filled with what everyone pleases, and what never was intended.—Ford 10:264. (1823.)

The Real Thomas Jefferson, p.384

[p.384] CONSTITUTION (U.S.). See also ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION; CENTRALIZATION; FEDERAL GOVERNMENT; GENERAL WELFARE CLAUSE; JUDICIAL REVIEW; JUDICIARY; SEPARATION OF POWERS; STATES; STATES’ RIGHTS.

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Published in: on April 5, 2012 at 1:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

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