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Did Thomas Jefferson Really Think the Constitution Should Expire?

Posted by Justin on

Our Founding Fathers were far from a monolith. Many of them had distinct and drastic ideas about government, the role religion should play in the new country, and more from one another. 

Thomas Jefferson was one such individual, holding a number of ideas that nowadays would seem to be a little strange. 

You might have heard that Thomas Jefferson believed the Constitution should expire after a certain amount of time. 

But is this true, or is it just a rumor that has stuck around thanks to gossip throughout a few centuries?

Let’s take a closer look at this myth and see if it holds up...

An Expiring Document

Turns out, Thomas Jefferson did believe that the U.S. Constitution should expire.

Specifically, he thought that the Constitution should be rewritten every 19 years. This would require a new Constitutional Convention, during which all the states in the union would meet and agree upon new rules or make minor adjustments to the existing document. 

The new Constitution would then have to be ratified once again, allowing for a more flexible and adaptable government.

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Why Did Jefferson Think This Way?

If Jefferson was one of the initial Founding Fathers, why did he believe that our Constitution should expire?

There are some likely historical reasons for why he held this view.

For one, Jefferson was not present at the writing of the Constitution. In fact, he was in Paris negotiating with France when the Constitutional Convention was being held in Philadelphia. So perhaps he felt that he didn't have enough say in the Constitution and wanted another opportunity in about 2 decades.

For another, Jefferson believed that 19 years was enough time for a new generation to become the country’s primary voters. He didn’t believe that the ideals of a previous generation should affect the choices or opportunities of the living generation.

Lastly, many other constitutions written during Jefferson’s time hadn’t lasted very long. It’s possible that he thought the new United States would be pushing its luck by trying to keep a living, permanent document as the country necessarily evolved.

Was He Right?

It's tough to say. There is certainly some merit to the idea that the Constitution should be updated more frequently. Chances are all of us have a bone to pick with at least one or more laws that are simply so entrenched in the current Constitution that it would be difficult to remove them (such as by an amendment).

However, the permanence of the Constitution also gives it great power. When a law is passed, those who approve of the law know that it will be very difficult to remove it later. This lends greater weight to political victories, such as when Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves and outlawed slavery throughout the United States.

All in all, it seems that the Constitution’s current format has turned out for the better.

The United States is stronger than ever and it’s due in part to the permanent – but adjustable! – nature of our guiding document. 

Thank you for reading, stay strong patriots. 

 Justin | FamTeeWorld
Maine, USA

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