Golden Nuggets from U. S. History
The Blue Quill Series
Thomas Jefferson: Reactions and thoughts to the Constitution
Jefferson received a copy of the proposed Constitution in November 1787, while serving as Minister in France.
The Rev. Charles A. Goodrich, in his 1829 book "Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence" opens with these remarks about Jefferson:
Jefferson made up for the lack of information about his childhood. Of all the founders, he was the most prolific writer, having penned an estimated 65,000 documents during his lifetime. Nearly every thought that entered Jefferson's adult brain was put on paper. Alexander Hamilton may have been intellectually superior but none of the founders could match Jefferson's clarity of thought, resourcefulness, historical research, and vision for the future. Like George Washington, his talents extended well beyond politics, into such areas as planting and farming, architecture, biology, scientific inquiry, geography, music, literature, and finance. He often corresponded with Benjamin Franklin expressing a keen interest in Franklin's inventions (stove, bifocals, harmonica) and electrical experiments. But Jefferson excelled in listening to others, conducting research, making up his mind, and acting on his conclusions.
On January 1, 1772, Thomas married widow Martha Wayles Skelton (1748-1782), and they had six children, but only two survived to adulthood; Martha Washington Jefferson (1772-1836) and Mary Jefferson (1778-1804). Politically correct historians and Christian scholars alike have classified him an atheist, making much to-do over Jefferson's never-declared religious affiliation, his failure to attend church and his efforts to embed the 'establishment' clause of the First Amendment into the Constitution, yet his writings are replete with references to God and Higher Authority. Also, when his wife Martha died from complications of childbirth in 1782, Jefferson was so distraught that he spent weeks behind closed doors mourning her loss and could be heard through the door offering prayers for her salvation.
While a youth he became a student in the college of William and Mary. Later he studied under the tutelage of fellow Founder George Wythe and was admitted to practice law in 1766. At age 25 he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses and was 33 when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Major political offices held during his lifetime were:
Jefferson was a great President, arguably ranking among the top three or four. He pulled back from the Federalist policies of his predecessor John Adams; bought the Louisiana Territory in 1803 for $15 million from Napoleon Bonaparte of France nearly doubling the size of the United States; commissioned the Lewis and Clark Expedition by letter June 20, 1803, to Captain Meriwether Lewis; settled dozens of disputes with native American nations; and kept the United States out of the Napoleonic wars in Europe. At home and abroad his popularity soared the longer he stayed in office but he refused to seek a third term because, like George Washington, he believed that no one should serve more than two terms.
Jefferson's lifetime accomplishments are more remarkable when it is realized that he had two serious handicaps: He was extremely shy and he had a high-pitched, low voice with a serious stammer. He very much admired public orators, especially men like Patrick Henry, and was motivated by great public debate. In Jefferson's biography Goodrich quotes from Henry's speech before the Virginia assembly:
Young Jefferson had stood in the doorway of the capitol between the House chamber and the lobby when Henry delivered the now famous speech against the Stamp Act and was inspired by both words and style. Perhaps those words moved him toward national politics.
But today, Jefferson could not get elected dog catcher. The public no longer thinks in terms of achievement and purpose; only rhetoric, and Jefferson was no speaker. Few today pay attention to deeds: words are currency. In 1800 the press was an active participant in the process, delving deeply into the issues and reporting pros and cons depending upon their own intense agendas. Today's hypocritical press is a hollow shell with nothing more in mind than sleazy profits, political correctness, and a socialistic society for all others. The modern press has anointed themselves the conscious for the world, seriously believing that only they have the answers for goodness, virtue, righteousness, salvation, appropriate behavior, and correctness.
Jefferson had no such illusions. He was firmly grounded in the belief that the new nation must reach collective decisions for the future but he strongly believed that each individual must be free to reach their own conclusions. Therefore, when a copy of the newly drafted Constitution reached him in France he was dismayed by what he read. In his own words he described his reaction:
Those are not the words of a man who believed that the document when enacted should become a sacred cow, not to be tampered with. He began at once to collaborate with fellow Virginian James Madison to construct those changes which became the Bill of Rights but even that effort failed to include one of his strongest objections; term limits on the President. That provision had to wait until 1947, more than 165 years.
Jefferson in Europe
When Jefferson arrived in Europe in 1785 he did not go directly to France. He traveled extensively studying the people and cultures before delivering his credentials from the new nation to the authorities in Paris. Immediately he began investigating all aspects of the French culture; medicine, science, government, agriculture, business, finance, social protocols, education, and more. By 1787 he was firmly established, and highly regarded with the most prominent leaders of Europe.
John Adams, who had served as Minister to England in 1785, arrived with a mission to secure financing to run the U.S. government and called on Jefferson for assistance. Jefferson performed the financial analysis and together they traveled to the Hague and borrowed the correct sums to run the American government through 1791 with the potential for extensions beyond that.
By 1788 France was in turmoil from the early unrest which led to the French Revolution. Jefferson watched with great interest as French leaders wrestled with questions of a new constitution, new government, kings and queens. He was in France in 1789 when mobs stormed the Bastille and when King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, were beheaded. Jefferson was asked to help form a new government and constitution but adroitly explained that he was there representing the U.S. government and that it would be inappropriate for him to participate or demonstrate support for either side.
He left France for a visit to America in late 1789 and arrived in Norfolk on November 23. From Norfolk he followed his usual custom of exploiting his travel for study, observation, and visitation. In his 1821 Autobiography he describes his arrival in part:
And so he embarked on a new round of government service, Secretary of State, Vice-President, and eight years as President.
Earlier in his life he had accepted the challenge of rewriting the laws for the Commonwealth of Virginia and he wrote the Virginia Constitution after independence was secured. Both the new state laws and the Virginia Constitution were used as models by most of the other states.
He personally designed and managed the construction of Monticello. He founded the University of Virginia and designed the buildings and campus. Jefferson is the first person to have correctly identified the huge earthen mounds found throughout the Mississippi valley as man-made, possibly religious or ceremonial structures, built by ancient inhabitants. Through all of his other endeavors, he maintain his plantation at Monticello near Charlottesville, Virginia.
If Jefferson should reappear today he would be appalled at the inane madness practiced by politicians who are consumed by press accounts of their actions or inactions. He would be even more astonished to hear politicians read press accounts into the congressional record as though the accounts are factual. Jefferson would quietly begin to write proposed amendments to the Constitution to provoke public but orderly debate to resolve all the major questions before the nation. He would believe it proper to force special debates (to approve or disapprove amendments) in the congress and in each of the state legislatures to resolve abortion issues, hate crimes (resolve whether one life is more valuable than another), same sex marriage, police conduct during arrest, financing of national elections, power of Federal Courts, power of Congress to use the Commerce Clause to stick its nose into everyone's daily life, prayer in schools (he would strongly oppose, but he would support legislative debate over an amendment), and the federal role in education (its not mentioned in the Constitution in ANY form).
Jefferson would be most appalled over the power of Federal Courts and the Executive Branches. He strongly believed that the power belonged with the people and should be exercised through their legislatures and congress. His logical and straight mind would never comprehend the practice of congress to write federal laws which allow bureaucrats to make new laws by publication in the Federal Register. He would see it for exactly what it is -- an assignment of legislative powers to the Executive Branch. He would not comprehend how courts could conjure up new interpretations of constitutions and laws with so little outcry from citizens.
He would be dumbfounded that in 1913 the American people had permitted ratification of Amendments for the federal government to levy a direct income tax and eliminate the guardians of states rights by direct election of Senators.
He would be most shocked by the apathy of the American people who have allowed two political parties to take control of the election process. Jefferson believed that the Revolution had wrenched the power from "the few" and handed it to the people. He believed that the people would forever fight to the death to retain it.
If Jefferson returned today he probably would erect a monument to the Constitution with the inscription, "Expired, lack of interest."
© 1999-2001 Concord Learning Systems, Concord, NC. All rights reserved.