America’s Constitution in 2021: What Would Thomas Jefferson Do?

Photo: flickr/chi_cowboy Going my way? A statue of Thomas Jefferson greets commuters at the Jefferson Park Transit Center in Chicago, Il. In an earlier article, Editor-at-Large Clay Jenkinson described America’s Three Constitutions : The Capital C Constitution drafted in 1787; the small c constitution of norms and traditions not specified in the written Constitution and the ways the American people actually constitute themselves. In this second in a series, Jenkinson looks at the Constitution circa 2021. Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. Thomas Jefferson warned us not to regard the Capital C Constitution as sacred writ. On July 12, 1816, he wrote, “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.” Jefferson believed that a dynamic society like ours needed periodic constitutional revision lest it be suffocated by an out-of-date social contract. “Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind,” he wrote. “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.” Jefferson’s “solution” to the problem of a claustrophobic constitution was to tear it up once every nineteen […]

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