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Time for a new Constitution


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Gonna throw this out here. 
 

I came across this as part of a letter TJ wrote to James Madison while he was still Ambassador to France. Jefferson played no role in the writing or adoption of the Constitution, aside from probably a few remarks in letters. He and Madison communicated a bit since their plantations were relatively close.

This was also written around the time that the French Revolution was brewing.

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The question Whether one generation of men has a right to bind another, seems never to have been started either on this or our side of the water… (But) between society and society, or generation and generation there is no municipal obligation, no umpire but the law of nature. We seem not to have perceived that, by the law of nature, one generation is to another as one independant nation to another… On similar ground it may be proved that no society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation… Every constitution, then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of 19. years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force and not of right.

https://oll.libertyfund.org/quote/thomas-jefferson-on-whether-the-american-constitution-is-binding-on-those-who-were-not-born-at-the-time-it-was-signed-and-agreed-to-1789

https://jeffersonpapers.princeton.edu/selected-documents/thomas-jefferson-james-madison

 

 

The crux here is that TJ realized that times change and laws cannot remain stagnant as time goes on. With changes in technology and other factors. A 200 plus year document written by middle aged men (politicians) should not remain in stone forever.

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A bit more of his argument

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The question Whether one generation of men has a right to bind another, seems never to have been started either on this or our side of[1] the water. Yet it is a question of such consequences as not only to merit decision, but place also, among the fundamental principles of every government. The course of reflection in which we are immersed here on the elementary principles of society has presented this question to my mind; and that no such obligation can be so transmitted I think very capable of proof.—I set out on this ground, which I suppose to be self evident, ‘that the earth belongs in usufruct to the living’:[2] that the dead have neither powers nor rights over it. The portion occupied by any individual ceases to be his when himself ceases to be, and reverts to the society. If the society has formed no rules for the appropriation of it’s lands in severality, it will be taken by the first occupants. These will generally be the wife and children of the decedent. If they have formed rules of appropriation, those rules may give it to the wife and children, or to some one of them, or to the legatee of the deceased. So they may give it to his creditor. But the child, the legatee, or creditor takes it, not by any[3] natural right, but by a law of the society of which they are members, and to which they are subject. Then no man can, by natural right,[4] oblige the lands he occupied, or the persons who succeed him in that occupation, to the paiment of debts contracted by him. For if he could, he might, during his own life, eat up the usufruct of the lands for several generations to come, and then the lands would belong to the dead, and not to the living, which would be[5] the reverse of our principle.

What is true of every member of the society individually, is true of them all collectively, since the rights of the whole can be no more than the sum of the rights of the individuals.—To keep our ideas clear when applying them to a multitude, let us suppose a whole generation of men to be born on the same day, to attain mature age on the same day, and to die on the same day, leaving a succeeding generation in the moment of attaining their mature age all together. Let the ripe age be supposed of 21. years, and their period of life 34. years more, that being the average term given by the bills of mortality to persons[6] who have already attained 21. years of age. Each successive generation would, in this way, come on,[7] and go off the stage at a fixed moment, as individuals do now. Then I say the earth belongs to each of these generations, during it’s course, fully, and in their own right. The 2d. generation receives it clear of the debts and incumberances of the 1st. the 3d of the 2d. and so on. For if the 1st. could charge it with a debt, then the earth would belong to the dead and not the living generation. Then no generation can contract debts greater than may be paid during the course of it’s own existence. At 21. years of age they may bind themselves and their lands for 34. years to come: at 22. for 33: at 23. for 32. and at 54. for one year only; because these[8] are the terms of life which remain to them at those[9] respective epochs.—But a material difference must be noted between the succession of an individual, and that of a whole generation. Individuals are parts only of a society, subject to the laws of the whole. These laws may appropriate the portion of and occupied by a decedent to his creditor rather than to any other, or to his child on condition he satisfies the creditor. But when a whole generation, that is, the whole society dies, as in the case we have supposed, and another generation or society succeeds, this forms a whole, and there is no superior who can give their territory to a third society, who may have lent money to their predecessors beyond their faculties of paying.

On the other hand I remember talk back in the '70s about the need for a new Constitutional Convention. The thought then was something akin to be careful what   you wish for. Given today's political climate it's probably the same.

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So Thomas Jefferson proposed in a letter to James Madison that the US Government be overthrown every generation? 

Times change, and so has how a lot of things that the group of politicians that we have dubbed as the infallible "Founding Fathers" thought at the time no longer apply.

Take National Elections and the Electoral College for example. The thinking behind it was the general electorate at the time (Land owning men only) could not be trusted to elect a Chief Executive directly. Now we do so and have done so for a few generations. but still use the convoluted method of voting for a group who supposedly makes our decision for us. At the same time a large percentage of the population's votes are basically cancelled with the winner take all system. Do you actually believe that is what Mr Madison intended.

I could do the same with several of the Bill of Rights Amendments, many have been bastardized by politicized court interpretations.     

The only laws that were ever written in stone were the Ten Commandments, (and even that is probably questionable)

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Posted (edited)

When Constitutions change around the world, it is after an overthrow. Yes, advocating scrapping the constitution is advocating an overthrow of the system. It's radical: on-par with the sentiments of the Jan 6 crew.

Edited by Edman85
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I prefer to call it retool. After all we've gone from a constitutional democracy to a corporate controlled oligarchy.

Do you include states with you thoughts on constitutional change. Michigan, for example has changed its constitution 5 times since 1835.

If you actually read my entire post (and the links in the Jefferson letter) you'd see that my final conclusion is be careful what you wish for.

 

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22 minutes ago, Edman85 said:

When Constitutions change around the world, it is after an overthrow. Yes, advocating scrapping the constitution is advocating an overthrow of the system. It's radical: on-par with the sentiments of the Jan 6 crew.

Re-writing the constitution probably would require an overthrow, but I think the opening post was making a philosphical argument rather than advocating a coup.  I think the point is that the country has changed so much that parts of the constitution may not be as relevant today as they were 235 years ago.  

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1 minute ago, CMRivdogs said:

Rewriting the Constitution would require intelligent, thoughtful persons. Unfortunately there aren't very many of them around today willing to take on the task.

Right, I would NOT want the current "leaders" to re-write the constitution.

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Edman85 said:

When Constitutions change around the world, it is after an overthrow. Yes, advocating scrapping the constitution is advocating an overthrow of the system. It's radical: on-par with the sentiments of the Jan 6 crew.

There are definitely instances where constitutions change without overthrow.   It happened in South Africa in the 90s.

ETA:  I also think there are some systems out there where changing the constitution is part of how the system works.  Not amending, but changing it out.

Edited by pfife
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Posted (edited)
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The Fundamental Law of Hungary (Hungarian: Magyarország alaptörvénye), the country's constitution, was adopted by parliament on 18 April 2011, promulgated by the president a week later and entered into force on 1 January 2012. It is Hungary's first constitution adopted within a democratic framework and following free elections.

The document succeeded the 1949 Constitution, originally adopted at the creation of the Hungarian People's Republic on 20 August 1949 and heavily amended on 23 October 1989. The 1949 Constitution was Hungary's first permanent written constitution and until it was replaced, the country was the only former Eastern Bloc nation without an entirely new constitution after the end of Communism.

Both domestically and abroad, the 2011 constitution has been the subject of controversy. Among the claims critics make are that it was adopted without sufficient input from the opposition and society at large, that it reflects the ideology of the ruling Fidesz party, and enshrines it in office, that it is rooted in a conservative Christian worldview despite Hungary not being a particularly devout country, and that it curtails and politicizes previously independent institutions. The government that enacted the charter has dismissed such assertions, saying it was enshrined lawfully and reflects the popular will.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constitution_of_Hungary

Edited by pfife
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The Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation (SR 10, German: Bundesverfassung der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft (BV), French: Constitution fédérale de la Confédération suisse (Cst.), Italian: Costituzione federale della Confederazione Svizzera (Cost.), Romansh: 11px-Loudspeaker.svg.pngConstituziun federala da la Confederaziun svizra (help·info))[3] of 18 April 1999 (SR 101)[4] is the third and current federal constitution of Switzerland. It establishes the Swiss Confederation as a federal republic of 26 cantons (states). The document contains a catalogue of individual and popular rights (including the right to call for popular referenda on federal laws and constitutional amendments), delineates the responsibilities of the cantons and the Confederation and establishes the federal authorities of government.

The Constitution was adopted by a referendum on 18 April 1999, in which a majority of the people and the Cantons voted in favour. It replaced the prior federal constitution of 1874, which it was intended to bring up to date without changing its substance.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss_Federal_Constitution

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1 hour ago, pfife said:

 I'm not sure what "ratified" means but they have 1788 as the date for the US. 

As dictated by Article VII, the document would not become binding until it was ratified by nine of the 13 states.

Beginning on December 7, five states—Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut—ratified it in quick succession. However, other states, especially Massachusetts, opposed the document, as it failed to reserve un-delegated powers to the states and lacked constitutional protection of basic political rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, and the press. In February 1788, a compromise was reached under which Massachusetts and other states would agree to ratify the document with the assurance that amendments would be immediately proposed. The Constitution was thus narrowly ratified in Massachusetts, followed by Maryland and South Carolina. On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the document, and it was subsequently agreed that government under the U.S. Constitution would begin on March 4, 1789.
 

Source: history.com

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Posted (edited)
5 minutes ago, 1776 said:

As dictated by Article VII, the document would not become binding until it was ratified by nine of the 13 states.

Beginning on December 7, five states—Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut—ratified it in quick succession. However, other states, especially Massachusetts, opposed the document, as it failed to reserve un-delegated powers to the states and lacked constitutional protection of basic political rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, and the press. In February 1788, a compromise was reached under which Massachusetts and other states would agree to ratify the document with the assurance that amendments would be immediately proposed. The Constitution was thus narrowly ratified in Massachusetts, followed by Maryland and South Carolina. On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the document, and it was subsequently agreed that government under the U.S. Constitution would begin on March 4, 1789.
 

Source: history.com

I meant the operationalization of the column "ratified" in the chart of all of the national constitutions at the link on wikipedia.  What I didn't know is if for all of those constitutions that date in that column meant a fresh document was adopted or if a current one was changed at that point.   That it has 1788 as the date for america leads me to believe the column means when a new document was adopted for that nation, assuming one can generalize the meaning of the table column based on the contents on one of the rows.

Edited by pfife
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1 hour ago, pfife said:

The constitution is super overrated.  So are the dudes that wrote it

I wonder if your negative perception of the constitution and the dudes that wrote it is a direct result of the current day behaviors and failures of the dudes that have sworn to uphold it and don’t. 
 

 

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1 minute ago, 1776 said:

I wonder if your negative perception of the constitution and the dudes that wrote it is a direct result of the current day behaviors and failures of the dudes that have sworn to uphold it and don’t. 

I'm very much not in favor of our laws being beholden to compromises from 300 years ago meant to protect slavery.

I also very much am not in favor of considering what people conjure up and call "the founding fathers' intentions" in legal jurisprudence. 

I also think the dudes that wrote it would say we overrate them.

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16 hours ago, CMRivdogs said:

The crux here is that TJ realized that times change and laws cannot remain stagnant as time goes on. With changes in technology and other factors. A 200 plus year document written by middle aged men (politicians) should not remain in stone forever.

I’m interested in hearing your take on this. There have been numerous amendments to our constitution so I don’t know to what degree it is “in stone forever.” I’m sure there will be more amendments going forward.

I’m a Thomas Jefferson fan and find his life interesting. In his own words, which I’m paraphrasing here, is that for the American citizenry to remain free they must remain educated. He personally oversaw the founding of UVA. He personally traveled abroad to seek out and bring educators to the new university. He wanted to have a first class learning experience (university) in Virginia. In other words, TJ walked the walk.

The AJ Mapp two book volume on his life is a great read.

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15 minutes ago, pfife said:

I'm very much not in favor of our laws being beholden to compromises from 300 years ago meant to protect slavery.

This seems to be a cornerstone argument for those that want to scrap the constitution. 
In its current state, as it were to be read today, point out where our current constitution protects or defends slavery. This of course would include any and all amendments since it’s inception.

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