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Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson Wanted the Constitution Re-Written Every 19 Years.

The Constitution is the fundamental principles and rules of a nation, state, or social group that establish the powers and obligations of the government and guarantee certain rights to its citizens. It is a written document that encapsulates the norms of a political or social organization. But how many times was the Constitution supposed to be rewritten?

Thomas Jefferson wanted the Constitution to be rewritten every 19 years.

Re-Writing Every 19 Years According to Thomas Jefferson

In a letter to James Madison from Paris shortly after the French Revolution, Thomas Jefferson argues that any Constitution expires after 19 years and must be renewed if it is not to become an act of compulsion and not of right. 

Whether one generation of men has the right to bind another appears to have never been raised on either this or our side of the ocean. But there is no civic obligation, no umpire, only the law of nature between societies or generations. We appear to have missed that, according to natural law, one generation is to another as one independent nation is to another. Similarly, no community can create a permanent constitution or even a perpetual ordinance. The earth will always belong to the living generation. Every constitution and every legislation, then, must naturally die at the end of 19. years. If it is imposed for an extended period, it is an act of force, not of right.

Thomas Jefferson, the Third US President

The year in which the U.S. The year the Constitution was ratified coincided with the outbreak of the French Revolution, which Thomas Jefferson witnessed. Jefferson wonders in this letter to James Madison if one generation of men has a right to bind another, either financially or politically, to obey a constitution of laws not contracted by that individual. He concludes that every constitution must lapse nearly every generation or every 19 years, according to his calculations, since it was first signed and passed. As a result, the American Constitution expired and became null and void in 1808. (Source: Liberty Fund)

What is a Constitution?

The Articles of Confederation, which formed a solid league of affection between the states and vested most power in a Confederation Congress, prompted the need for the Constitution. However, this power was relatively limited. The central government conducted diplomacy and war, regulated weights and measures, and was the last judge of conflicts between states. Crucially, it could not raise any finances and relied solely on state funding. Each state sent a delegation to Congress of two to seven members, voted as a bloc, with each receiving one vote. However, any significant action required a unanimous majority, resulting in a paralyzed and ineffective government.
In 1787, invitations to attend a conference in Philadelphia to examine modifications to the Articles were extended to state legislatures as part of a reform campaign. Delegates from 12 of the 13 states met in Philadelphia in May of that year to begin reforming government. The Constitutional Convention participants promptly got to work on crafting a new Constitution for the United States. (Source: The White House)

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