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The Jeffersonian cyclopedia;

a comprehensive collection of the views of Thomas Jefferson classified and arranged in alphabetical order under nine thousand titles relating to government, politics, law, education, political economy, finance, science, art, literature, religious freedom, morals, etc.;
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1733. CONSTITUTIONS (American), Revision of.—
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3 occurrences of jefferson cyclopedia
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1733. CONSTITUTIONS (American), Revision of.—

Some men look at constitutions
with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the convenant, 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. I knew that age well: I belonged
to it, and labored with it. It deserved
well of its country. It was very like the
present, but without the experience of the
present; and forty years of experience in
government is worth a century of bookreading;
and this they would say themselves,
were they to rise from the dead. I am certainly
not an advocate for frequent and untried
changes in laws and constitutions. I
think moderate imperfections had better be
borne with; because, when once known, we
accommodate ourselves to them and find
practical means of correcting their ill effects.
But I know, also, that laws and institutions
must go hand in hand with the progress of
the human mind. As that becomes more developed,
more enlightened, as new discoveries
are made, new truths disclosed, and manners
and opinions change with the change of
circumstances, institutions must advance also,
and keep pace with the times. 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. It is this preposterous idea
which has lately deluged Europe in blood.
Their monarchs, instead of wisely yielding to
the gradual change of circumstances, of
favoring progressive accommodation to progressive
improvement, have clung to old
abuses, entrenched themselves behind steady
habits, and obliged their subjects to seek
through blood and violence rash and ruinous
innovations, which, had they been referred
to the peaceful deliberations and collected wisdom
of the nation, would have been put into
acceptable and salutary forms. Let us follow
no such examples, nor weakly believe that one
generation is not as capable as another of
taking care of itself, and of ordering its own
affairs. Let us [Virginia], as our sister
States have done, avail ourselves of our reason
and experience, to correct the crude essays of
our first and unexperienced, although wise,
virtuous, and well meaning councils. And
lastly, let us provide in our Constitution for
its revision at stated periods. What these
periods should be, nature herself indicates. By
the European tables of mortality, of the adults
living at any one moment of time, a majority
will be dead in about nineteen years. At the
end of that period then, a new majority is
come into place; or, in other words, a new
generation. Each generation is as independent
of the one preceding as that was of all
which has gone before. It has, then, like
them, a right to choose for itself the form of
government it believes most promotive of
its own happiness; consequently, to accommodate
to the circumstances in which it finds
itself, that received from its predecessors; and
it is for the peace and good of mankind, that
a solemn opportunity of doing this every
nineteen or twenty years, should be provided
by the Constitution; so that it may be handed
on, with periodical repairs, from generation to
generation, to the end of time, if anything
human can so long endure. It is now forty
years since the Constitution of Virginia was
formed. The same tables inform us, that,
within that period, two-thirds of the adults
then living are now dead. Have, then, the remaining
third, even if they had the wish,
the right to hold in obedience to their will,
and to laws heretofore made by them,
the other two-thirds, who, with themselves,
compose the present mass of adults? If they
have not, who has? The dead? But the
dead have no rights. They are nothing; and
nothing can not own something. Where
there is no substance, there can be no accident.
This corporeal globe, and everything
upon it, belong to its present corporeal inhabitants,
during their generation. They
alone have a right to direct what is the concern
of themselves alone, and to declare the
law of that direction; and this declaration can
only be made by their majority. That majority,
then, has a right to depute representatives
to a convention, and to make the constitution
what they think will be the best for
themselves.... If this avenue be shut
to the call of sufferance, it will make itself
heard through that of force, and we shall go
on, as other nations are doing, in the endless
circle of oppression, rebellion, reformation;
and oppression, rebellion, reformation, again;
and so on forever.—
To Samuel Kerchival, Washington ed. vii, 14. Ford ed., x, 42.
(M. 1816)