Thomas Jefferson and John Adams
on the nature and limits of constitutional authority
The following exchange took place while John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were in France before Jefferson returned to attend the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia as a delegate from Virginia. Adams was dispatched to London to become the first American Ambassador to the Court of St James.
Jefferson would play a pivotal role in shaping the constitution, while Adams would read it for the first time in a foreign land.
Jefferson was to become the third, and Adams the second president to have served under the Consitution of the United States which they had helped to bring about.
I am increasingly persauded that the earth belongs exclusively to the living.
And, that one generation has no more right to bind another to its laws and judgements, than one independent nation has the right to command another.
But surely the constitution is meant to establish stability, and long-term legality.
And, what is government ultimately, but the putting into effect of the lessons learned in dealing with the contradictions in our own characters?
There is much discussion in current legal discourse, atributing this or that belief to have existed in the minds of the framers of the Constitution of the United States.
The significance of what was or was not not in the minds of the framers however, must be examined with upmost scrutinity and care.