Thomas Jefferson And The Constitution


Michael Benton, Contributor

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thomas jefferson and the constitutionIn 1789, after long deliberations and impassioned speeches, the United States Constitution was born. Of the forty signees of the U.S. Constitution, only six of them had also signed the Declaration of Independence. Did Thomas Jefferson sign the Constitution? No, he was serving as Minister to France during the time of the Constitutional Convention. Jefferson returned to the United States only six months after the Constitution took effect and was soon appointed as the Secretary of State in President George Washington's administration. Did Thomas Jefferson write the Constitution? No, he was actually a supporter of the smaller government structure originally proposed in the Articles of Confederation and did not want its revision to mean a stronger, more centralized union. If Thomas Jefferson wrote the Constitution, he would have preferred leaving many of the enumerated powers in the hands of state governments and may have included checks and balances similar to those he envisioned when he drafted the Virginia Constitution. Without the influence of Thomas Jefferson, Bill of Rights mainstays such as the right to bear arms and religious freedom may not have held up so strongly. Although someone like John Adams might be considered father of the Constitution, Thomas Jefferson would ascend to the presidency on principles that advocated for restraint of federal powers and a return to the the agrarian democracy he envisioned.

The difference between the democratic ideals of Thomas Jefferson and the Constitution created in 1789 were not enough to bar him from calling it the greatest the world had ever seen. Its execution, however, brought him great worry as he was disinclined from trusting a few men with great power over so many others. While diplomatic service in France drew away Thomas Jefferson, Constitutional Convention delegates met with the intention of revising the Articles of Confederation. With this resolution in mind, it became inevitable that the gentleman who made their way to Philadelphia would be making significant changes. From afar, Thomas Jefferson admired the mission of the delegates who gathered to draft a new Constitution, but his birth as an anti-Federalist in reaction to the strong, nationalist version they produced shows that Jefferson may have been a contentious member of the debate had he been present. After James Madison proposed the vague but strongly nationalist Virginia Plan, the delegates appointed to the Committee of Detail, headed by John Rutledge, put together a draft that included powerfully federalist language. A number of clauses added to the Constitution were compromises on issues that Jefferson would have cared to influence, including the Necessary & Proper Clause which gave the national government all unenumerated powers, and the Fugitive Slave Clause which required the capture and return of all runaway slaves to their original state. The three-fifths compromise, which counted African American slaves as part of the population but only to be counted as three-fifths of a citizen, gave the Southern states greater power and was based upon pseudo-economic calculations from an agreement in the Articles of Confederation.