Jefferson's Attitudes And Contributions To The Constitution Of The United States

2875 words - 12 pages

Understanding Thomas Jefferson’s attitudes and opinions on the Constitution proves much more difficult than those of the other founding fathers. Jefferson’s political ideology combined with his career as a diplomat to create a complex struggle between his deep appreciation for a truly democratic society and the pragmatic needs for a strong central government able to function on the international stage. Jefferson’s own writings often appear contradictory when he discusses his opinions regarding the Constitution and seem to differ based upon the intended recipient and date of composition. This combination of beliefs led to Jefferson’s apprehension and tacit support of the ...view middle of the document...

However, his belief in those principles is supported by his later writings. Jefferson’s tacit approval of the Constitution hinged upon the inclusion of a Bill of Rights to guarantee citizens the rights he so eloquently proposed in the Declaration of Independence.These “unalienable rights”, mentioned only in a general and fairly vague sense in the Declaration of Independence, were to be defined by Jefferson throughout the ratification process of the Constitution as a prerequisite for his public support. Writing to Madison, Jefferson stressed the need for a Bill of Rights within the Constitution when he vehemently stated “A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular; and what no just government should refuse” . Jefferson further defined these rights in multiple letters to Madison, William Smith, Noah Webster, and others as protections for the citizens against monopolies, standing armies, and ensuring the rights of habeas corpus, freedoms of press and religion, and trials by jury . With the addition of the promise of a Bill of Rights, Jefferson publicly supported the ratification of the Constitution until the ninth state had voted. Once the required nine states had accepted the Constitution, guaranteeing its enactment, Jefferson changed his public position and opposed it ratification as a ploy to ensure that the promised Bill of Rights, or amendments as they were then known, would come to fruition .It was not only the lack of a Bill of Rights in the initial drafts that concerned Jefferson, but also the entire process that led to the drafting of the Constitution and the governmental structures that it outlined. The federal government specified by the Constitution contained many elements Jefferson favored, but also many he did not. His initial intention for the structure of the American government was clearly specified in the conclusion for the Declaration of Independence. There was no mention of a strong centralized authority, but rather the “free and independent states” specified within its conclusion. Even this loose association of independent states did not fit Jefferson’s model of an ideal government as he favored the near anarchy of the Native American nations, but realized that it was impractical for a political entity spanning the great geographical distances as the United States .In order to effectively govern the large territory of the United States he realized that a stable government would be needed, and some degree of centralization would be required. However, Jefferson believed that the state should be the primary unit of domestic government, responsible for its own citizens and domestic affairs, while the central government would only have the powers of taxation and reign over all foreign policy decisions . By this separation of power, according to Jefferson, the citizenry would maintain the most liberties while the nation would gain...

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