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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Tom was an Originalist

Jefferson (1743-1826) wrote this near the end of his life.

"Laws are made for men of ordinary understanding and should,
therefore, be construed by the ordinary rules of common sense.
Their meaning is not to be sought for in metaphysical subtleties
which may make anything mean everything or nothing at pleasure."

-- Thomas Jefferson (letter to William Johnson, 1823)

Nor should their meaning be sought for in the laws of foreign


Blogger Tom Head said...

But Tom was also skeptical of the Supreme Court. He saw the Bill of Rights as a series of guiding principles primarily kept in mind by the legislature, not put into effect by courts.

It's also worth noting that if you read some of the legislation Jefferson penned himself--the Kentucky Resolution, or the Virginia religious liberty statute--that he was perhaps the worst offender vis-a-vis introducing "metaphysical subtleties" into legislation. The Virginia religious freedom statute goes on for pages and pages about the philosophical underpinnings of religious liberty and the dangers of abusing it.

I like Jefferson, but he was a fallible man, a product of his time, and I'm sure he would have been the first to say so.

Thu Dec 06, 12:09:00 AM CST  
Blogger Steve Rankin said...

Tim Birdnow says:

"The fact that Jefferson did not always act on his beliefs (he kept slaves, too, despite his philosophical opposition to the institution) hardly invalidates his point; it merely means he was a complex and all-too-human individual who did not live up to his own beliefs."

Fri Dec 07, 04:51:00 PM CST  

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