The whole point of free speech is not to make ideas exempt from criticism but to expose them to it.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Does the US Constitution need a facelift?

Larry J. Sabato thinks so. So did Thomas Jefferson:

"No society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation…Every constitution, then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of 19 years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force and not of right.” —Thomas Jefferson (in a letter to James Madison from Paris, September 6, 1789)

Update: Steve S. wants to know if we've read Jefferson's whole letter to Madison. Good idea.


caheidelberger said...

What? Saint Jefferson said our sacred Constitution would only be good for 19 years? I love Jefferson, but his statement seems to throw a monkey wrench in the arguments of our friends who like to argue for strict interpretation.

Sabato's proposals are remarkable and debateworthy! I do not like the one-term presidency (or term limits of any kind). I am intrigued by the suggestions for expanding Congress and especially the non-partisan redistricting and primary reform. The two parties have taken too much control of the system (I'll bet Mr. Wasson will agree with me on that one!).

Michael Sanborn said...

Sabato's "solution" appears to be a recipe for mob rule.

I'm not sure that was Jefferson's idea. I'm also not sure I want people from New York, Illinois, California, Texas and Florida making decisions about ... say ... national forests.

It is a slippery slope Sabato hopes to negotiate and makes the assumption that Congress would be peopled by statesmen. And that hasn't happened for many many years.

Bill Fleming said...

There are 23 Sabato proposals, Michaeal.

Surely you don't think they are ALL without merit and unworthy of a few moments of your consideration, do you?

By the way, it only takes 66% of the State legislatures to call a Convention. That might well be comprised of the 33 states that are right now feeling the tyranny of the minority — an effect that the Founders almost certainly never anticipated.

In their time the rato of population from the largest state to the smallest was around 12 to one. Today it's more like 70 to one.

So in a way, this may just be a heads-up, Mike.

It may not make any difference what you or the SD Legislature thinks. It could just turn out that that the other 83% of the people in the country get to decide something for a change.

Steve Sibson said...


Have you read the entire letter Jefferson sent to Madison?

And have you Cory?

Bill Fleming said...

You mean this letter, Sibby?
If so, yes, I've read it.

Steve Sibson said...


What worldview legal philosophy was Jefferson using in his argument?

Bill Fleming said...

Steve, this is the worldview/legal philosophy specifically stated by Jefferson in the second paragraph of the letter:

"I set out on this ground, which I suppose to be self evident, "that the earth belongs in usufruct to the living": that the dead have neither powers nor rights over it."

Do you know what "usufruct" means, Sibby?

If so, then I presume I've answered your question satisfactorily? If you don't know what it means, let me know, ok?

Steve Sibson said...


Property rights are God-given based on Natural law, the legal philosophy of Jefferson as stated in the letter:

"Then no man can, by natural right, oblige the lands he occupied, or the persons who succeed him in that occupation, to the paiment of debts contracted by him."

So what does Jefferson's Natural Rights position mean for public debt and public land?

denature said...

Given that Jefferson chopped up his bible to remove all the mystical stuff, it may be best not cherry-pick his religious views.

Steve Sibson said...


I am sure the Progressive left would not want the issue of coveting be applied to their redistribution of wealth.

So the question remains, based on teh content of the letter Sabato has quoted from:

What does Jefferson's Natural Rights position mean for public debt and public land?

Steve Sibson said...

And I think this is also relevant to this thread:


You are wrong on two points:

1). The “founders” did not agree on changing the constitution every 19 years, otherwise it would have been in the constitution. Sabato is taking out of context a theory that Jefferson floated with James Madison. An what Sabato did not disclose was that Madison disagreed with Jefferson.

2). The intent of Jefferson in floating the theory is absent from Sabato’s two sentence out of context distortions, which is a violation of bearing false witness. Jefferson’s intent was to protect natural rights, and he was not promoting the idea that the constitution can be changed to destroy the Natural Law legal philosophy he established in the Declaration.

And there is a third point of distortion. The constitution has been changed since it was ratified. They are called amendments, but those are not the changes that I am concerned with. It is those changes made by the Supreme Court that violate the Natural Law foundation of this country. Specifically I am talking about FDR’s second wave of New Deal programs that include Social Security. This is from Jefferson’s letter:

“To render this conclusion palpable by example, suppose that Louis XIV. and XV. had contracted debts in the name of the French nation to the amount of 10,000 milliards of livres, and that the whole had been contracted in Genoa. The interest of this sum would be 500. milliards, which is said to be the whole rent roll or nett proceeds of the territory of France. Must the present generation of men have retired from the territory in which nature produced them, and ceded it to the Genoese creditors? No. They have the same rights over the soil on which they were produced, as the preceding generations had. They derive these rights not from their predecessors, but from nature. They then and their soil are by nature clear of the debts of their predecessors.
Again suppose Louis XV. and his cotemporary generation had said to the money-lenders of Genoa, give us money that we may eat, drink, and be merry in our day; and on condition you will demand no interest till the end of 19. years you shall then for ever after receive an annual interest of 125/8 per cent. The money is lent on these conditions, is divided among the living, eaten, drank, and squandered. Would the present generation be obliged to apply the produce of the earth and of their labour to replace their dissipations? Not at all.”
So what does that say about our FDR’s Social Security ponzi scheme where you believe a generation has the right to money made by younger generations? What does that say about the stimulus package where we “may eat, drink, and be merry in our day” on borrowed money that future generations have to pay back?
Taking a small part of what the founders said and give the exact opposite impression of their real intent is exactly what today’s American History books, Larry Sabato, and yourself (or simply the Progressive Movement) are doing. And again, those acts are violations of bearing false witness and by definition violations of Natural Law, the foundation upon which our liberties rest. By destroying that foundation you are being anti-American.

Michael Sanborn said...

When are you going to "get it" that the Constitution and the Bible are two different documents that say two different things.

Bearing false witness is an Old Testament doctrine (Exodus 20), ninth of 10 "Commdandments".

It does not appear in the Constitution.

I don't agree with the crux of Sabato's essay. But there is a clear path to a Constitutional Convention, provided for in the document itself.

Separate the Bible from the Constitution, Sibby, and argue from there. Sabato's essay is not about the Bible.

Steve Sibson said...


1).The Bible is a source of Natural Law.
2).Natural Law was established as teh legal philosophy by the Declaration.
3).The Constitition set up a government to implement Natural Law.


denature said...

"What does Jefferson's Natural Rights position mean for public debt and public land?"

That we shouldn't buy Louisiana?

denature said...

Selective quotes from Jefferson.

"But this does not satisfy the priesthood. They must have a positive, a declared assent to all their interested absurdities. My opinion is that there would never have been an infidel, if there had never been a priest."

"And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter."

"There is not one redeeming feature in our superstition of Christianity. It has made one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites."

"Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear . . . But those facts in the Bible which contradict the laws of nature, must be examined with more care, and under a variety of faces. Here you must recur to the pretensions of the writer to inspiration from God. Examine upon what evidence his pretensions are founded, and whether that evidence is so strong, as that its falsehood would be more improbable than a change in the laws of nature, in the case he relates. For example, in the book of Joshua, we are told, the sun stood still several hours. Were we to read that fact in Livy or Tacitus, we should class it with their showers of blood, speaking of statues, beasts, etc. But it is said, that the writer of that book was inspired. Examine, therefore, candidly, what evidence there is of his having been inspired. The pretension is entitled to your inquiry, because millions believe it. On the other hand, you are astronomer enough to know how contrary it is to the law of nature that a body revolving on its axis, as the earth does, should have stopped, should not, by that sudden stoppage, have prostrated animals, trees, buildings, and should after a certain time gave resumed its revolution, and that without a second general prostration. Is this arrest of the earth's motion, or the evidence which affirms it, most within the law of probabilities . . . It is the history of a personage called Jesus. Keep in your eye the opposite pretensions: 1, of those who say he was begotten by God, born of a virgin, suspended and reversed the laws of nature at will, and ascended bodily into heaven . . . Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences."

Steve Sibson said...

Did the Louisiana Purchase stay public land?

And instead of having an in context discussion of Jefferson's letter, you continue to use out of context excerpts.

Bill Fleming said...

Denature's Jefferson quotes PROVIDE context for his remarks in the letter, Steve.

Yours are the wild conjectures.

The Bible is not a Natural Law document. It is largely concerned with the metaphysical and supernatural. Nothing natural about it. It is full of factual errors. The people who wrote it were neither naturalists nor were they scientists. But jefferson was. Hence, he understood "Nature and Nature's God in a completely different light than you do.

And further, Jefferson makes absolutely no reference to God in his letter to Madison. None.

If you're going to try to make your point, you'll have to prove it. Just typing up a list and trying to cram it down our throats doesn't cut it.

Steve Sibson said...


Jefferson did talk about God in relation to Natural Law in denature's comment:

"But those facts in the Bible which contradict the laws of nature, must be examined with more care, and under a variety of faces. Here you must recur to the pretensions of the writer to inspiration from God. Examine upon what evidence his pretensions are founded, and whether that evidence is so strong, as that its falsehood would be more improbable than a change in the laws of nature, in the case he relates."

So obviously Jefferson believed Natural Law came from God, but he did not believe the Bible did. He did not believe it was "God's Word". That is far different than saying Natural Law is about nature and not about God. Especially since Jefferson said in the Declaration that our natural rights come from the Creator of nature.

Jefferson also said this in the Carr letter (that is where denature got that excerpt) that Jesus “reversed the laws of nature at will”. Not so. During the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not to destroy, but to fulfill”. Matthew 5:17

Jefferson was completely off base on that belief. Jesus did not reverse or destroy Natural Law, but instead gave us a much clearer understanding to its meanings. That is why the Bible is critical to understanding America’s legal foundation. We can debate its meaning all we want, and that would be a good thing, along as we also pray about it.

Bill Fleming said...

Nice post Sibby. Thanks for taking the time to write it. It's probably as close as you and I are going to get to agreement on this subject.

Steve Sibson said...

The theme of this picture is whether men ought to be ruled by God's law or whether they are to be ruled by the whims of a dictator.

~ Cecil B. DeMille, on his 1956 movie, "The Ten Commandments"

denature said...

So we're in agreement that Jefferson valued reason over mysticism, did not take the bible literally, and felt that one should not blindly take the writings in the bible as absolute truth.

I suppose it's too much to ask that we all agree on the value of national parks and land grant universities.

I am amused that this version of natural law is the liberalized version of the philosophy.

Steve Sibson said...


If Jefferson would have used reason and logic, he would not have said Jesus reversed the law. Jefferson was not god, he was not infallible. He made mistakes as we all have done.

And why did you use three dots in the middle of you long comment to replace this:

"? You will next read the New Testament."

Could it be that Jefferson's letter to his nephew advised him to read the Bible to ascertain truth, do not just take another man's interpretation? Logic and reason says yes. Unfortunately, your out of context presentation distorted that truth in order to perpetuate a lie. Misinforming others is the exact opposite of this Jefferson statement:

"God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion.
The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. ...
And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not
warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of
resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as
to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost
in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from
time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.
It is its natural manure."

We have a tyrant in the White House. Time to restore Truth and freedom in America! If we are to have a Constitutional Convention, it would be to do that and restore the Natureal Law that this great country was founded on, not to further the Progressive's movement away from it and toward a totalitarian welfare state.

Steve Sibson said...

denature & Bill,

And that Constitutional Convention should follow Thomas Jefferson's letter to Madison, we would sell all public land and use the money to pay down the debt instead of passing it on to future generations. And then prevent future debt by abolishing federal departmetns by starting with the Department of Education. To fix our economic problemns, abolish the Federal Reserve and return to the gold standard. Restore economic freedom by abolishing the IRS.

Bill Fleming said...

Good. I'm glad you see a need for a Constitutional Convention, Steve. So far that makes two of us.

denature said...

I used ellipses to shorten an overly long comment that only two people were ever going to read. It didn't change the meaning of the comment. I thought it obvious we were tranitioning from old to new testament. I also left out the parts criticizing evangelists and about reading the religions of other countries. You know there is an Islamic version of Natural Law right?

I could go on with this discussion, but given that you closed with the oblique suggestion that Obama needs to be killed, I don't see the point. The only logical conclusion is that you are unreasonable.

Steve Sibson said...

"I could go on with this discussion, but given that you closed with the oblique suggestion that Obama needs to be killed, I don't see the point."

Can't stop with just making stuff up, can you? It was Thomas Jefferson, not me who advocated a revolution every 20 years. He also advocated a constitutional convention every 19 years. That is probably why there will be freguent revolutions every 20th year. Therefore I disagree with Jefferson and agree with Madison on the need for frequent Constitutional Conventions. Instead we need to defend and protect the one created. We are not doing so well.

Bill Fleming said...

Steve, it was Madison who wrote Article V of the Constitution, allowing the Constitution to be Amended and the entire document reviewed and revised as necessary, not Jefferson. Further Madison was very distressed that the population of the Senate didn't more accurately reflect the population of the various states, even in his day, and only begrudgingly went along with the current system in order to get the initial draft ratified by the objecting states.

Your recollection of history seems a little rusty here, my friend.

denature said...

The quote ended with the part about refreshing liberty with the blood of tyrants. Then you immediately commented that Obama is a tyrant.

What am I supposed to conclude? Did you really not intend to put the image of McVeigh and his t-shirt in my head? If you're going to throw that quote around, you may want to be careful and emphasize that you don't support the violent overthrow of our government.

Steve Sibson said...


Again I will point out that Madison rejected Jefferson's idea to have a Constitutional Convention every 19 years.


No where will you find me saying that we should do anything violent toward Obama. And my point in using that quote was also not being used to futher that, but for an entirely different point. You are using the violence card the same way the left uses the race perpetuate a lie and false accusations to avoid dealing with the real issue.

So address the real point that I was making:

Is the Constitutional Convention's purpose to destroy Natural Law or is it to restore it? Are we going to return God as the source of law, or are we instead allowing a dictator to be the source of law?