Thomas Jefferson said the Constitution should be rewritten every 19 years

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Now, the most prevalent idea in the minds of a whole lot of Americans (especially super-patriots) is that the constitution is more or less infallible, what we should base every decision on, and something that withstands the test of time and should never be changed. The idea of rewriting or scrapping it is enough to send shivers down their spine and have them crying out for people's heads, slinging names and insisting that they are not a true American. Wouldn't it be interesting if one of the most revered founding fathers thought that the constitution should be rewritten every couple of decades...?

In case that overly dramatic build-up and the topic title weren't enough, Thomas Jefferson was very much in favour of this:

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"Every constitution, then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of nineteen years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right. It may be said, that the succeeding generation exercising, in fact, the power of repeal, this leaves them as free as if the constitution or law had been expressly limited to nineteen years only. In the first place, this objection admits the right, in proposing an equivalent. But the power of repeal is not an equivalent. It might be, indeed, if every form of government were so perfectly contrived, that the will of the majority could always be obtained, fairly and without impediment. But this is true of no form. The people cannot assemble themselves; their representation is unequal and vicious. Various checks are opposed to every legislative proposition. Factions get possession of the public councils, bribery corrupts them, personal interests lead them astray from the general interests of their constituents; and other impediments arise, so as to prove to every practical man, that a law of limited duration is much more manageable than one which needs a repeal." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1789. ME 7:459, Papers 15:396

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"Let us provide in our constitution for its revision at stated periods. What these periods should be nature herself indicates. By the European tables of mortality, of the adults living at any one moment of time, a majority will be dead in about nineteen years. At the end of that period, then, a new majority is come into place; or, in other words, a new generation. Each generation is as independent as the one preceding, as that was of all which had gone before. It has then, like them, a right to choose for itself the form of government it believes most promotive of its own happiness; consequently, to accommodate to the circumstances in which it finds itself that received from its predecessors; and it is for the peace and good of mankind that a solemn opportunity of doing this every nineteen or twenty years should be provided by the constitution, so that it may be handed on with periodical repairs from generation to generation to the end of time, if anything human can so long endure." --Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816. ME 15:42

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"Forty years [after a] Constitution... was formed,... two-thirds of the adults then living are... dead. Have, then, the remaining third, even if they had the wish, the right to hold in obedience to their will and to laws heretofore made by them, the other two-thirds who with themselves compose the present mass of adults? If they have not, who has? The dead? But the dead have no rights. They are nothing, and nothing can not own something. Where there is no substance, there can be no accident [i.e., attribute]." --Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816. (*) ME 15:42

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"The idea that institutions established for the use of the nation cannot be touched nor modified even to make them answer their end because of rights gratuitously supposed in those employed to manage them in trust for the public, may perhaps be a salutary provision against the abuses of a monarch but is most absurd against the nation itself. Yet our lawyers and priests generally inculcate this doctrine and suppose that preceding generations held the earth more freely than we do, had a right to impose laws on us unalterable by ourselves, and that we in like manner can make laws and impose burdens on future generations which they will have no right to alter; in fine, that the earth belongs to the dead and not the living." --Thomas Jefferson to William Plumer, 1816. ME 15:46

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"A generation may bind itself as long as its majority continues in life; when that has disappeared, another majority is in place, holds all the rights and powers their predecessors once held and may change their laws and institutions to suit themselves. Nothing then is unchangeable but the inherent and unalienable rights of man." --Thomas Jefferson to John Cartwright, 1824. ME 16:4

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"The generations of men may be considered as bodies or corporations. Each generation has the usufruct of the earth during the period of its continuance. When it ceases to exist, the usufruct passes on to the succeeding generation free and unencumbered and so on successively from one generation to another forever. We may consider each generation as a distinct nation, with a right, by the will of its majority, to bind themselves, but none to bind the succeeding generation, more than the inhabitants of another country." --Thomas Jefferson to John Wayles Eppes, 1813. ME 13:270

Let's not mention that many of them weren't exactly big fans of Christianity (or religion in general), we don't want to shatter misconceptions and piss people off too badly. :P
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Lorddave

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If the Constitution were to be rewritten from scratch now, it would be a horrible document.  It would be several thousand pages and probably make Jesus the United State's personal savior.

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Benjamin Franklin

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  • The dopest founding father.
Now, the most prevalent idea in the minds of a whole lot of Americans (especially super-patriots) is that the constitution is more or less infallible, what we should base every decision on, and something that withstands the test of time and should never be changed.
People with that idea know very little about the Constitution, then. The Constitution has a mechanism in it for change, and as you clearly showed, the founding fathers did not want policy or leadership to stagnate like it does in a monarchy. However, I doubt (and could be wrong) most founding fathers, including Jefferson, would want a total scrapping and rewriting of the Constitution. They'd probably prefer we use the existing mechanism to keep it relevant to today's society, and we've done that to some degree with constitutional amendments.

Wouldn't it be interesting if one of the most revered founding fathers thought that the constitution should be rewritten every couple of decades...?
I'd hardly call him one of the most revered founding father, at least not by the right. The Texas school board tried to take him off the Most Important Americans list when they were rewriting the history curriculum. He coined the phrase "Separation of Church and State", and that still pisses people off.

But for the record, T-Jeff was a homey. We'd hit up the bar and get so many bitches.