Quotes Suitable for Framing: Thomas Jefferson

 

 

 

I feel an urgency to note what I deem an error in it, the more requiring notice as your opinion is strengthened by that of many others.  You seem in pages 84. & 148. to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions: a very dangerous doctrine indeed and one which would place us under the despotism of an Oligarchy.  Our judges are as honest as other men, and not more so.  they have, with others, the same passions for party, for power, and the privileges of their corps. Their maxim is ‘boni judicis est ampliare jurisdictionim,’ and their power the more dangerous as they are in office for life, and not responsible, as the other functionaries are, to the elective control.  The constitution has erected no such single tribunal knowing that, to whatever hands confided, with the corruptions of time & party it’s members would become despots.  It has more wisely made all the departments co-equal and co-sovereign within themselves.  If the legislature fails to pass laws for a census, for paying the judges & other officers of government, for establishing a militia, for naturalization, as prescribed by the constitution, or if they fail to meet in Congress, the judges cannot issue their Mandamus to them.  If the President fails to supply the place of a judge, to appoint other civil or military officers, to issue requisite commissions, the judges cannot force him.  They can issue their Mandamus or distringas to no Executive or Legislative officer to enforce the fulfillment of their official duties, any more than the President or legislature may issue orders to the judges or their officers.  Betrayed by English example, & unaware, as it should seem, of the control of our constitution in this particular, they have at times overstepped their limit by undertaking to command executive officers in the discharge of their executive duties.  But the constitution, in keeping the three departments distinct & independant, restrains the authority of the judges to judiciary organs, as it does the executive & legislative, to executive and legislative organs.  The judges certainly have more frequent occasion to act on constitutional questions, because the laws of meum & teum, and of criminal action, forming the great mass of the system of law, constitute their particular department.  When the legislative or executive functionaries act unconstitutionally, they are responsible to the people in their elective capacity.  The exemption of the judges from that is quite dangerous enough. I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society, but the people themselves: and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is, not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.  This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.

Thomas Jefferson to William Charles Jarvis, September 28, 1820

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Published in: on August 26, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments (5)  
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5 Comments

  1. Um, I think the last word in Jefferson’s Latin phrase should be spelled JURISDICTIONEM. One I too many.

    • Jefferson could not spell a hoot in English so I am not surprised that he messed up on the Latin! Too be fair, he was probably citing the Latin maxim from memory.

    • Jefferson could not spell a hoot in English so I am not surprised that he messed up on the Latin! Too be fair, he was probably citing the Latin maxim from memory.

  2. Interesting dichotomy in the posts we’ve put up today.

    • Unplanned dichotomy is always the best dichotomy Paul!


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