Suggestions on Improving the Union by Thomas Jefferson: 1786

Liberty Letters Quote of the Day, Thomas Jefferson, 16 December 1786

Five months before the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to James Madison, offers some advice on improving the struggling Union:

“I find by the public papers that your Commercial Convention failed in point of representation. If it should produce a full meeting in May, and a broader reformation, it will still be well. To make us one nation as to foreign concerns, and keep us distinct in Domestic ones, gives the outline of the proper division of powers between the general and particular governments. But to enable the Federal head to exercise the powers given it, to best advantage, it should be organized, as the particular ones are, into Legislative, Executive and Judiciary. The first and last are already separated. The second should also be. When last with Congress, I often proposed to members to do this by making of the Committee of the states, an Executive committee during the recess of Congress, and during its sessions to appoint a Committee to receive and dispatch all executive business, so that Congress itself should meddle only with what should be legislative. But I question if any Congress (much less all successively) can have self-denial enough to go through with this distribution. The distribution should be imposed on them then. I find Congress have reversed their division of the Western states, and proposed to make them fewer and larger. This is reversing the natural order of things. A tractable people may be governed in large bodies; but in proportion as they depart from this character, the extent of their government must be less. We see into what small divisions the Indians are obliged to reduce their societies. This measure, with the disposition to shut up the Mississippi give me serious apprehensions of the severance of the Eastern and Western parts of our confederacy. It might have been made the interests of the Western states to remain united with us, by managing their interests honestly and for their own good. But the moment we sacrifice their interests to our own, they will see it better to govern themselves. The moment they resolve to do this, the point is settled. A forced connection is neither our interest nor within our power.”


Source: Letter Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, December 16, 1786. Spelling modernized and corrected by The Moral Liberal.


Liberty Letters are researched, compiled, and edited (with occasional commentary, explanatory notes, spelling modernizations, abbreviation elimination and paragraph reformatting – for easier reading) by Steve Farrell. As amended Copyright © 2011 Steve Farrell and The Moral Liberal.