Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

Programs for Citizens

The Constitutional Thought of Thomas Jefferson:

by David N. Mayer

University Press of Virginia

397, January

Paperback, 19.95

ISBN: 081391485X

In this comprehensive account of Jefferson’s constitutional thought, David N. Mayer offers a fresh perspective on Jefferson’s philosophy of government. Eschewing the “liberalism versus civic republicanism” debate that has so dominated early American scholarship in recent years, Mayer examines Jefferson’s thought on Jefferson’s own terms–as “whig,” “federal,” and “republican.” In the interrelationships and tensions among these three essential aspects of Jefferson’s theory, Mayer explains Jefferson’s response to the particular constitutional issues and problems of his time.

In contrast to other studies that view Jefferson as a champion of democracy, Mayer’s book emphasizes Jefferson’s commitment to liberty. Jefferson’s distinctiveness, Mayer argues, was the degree to which he advocated that government should leave individuals alone, free to govern themselves. Believing that “the natural process of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground,” Jefferson stressed the importance of written constitutions, scrupulously adhered to, as well as popular participation and vigilance over government, to keep its power from being abused.

Drawing together Jefferson’s scattered writings on the subject, Mayer traces the development of his constitutional theory from its beginnings through all the significant period of Jefferson’s life–his early education, the American Revolution, the constitutional debates of the 1780s, the Federalist-Republican political party struggles of the 1790s, his two presidential terms, and his retirement years.

The Constitutional Thought of Thomas Jefferson provides a comprehensive explanation of Jefferson’s constitutional theory and philosophy of government, including rights theories (particularly First Amendment freedoms), federalism, constitutional interpretation, separation of powers (including presidential powers), and constitutional change. This is an indispensable guide to anyone interested in Jefferson’s ideas about law and government.

Table of Contents
1. “Bold in the Pursuit of Knowledge”: The Education of an American Real Whig
2. “Causes Which Have Impelled Us to the Separation”: The Logic of the American Revolution
3. “Our Revolution Commenced on More Favorable Ground”: The Foundations of Republican Government
4. “The Interesting Experiment of Self-Government”: The Evolution of Republican Constitutionalism
5. “We Are All Federalists, We Are All Republicans”: The Republican “Revolution” of 1800 and Beyond
6. “Certain Fences against Wrong”: The Federal Constitutional and the Bill of Rights
7. “The True Theory of Our Constitution”: Federalism and the Limits of Federal Power
8. “Bound by the Chains of the Constitution”: The Presidency and Executive Power
9. “A Solecism in Republican Government”: The Judiciary and Judicial Review
10. “Hand in Hand with the Progress of the Human Mind”: Constitutional Change and the Preservation of Republicanism
Conclusion: Government “Founded in Jealousy, and Not in Confidence”

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