What do you know about this quote carved into the marble of the southeast wall of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.?

If, like me, you read the words and thought, that’s powerful and pertinent, but what’s the context? Did he say it? Write it? Who was it directed at?

So, I did a little research.

This is from a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to Samuel Kercheval, a Virginia lawyer and author. Kercheval wanted to draft a new constitution for the state of Virginia, and he wanted Jefferson’s support in helping to settle the long-debated matter. Jefferson wrote this quote in 1816. Basically, he didn’t believe that one generation should dictate another generation’s laws. He felt that as society advances, constitutions should be revised to reflect the current state of affairs. Apparently, he and his good friend James Madison had a history of never seeing eye-to-eye on this topic. In 1829, the legislators of the state of Virginia finally gave in to the call for a constitutional convention. Jefferson died in 1826, just three years before.

And he left us these words…

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