Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Jefferson Memorial: Touchstones and Reflections

On Monday afternoon, we headed out to see the monuments and memorials along the mall and tidal basin, starting with my favorite - the Jefferson Memorial.

I was deeply affected by my first visit there in 1976, being particularly impressed with the quotation that is partially visible in the photo below: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." As we entered the memorial on Monday, I was similarly moved. This is without question my favorite quote of all time, and I have tried to make it a governing principle of my life. I have also tried to teach and impart the spirit of this quotation to my children. I would like to think that, when my life is weighed in the balance, part of the legacy I will leave to them is this spirit.

Though I had been to the Jefferson Memorial several times, the thoughts about patriotism that had been engendered Monday morning at Mt. Vernon caused me to reflect anew on Jefferson's quote pictured below.

One of the thoughts that came into my mind while traveling to and visiting Mt. Vernon was how many Americans - particularly those of conservative Christian faith - look back upon the founding of the country and the drafting of the Constitution as though those these events were peculiarly divinely inspired and that the Constitution was a revelation from God. They therefore believe that we in the 21st century should regard the Constitution in the same manner as did those who wrote, adopted and argued over the Constitution in the late 1780's. In constitutional law terms, judges should try to divine the "original intent" of the Founders and closely adhere to that intent.

But, to me, Jefferson's words quoted above give the lie to that approach. Our government continues to change, our Constitution continues to breathe as the human mind progresses and as it " ... becomes more developed, more enlightened." "[A]s new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times."

Are not our minds more enlightened than they were 225 years ago? Have not new discoveries been made, new truths discovered? Our Constitution must always serve the needs of the people, not the other way around. As manners and opinions change, so too must our interpretation of the Constitution change in order for our society to remain just and free.

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