Extract from Thomas Jefferson to Francis W. Gilmer

our legislators are not sufficiently apprised of the rightful limits of their powers: that their true office is to declare and enforce only our natural rights and duties, & to take none of them from us. No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him: and every man is under the natural duty of contributing to the necessities of the society; and this is all the laws should enforce on him: and, no man having a natural right to be the judge between himself and another, it is his natural duty to submit to the umpirage of an impartial third. the l when the laws have declared and enforced all this, they have fulfilled their functions, and the idea is quite unfounded that on entering into society we give up any natural right. the trial of every law by one of these texts would lessen much the labors of our legislators, & lighten equally our municipal codes.

RC (CLU-C). PoC (DLC). Published in PTJRS, 10:154–6.
Date Range
June 7, 1816
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