Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to Thomas H. Palmer, 6 March 1813

To Thomas H. Palmer

Monticello Mar. 6. 13.


In answer to the enquiries in your letter of Feb. 22. I have to observe to you that the constitution of Virginia has undergone no formal change, nor recieved any formal amendment since the date at which it was passed. altho passed by the ordinary legislature, & elected1 for ordinary legislation only, (for the establishment of a government had not been contemplated at the time of their election) it has generally been respected as controuling the subsequent legislatures, and the judges have in one or two cases considered subsequent laws, in contradiction to that, as void. yet it is equally true that other laws, equally contradictory, have been acted on without question. at the time of the constitution 100. as of unimproved land were necessary to qualify an elector of a member of the legislature. but by a law of 1785.2 it has been reduced to 50. acres. the qualification of an elector is now as follows. every male citizen (other than free negroes or mulattoes) of this commonwealth, of the age of 21. years, having an estate of freehold in 25. acres of land with a house equal to 12. feet square & a plantation on it or 50. as of unimproved land, or a part of a lot in a town with a house on it of the area beforementioned, may elect or be elected to the legislature. whether the constitutions of any other of the states have been altered since the date you mention, I am not able to inform you. with wishes for the success of your work I tender you the assurance of my respect.

Th: Jefferson

PoC (ViW: TC-JP); at foot of text: “Mr Thomas Palmer”; endorsed by TJ.

The law was “An Act concerning Election of Members of General Assembly,” which did not go into effect until 1 Jan. 1787 (Acts of Assembly description begins Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia (cited by session; title varies over time) description ends [1785–86 sess.], 38–42, esp. 39).

1Word interlined.

2Date interlined in place of “1805.”

Index Entries

  • An Act concerning Election of Members of General Assembly (1787) search
  • Palmer, Thomas H.; and publication on constitutions search
  • Palmer, Thomas H.; letters to search
  • Virginia; constitution of (1776) search
  • Virginia; General Assembly search