Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on Popular Election of Juries, [ca. 2 April 1816]

Notes on Popular Election of Juries

[ca. 2 Apr. 1816]

to the preceding Extracts I will add an observation. our republic is founded on the principle that the people are the source of all powers, & the safest depository of such as they are competent to exercise. their competency is principally restrained to the election of those who are to exercise powers over them. hence, in the Executive department, they chuse the Chief magistrate, indirectly. in the Legislature they chuse both branches directly. in the Judiciary, they are not competent to the appointment of judges of law, but they are of the judges of fact, that is, of Jurors. that every ward then should elect from among themselves, either for the year or pro hâc vice, a juror to serve in whatever court he may be allotted to, would be in exact analogy with this first principle of our government, and would perfect it’s application, by carrying into the Judiciary department the same fundamental safeguard against systematic abuses of power or principle, as now exists in the Executive & Legislative authorities. in that branch too it is the more important as the Judges are found, practicably, irremovable. our Jurors, under both governments, are at present named by an officer holding at the will of the Executive, which certainly does not secure to the citizen as independant a jury as the choice of the people would.

PoC (DLC: TJ Papers, 199:35493); entirely in TJ’s hand; undated; subjoined to PoCs of Trs of portions of TJ to John Adams, 28 Oct. 1813, and TJ to Joseph C. Cabell, 2 Feb. 1816, and enclosed with those extracts in TJ to Wilson Cary Nicholas, 2 Apr. 1816.

both branches of the Virginia legislature were chosen by popular vote, which suggests that TJ wrote primarily with his own state in mind, although his subsequent reference to both governments also encompassed jurors at the federal level.

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