By the President of the United States of America
"I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions," Thomas Jefferson once wrote, "But ... laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change ... institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times."
These words have challenged and inspired the countless millions who have come to America's capital and have seen them inscribed on the marble wall of the Jefferson Memorial. Jefferson's statue presides nobly over America's capital city, a steadfast and enduring reminder of the democratic government that he helped to found. Yet unlike his unchanging visage, our democracy's institutions have proved to be remarkably agile in governing, maturing as society has progressed, evolving as human knowledge and technology have advanced-far beyond Jefferson's imagining. Of all the truths Jefferson knew to be self-evident, of all the freedoms he held dear, this understanding of the need for political and social innovation is perhaps his most lasting gift. He helped to endow us with the freedom to embrace change.
As we complete the year celebrating the 250th anniversary of his birth, it is entirely fitting that we again pause to reflect upon both the contradictions of Jefferson's life and the meaning of his legacy. Far from the sculpted perfection of his statue, Jefferson acknowledged, even anguished about, his failings as a leader. In expressing his fervent hope that we would one day purge the evil of slavery from our land, he wrote, "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever." Despite his flaws, Jefferson imbued us with his powerful faith that justice would ultimately transcend our seeming inability to do what we know is right. And I believe he would rejoice to know how far America has come toward winning equal justice under law.
In the United States, we must constantly relearn his teaching that change is both an inevitable and essential part of safeguarding our precious freedoms. We recognize, as he did in his day, that our democracy must continue to develop, that we must shape our politics and policies to meet the rapidly shifting needs of our people and to embrace the better angels of our nature. On this day, we remember that our Nation is an ongoing experiment, a new and fragile spirit, requiring our eternal care and vigilance if it is to continue to grow and prosper and shine.
Now, Therefore, I, William J. Clinton, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Wednesday, April 13, 1994, as the 251st Anniversary of the Birth of Thomas Jefferson. I encourage all Americans to reflect upon his words and deeds and to rededicate themselves to making our Nation one of which he would be proud. Additionally, I call upon the people of the United States to observe this occasion with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.
In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this thirteenth day of April, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and ninety-four, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and eighteenth.
William J. Clinton
[Filed with the Office of the Federal Register, 11:11 a.m., April 14, 1994]