Jefferson Was a Great Man, But He Didn’t Write the Constitution

Quotations from respected sources, such as the Founders and Tocqueville and Churchill, are often apocryphal. George Washington apparently didn’t say, “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence – it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearsome master.” Jefferson, alas, doesn’t seem to have said, “That government is best that governs least,” though he certainly believed it. A tip: If you find the quote on the Internet without any source given other than the alleged speaker, then he probably didn’t say it.

Some quotations are hard to trace, and it’s hard to prove a negative. But this month some of our national leaders have revealed that they don’t know who wrote our most basic founding documents – and neither they nor their speechwriters apparently have access to Google.

At the Southern Baptist Convention two weeks ago, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “My ancestors in Mr. Jefferson’s Constitution were three-fifths of a man.” Then yesterday Senate minority whip Dick Durbin opposed a flag-burning amendment by saying, “In fact, [flag-burning] rarely, if ever, happens. And so why are we about to change the handiwork and fine contribution to America of Thomas Jefferson?”

Wrong again. Jefferson did not write the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. He was in France during the Constitutional Convention and during the congressional debate over the Bill of Rights.

As every schoolboy knows or should know, James Madison is known as the Father of the Constitution. He also introduced the Bill of Rights into the House of Representatives in 1789. So Rice and Durbin should have referred to “Mr. Madison’s Constitution” and “the handiwork of James Madison.” Perhaps someone should send them a Madison biography or a copy of James Madison and the Future of Limited Government.