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Rep. Scalise Says Thomas Jefferson Wrote the Constitution (He Didn’t)

Look, everybody makes mistakes, but basic errors tend to stick out when you’re a congressman. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana 1st District) appeared Thursday at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C., where he said founding father Thomas Jefferson wrote the U.S. Constitution. His words.

“This was a nation founded with a deep belief in God,” he told the audience. “Our founding fathers talked about it when they were preparing to draft the Constitution. In fact, Thomas Jefferson, who was the author of the Constitution–if you go to the Jefferson memorial right now, go read this inscription from Thomas Jefferson …”

Jefferson, who drafted the Declaration of Independence, did not write the Constitution. He was overseas as U.S. minister to France during the Constitutional Convention of 1787. That said, he did write about it. A December 1787 letter to James Madison shows him complaining about the lack of a bill of rights.

“I will now add what I do not like,” he wrote. “First the omission of a bill of rights providing clearly & without the aid of sophisms for freedom of religion, freedom of the press, protection against standing armies, restriction against monopolies, the eternal & unremitting force of the habeas corpus laws, and trials by jury in all matters of fact triable by the laws of the land & not by the law of Nations.”

Madison, who actually attended the Constitutional Convention as a member of the Virginia delegation, addressed Jefferson’s complaint less than two years later. Then-Rep. Madison introduced to Congress what would end up becoming the first 10 amendments.

It’s a bit much to say Jefferson played no role whatsoever in the Constitution, but was he an author? No.

Scalise’s office did not return a Law&Crime request for comment Sunday afternoon.

[Screengrab via C-SPAN 2]

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