Jefferson’s Greatest Idea

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Down in my former state of South Carolina, the legislature hastily voted to remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol building. That is their prerogative, and I take no offense at their move.

What I do worry about is the haste.

South Carolina’s action on the flag reflected a spasm instigated by the horrible deeds of a horrible man—an unthinkable crime and grave sin. I can understand how the murderer’s association with the flag would lead people to connect the flag to the murders.

But I wish our legislatures, state and national, would stop passings laws while their blood is still hot. We tell our children to stop and count to ten before saying anything in response to an offense. That’s sound advice for children, and it’s sound advice for government.

The anger and fury over the Confederate flag never subsided. No one involved in the debate ever stopped to count ten. Nor did they count to ten before redefining marriage. In fact, Congress never lets the passions of the moment subside before voting.

And that failure shows them up as children.

In a post script to his famous letter to James Madison about the proposed Constitution in 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote a sound rule for legislative ten-counts that I wish we could weave into the Constitution by amendment. Jefferson wrote:

The instability of our laws is really an immense evil. I think it would be well to provide in our constitutions that there shall always be a twelve-month between the ingross-ing a bill & passing it: that it should then be offered to it’s passage without changing a word: and that if circum-stances should be thought to require a speedier passage, it should take two thirds of both houses instead of a bare majority.

Excellent suggestion that would spare us a pile of bad law.

I know people want immediate action on what they consider pressing matters. But immediate action by Congress is usually wrought with unforeseen and unwelcome consequences.

Leaving each bill untouched for twelve months followed by a vote on the bill exactly as it was written would place a breath between the legislature from the passions and prejudices of the moment. It would give people time to evaluate and experiment with the provisions of the bill before Congress votes. And I suspect a vast majority of the bills that seemed so important when they were perfected would die silently from lack of interest.

I know Jefferson’s post script won’t fire up a movement. I just wish it would.

Have a good weekend.