Monday, November 23, 2015

Ben Carson and Thomas Jefferson

It looks like Ben Carson is still confused about American history, particularly as it relates to the United States Constitution.

In a Fox News interview on Sunday, Carson referenced Thomas Jefferson as the author of the Constitution.  He praised Jefferson because he "tried to craft our Constitution in a way that it would control peoples' natural tendencies and control the natural growth of the government."

Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, but he was in Paris during the crafting of the United States Constitution--a document that was written about eleven years after the Declaration.

This is not the first time that Carson has had some trouble with Jefferson references.  The Washington Post reports:


“Thomas Jefferson himself said, ‘Gun control works great for the people who are law-abiding citizens and it does nothing for the criminals, and all it does is put the people at risk,’ ” he told Fox’s Neil Cavuto after the shootings at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., in  early October. Jefferson never said that.
In his book, Carson repeated a version of the same statement, noting what he called “Thomas Jefferson’s warning: ‘Laws that forbid the carrying of arms … disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes. … Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather than encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.”
The supposed Jefferson comment on gun control is listed among many “spurious” quotations by the Monticello Web site. “This is not something Jefferson wrote,” say the researchers at Monticello, but rather comes from a passage he included in his “Legal Commonplace Book.” The passage, they note, was written by Cesare Beccaria in his “Essay on Crimes and Punishments” and was copied by Jefferson.
Oddly, Carson’s footnote to the quote duly notes that it comes from Beccaria and not Jefferson.
Carson’s grasp of the founding era has proven weak in the past. Earlier this month he asserted that “every signer of the Declaration of Independence had no elected office experience,” an outlandish claim considering that all the members of the Continental Congress, which approved the Declaration, had been elected by Colonial assemblies and that the primary author of the document, Thomas Jefferson, was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses, John Adams to the Massachusetts Assembly, Ben Franklin to the Pennsylvania Assembly and Roger Sherman to the Connecticut General Assembly. The Post’s Fact Checker Glenn Kessler counted 27 signers of the 51 who had at least some elected office experience.
Carson needs to be more careful in the way he references American history.  I think we should expect our presidential candidates to have a working knowledge of our country's history. (I know this is asking for a lot).

I will not be voting for Carson, but part of me wants to give the guy a break on this latest Jefferson blunder.  Perhaps he just misspoke.  I do this all the time when I am lecturing.  Maybe he got confused for a moment.  

On the other hand, this mistake does not look good in the context of all the other Jeffersonian blunders.  The Carson camp might say that this is another one of those "gotcha" issues. But shouldn't we expect more from a guy who wrote a book called A More Perfect Union?

Actually, Jefferson would probably agree with Carson's remarks about limited government--though he would have done so from Paris, not from the floor of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.