Our body was little numerous, but very contentious. Day after day was wasted on the most unimportant questions. My colleague Mercer was one of those afflicted with the morbid rage of debate, of an ardent mind, prompt imagination, and copious flow of words, he heard with impatience any logic which was not his own. Sitting near me on some occasion of a trifling but wordy debate, he asked how I could sit in silence hearing so much false reasoning which a word should refute? I observed to him that to refute indeed was easy, but to silence impossible. That in measures brought forward by myself, I took the laboring oar, as was incumbent on me; but that in general I was willing to listen.
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders hold their tongues.
In 1783, the Confederation Congress (successor to the Continental Congress) argued issues at great length. Jefferson questioned the need or wisdom of such extended debate. John Francis Mercer, an impetuous 24 year old Virginia delegate, may have been all too typical of the verbal jousters:
– loved debate for its own sake (“afflicted with the morbid rage of debate”)
– intellectually passionate (“ardent mind”)
– quick with new thoughts (“prompt imagination”)
– excessively talkative (“copious flow of words”)
– dismissive (impatient with “any logic … not his own”)
Jefferson said such people could be refuted but would not be silenced. As for himself, he participated in debate only on issues he introduced. Otherwise, he kept his mouth shut and listened.