Tag Archives: Debate

Shut up, quit and go home.

I observe the house [House of Representatives] is endeavoring to remedy the eternal protraction [prolonging] of debate by setting up all night … I have thought that such a Rule as the following would be more effectual & less inconvenient. ‘Resolved that at [VIII.] aclock in the evening (whenever the house shall be in session at that hour) it shall be the duty of the Speaker to declare that hour arrived, whereupon all debate shall cease.”
To John Wayles Eppes, January 17, 1810

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Effective leaders understand the value of a deadline.
A previous post from this letter complained about long-winded speeches in the House, and the ill effects they had on its members and the public. Here, Jefferson observed that Congress was trying to deal with the problem by letting the debate go into the wee hours of the morning, wearying everyone involved. He offered a solution.

Why not have the House agree in advance to end all debate at a designated hour? He suggested a mechanism for disposing of whatever was being considered at that moment, and then they could adjourn and go home for the day.

Jefferson asked his former son-in-law to use his idea in any way he could, but not to reveal him as the source of the suggestion.

The House of Representatives did not change its ways.

“Thanks for making our convention a big success.”
Central Bank
Mr. Jefferson will help make your meeting a big success!
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Congress: Accomplish a week’s work in one day!

If every sound argument or objection was used by some one or other of the numerous debaters, it was enough: if not, I thought it sufficient to suggest the omission, without going into a repetition of what had been already said by others. That this was a waste and abuse of the time and patience of the house which could not be justified. And I believe that if the members of deliberative bodies were to observe this course generally, they would do in a day what takes them a week, and it is really more questionable, than may at first be thought, whether Bonaparte’s dumb legislature which said nothing and did much, may not be preferable to one which talks much and does nothing.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders prefer deeds to words.
Jefferson’s ideas for an effective legislative body:
1. If another argued a point, he didn’t need to repeat the same argument.
2. If something was omitted in an argument, he would point it out and then stop, without repeating what others had said. To do otherwise was abusive and an unjustifiable waste of time.
Adopting such self-limiting principles would enable “deliberative bodies” to accomplish in a day what currently took a week.

“With your impressive speaking skills,
you captivated an audience of over 300 lawyers.”

Arkansas Bar Association
Mr. Jefferson hopes to captivate your audience, too.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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If they would just SHUT UP!

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.
Autobiography, 1821

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.

“[We found] President Jefferson’s keynote to be …
motivating, inspirational and very entertaining.”

Missouri Rural Water Association
Your audience will also find President Jefferson
to be motivating, inspirational and very entertaining!
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
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