… one passage, in the paper you inclosed me, must be corrected. it is the following. ‘and all say that it was yourself more than any other individual, that planned & established it.’ i.e. the constitution. I was in Europe when the constitution was planned & established, and never saw it till after it was established. on receiving it I wrote strongly to mr Madison urging … [a bill of rights] … he accordingly moved in the first session of Congress for these Amendments which were agreed to & ratified by the states as they now stand. this is all the hand I had in what related to the Constitution.
To Joseph Priestly, June 19, 1802
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders don’t take credit for others’ work.
English-born philosopher and scientist Priestly (1733-1804) was one of Jefferson’s closest confidantes. Yet, when Priestly credited Jefferson with being the moving force behind America’s Constitution, he denied it for the simple reason he was in France when it was written!
James Madison, often referred to as the father of the Constitution, sent a copy of it to Jefferson in Paris. Jefferson liked much of it but complained that it guaranteed no rights for individuals nor did it term-limit the President. At his urging, Congress added the Bill of Rights but set no restriction on the President’s length of service.
Mr. Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. He had no role in drafting the Constitution in 1787.