Founding Fathers Blog

Indepence Day – How It Happened – Part 3

June 28th, 2012

The draft of Jefferson’s declaration was submitted to the committee. Benjamin Franklin made a few suggestions and improvements agreed to by Jefferson. They were incorporated into the draft which was submitted to Congress on Friday, June 28, 1776.

It too, was tabled until a vote could be taken on Richard Henry Lee’s resolution to break with Great Britain. That resolution was adopted by Congress on July 2. John Adams thought that day would become the day of celebration. The next day he wrote to his wife, Abigail:

“Yesterday the greatest Question was decided, which ever was debated in America, and a greater, perhaps, never was nor will be decided among men . . . . The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha [sic] in the History of the America. –I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty, It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews [sic], Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

As the new document was being debated, dissected, and even diminished, Thomas Jefferson squirmed in his seat. He sat silently, anxiously, as Congress edited his draft. Dr. Franklin, sitting beside Jefferson, noticed he was writhing a little under the criticism and shortening of his document. Franklin offered some words of consolation. “I have made it a rule” he said, “whenever in my power to avoid becoming the draftsman of papers to be reviewed by a public body.” Franklin then shared a story from his printer days.

“One of [my] friends, an apprentice hatter, had decided to open a shop for himself. His first concern was to have a handsome signboard with a proper inscription.  He composed it in these words:  ‘John Thompson, hatter, makes and sells hats for ready money’, with a figure of a hat subjoined. But he thought he would submit it to his friends for their amendments.

“The first man he showed it to thought the word ‘hatter’ was superfluous becasue it was followed by the words ‘makes hats’. Thompson agreed and struck it out.

“The next friend observed that the word ‘makes’ might as well be omitted, because the customers would not care who made the hats, as long as they were good ones. Thompson agreed and struck it out.

“A third friend suggested eliminating ‘for ready money’ because none of the local merchants sold on credit. Again Thompson bowed to the will of the majority, and now he had a sign which said: ‘John Thompson sell hats.’

“‘Sells hats,’ said his next friend, ‘why nobody will expect you to give them away. What then is the use of that word?’ Again poor Thompson conceded.

“Moments later, the word ‘hats’ went into oblivion when another friend pointed out that there was one painted on the board. And so he was left with a sign that said: ‘John Thompson’ beneath the painted hat.”

John Adams, speaking on behalf of the Committee, took up the defense of the paper. He supported the Declaration with zeal and ability, fighting fearlessly for every word of it. Jefferson gratefully nicknamed Adams the “Colossus” of the important debate. Jefferson himself, never uttered one word in defense of his creation.

The formal Declaration, Tom’s writing, was approved in the late afternoon of July 4th, 1776. Only John Hancock as President of the Congress, and Charles Thompson, who attested as secretary actually signed it on that date. The other delegates affixed their signatures to the official engrossed copy on August 2, 1776.

To be continued….

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