Tag Archives: Declaration of Independence

Thanks, Mr. Jefferson, for writing the Constitution! (WRONG!)

… 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.

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Anti-slavery deleted from the Declaration of Independence

he [the King of England] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people [Africans] who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium [harsh criticism] of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted [shamefully traded away] his negative [veto] for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable [wretched, detestable] commerce [in human beings]…
Committee of Five to the Continental Congress, July 2, 1776

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
A leader can’t go where people won’t follow.
The Declaration of Independence adopted July 4, 1776, lists 27 offenses by the King of England against his colonial subjects. There could have been one more offense had Congress not deleted the entire paragraph above, a ringing denunciation of the slave trade. That paragraph was part of Jefferson’s “original rough draft” of the Declaration. Georgia and South Carolina would not vote for independence unless that paragraph was deleted, and so it was.

Jefferson receives considerable criticism today on the subject of slavery. These words are but one example of many that he wrote throughout his lifetime condemning “this execrable commerce.” He knew that America could not continue to exist as two peoples, one slave and one free, but the majority of his contemporaries were not willing to follow his lead.

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More than you ever wanted to know about the Declaration of Independence

In Honor of this Special Day

On June 7, 1776, Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee introduced a resolution in the Continental Congress declaring independence from England. Congress set it aside temporarily and appointed a Committee of Five to draft a document that would explain why they sought the separation. Committee members were Thomas Jefferson (VA), John Adams (MA), Benjamin Franklin (PA), Robert Livingston (NY) and Roger Sherman (CT). Jefferson drafted the document, and the Committee made minor changes.

Congress voted for independence on July 2 (NOT July 4), then took up the Committee’s “rough draft.” They debated and amended the draft and adopted what we know today as the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

Three resources on the Declaration:

Twenty-two single-paragraph illustrated descriptions of important documents, places, people, events & items surrounding July, 4, 1776:

Thomas Jefferson’s “original Rough Draft” of the Declaration of Independence, before it was amended by Congress:

Jefferson and The Committee of Five’s original Declaration of Independence with additions and deletions made by the Congress before its adoption July 4, 1776:

John Adam’s wrote to his wife on July 3:

“The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha,
in the History of 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, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations
from one End of this Continent to the other
from this Time forward forever more.”


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What do you oppose? What does that say about you?

As the sentiments of men are known not only by what they receive, but what they reject also, I will state the form of the declaration as originally reported. The parts struck out by Congress shall be distinguished by a black line drawn under them; & those inserted by them shall be placed in the margin or in a concurrent column.
Autobiography, 1821

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Some leaders have long memories!

The previous post gave two major changes the Continental Congress made in Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence. Those changes eliminated a condemnation of England’s slave trade and lessened criticism of the English people themselves. But there were many other changes, too, about 25.

Late in life, when Jefferson’s authorship was well known, he also wanted it well known which ideas were his, and which were not. Whether from personal irritation or for historical accuracy is not clear. Jefferson was quite miffed in July 1776 at all the changes and thought they weakened the document. Forty-five years later, the tone of this excerpt might indicate he still held a grudge over those changes. He included the full text of his draft plus all the changes.

To categorize the changes other than the two above:
– Most would be stylistic, eliminating or changing a word or phrase.
– Some toned down his harsher criticism of King George III.
– In the conclusion, Jefferson’s draft had no reference to any authority other than their own as individuals, as representatives of states and of the United States. As amended, two references to divine authority were added.

 *This link is to the entire volume. To find this passage, open the link, type Ctrl F (for find) and type several words from the text into the box. Those words will be highlighted wherever they appear within the work.
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Two Declaration of Independence rejects

The pusillanimous [timid, cowardly] idea that we had friends in England worth keeping terms with, still haunted the minds of many. For this reason those passages which conveyed censures on the people of England were struck out, lest they should give them offence. The clause too, reprobating the enslaving the inhabitants of Africa, was struck out in complaisance [willingness to please] to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who on the contrary still wished to continue it. Our northern brethren also I believe felt a little tender under those censures; for tho’ their people have very few slaves themselves yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others.
Autobiography, 1821 *

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
The 1776 Continental Congress appointed Jefferson to a committee of five to draft a declaration of independence. Jefferson was the primary author. His work, reviewed and amended by the committee, was further amended by the Congress as a whole before it was adopted on July 4.

Only two Congressional revisions were singled out for specific mention in this work:
-Accusations toward the English people themselves (as opposed to the King only) were eliminated or softened considerably.
– Language condemning the slave trade was eliminated altogether. From other sources, we know that Georgia and South Carolina would not vote for independence had that language remained. The northern states supported this change. While their slave population was very small, they were slave traders themselves.

 *This link is to the entire volume. To find this passage, open the link, type Ctrl F (for find) and type several words from the text into the box. Those words will be highlighted wherever they appear within the work.
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Is the cause worth EVERYTHING to you?

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude [Webster’s7th New Collegiate, “moral integrity : righteousness”] of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States;
that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved;
and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
The Declaration of Independence

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
You know the beginning. This is the end.
The Declaration of Independence, adopted 238 years ago today, begins with far more famous words, “When in the course of human events …” It concludes with these words.
1. Representing the citizens and affirming the rightness of our actions, because of the reasons presented above, we declare ourselves completely independent from England.
2. We have to same authority to act as other free and independent states do.
3. We depend on God for protection.
4. We pledge everything we have to this cause.

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Your rights come from where? Government’s power from where?

We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with [inherent and] certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed …
Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders don’t take credit for others’ work. They build on it.
Jefferson claimed no originality in the Declaration. He sat alone in his apartments for several weeks and synthesized the writings and ideas of others into this document. It was “an expression of the American mind,” as he claimed in a letter to Henry Lee nearly a half-century later.

While not radical as to the rights of men, this sentiment contained two radical elements: 1. That all men are created equal, and 2. Government derives its powers from the consent of the governed. The United States was the first nation on earth to establish its government on these principles. Every other nation held that a select few were superior to everyone else. Every other government drew its authority from itself.

The two bracketed words were in Jefferson’s original draft. They were replaced by Congress with the following word in italics. There is also debate over “UNalienable” vs. “INalienable” rights. Jefferson Editor John Foley claims (P. 969) Jefferson’s original draft used “un.” He changed it to “in” in the version sent to Congress, which changed it back to “un” in the version later signed by the delegates. Either way, both prefixes mean “not,” as in you cannot make these rights foreign to man. They are natural. They can be taken away, but they cannot be destroyed.

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Keep your name out of the debate!

When the Declaration of Independence was under the consideration of Congress, there were two or three unlucky expressions [condemning slavery] in it which gave offense to some members … Although the offensive expressions were immediately yielded these gentlemen continued their depredations on other parts of the instrument. I was sitting by Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin, who perceived that I was not insensible to these mutilations.
“I have made it a rule,” said he, “to avoid becoming the draughtsman of papers to be reviewed by a public body. I took my lesson from an incident I will relate to you. When I was …
Biographical Sketch of Benjamin Franklin, Dec. 4, 1818
Koch & Peden’s The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson, P. 167-8

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Too-sensitive leaders should keep as low a public profile as possible.
In the day or two prior to July 4, 1776, the young Thomas Jefferson (age 33) sat in the Continental Congress and fumed in silence as the delegates made changes to his draft of the Declaration of Independence. They began by deleting Jefferson’s condemnation of the slave trade and went on to find fault and make changes in other areas, too. The wise and aged Ben Franklin sat next to Jefferson and smoothed his ruffled feathers, with a principle and a story to illustrate it.
The principle was to avoid being the author of anything subject to public debate. In that manner, the focus could remain on the issues at hand. It was a principle Jefferson adopted. Many times in the years to come, he would write positions on issues and offer them to others to put forth publicly, with the condition that his authorship remain private. He did this for two reasons: 1. So the debate would be confined to the issue, that he not be a distraction to the debate, and 2. Jefferson was thin-skinned. Keeping himself out of the public debate helped deflect some of the personal attacks he found so wounding.
Jefferson is often criticized for this approach, as being scheming, manipulative or even deceptive. Perhaps. More likely, he really did prefer to keep the debate on the issues themselves while protecting his own thin skin. At least he didn’t stoop to publishing his positions under pseudonyms, as certain others were fond of doing.
Nevertheless, young Jefferson learned from his old mentor to avoid becoming a lightning rod unnecessarily.
I try to keep the Jefferson-excerpt portion of these posts short, so as not to scare readers off. The story that Franklin went on to tell, however, is a delightful one. Every writer and every student of marketing should consider it. There could be a life-lesson for others, as well. For those reasons, I reproduce that story below. It can be found on page 168 of the citation above.

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“I was sitting by Dr. Franklin, who perceived that I was not insensible to these mutilations.’I have made it a rule,’ said he, ‘whenever in my power, to avoid becoming the draftsman of papers to be reviewed by a public body. I took my lesson from an incident, which I will relate to you. When I was a journeyman printer, one of my companions, an apprentice hatter, having served out his time, was about to open shop for himself. His first concern was to have a handsome sign-board, 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 he showed it to, thought the word hatter tautologous [obvious], because followed by the words makes hats, which showed he was a hatter. It was struck out. The next observed, that the word makes might as well be omitted, because his customers would not care who made the hats; if good and to their mind, they would buy, by whomsoever made. He struck it out. A third said he thought the words for ready money were useless, as it was not the custom of the place to sell on credit. Every one, who purchased, expected to pay. They were parted with; and the inscription now stood, “John Thompson sells hats” “Sells hats?” says his next friend; “why, nobody will expect you to give them away. What then is the use of that word?” It was stricken out, and hats followed, the rather, as there was one painted on the board. So his inscription was reduced ultimately to John Thompson, with the figure of a hat subjoined.”

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