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John Ferling's INDEPENDENCE

John Ferling's INDEPENDENCE

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Published by BloomsburyUSA

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Published by: BloomsburyUSA on Jun 17, 2011
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308 INDEPENDENCE
was less inhibited as a member o small committees, where his associatesound him to be “rank, explicit, and decisive.”
32
Nonetheless, his colleaguesdid not see much o him. Jeerson had been in Congress only six weeks whenit recessed at the beginning o August 1775. Afer a month in Virginia, he re-turned to Philadelphia and served rom early October until late December,when, like numerous other delegates, he asked or a leave to return home. Heplanned on remaining with Martha or about ninety days, more than twicethe time spent at home that winter by most congressmen, but Jeerson’s ab-sence was considerably longer than he had anticipated. Late in March he ellill with another excruciating headache, brought on perhaps by his mother’sdeath on March 31 or by anxiety over his imminent departure. He did notleave Monticello or ve more weeks, nally taking up his seat in Congressagain in mid-May. On this occasion, he made the long trip rom AlbemarleCounty on horseback attended only by ourteen-year-old Robert Hemings, his personal servant, or body slave.
33
Within three weeks o his return to Philadel-phia, Jeerson sat down to compose the Declaration o Independence.
34
Jeerson had moved to a new residence when he returned to Philadelphia. Pre- viously, he had lived on the east side o downtown, but he was bothered by thecity’s “excessive heats” in the summer, nding Philadelphia ar hotter and stick-ier than his remote hilltop in Virginia. He was now lodged on the second ooro the three-story, red brick home owned by Jacob Gra, a successul mason.Te apartment was not only cooler but also, with a bedroom and parlor, larger.
35
 Jeferson’s residence in Philadelphia when he wrote the Declaration o Inde pendence. Owned by Jacob Graf, and situated at Seventh and Market, Jeferson lodged here between May and August 1776. He draed the Declaration o Inde pendence in his two-room parlor on the second story. (Drawing rom John . Schar and Tompson Westcott’s
History o Philadelphia,
1884.)
 
“THE CHARACTER OF A FINE WRITER” 309
Jeerson likely began writing the draf o the Declaration on Wednesday or Tursday, June 12 or 13. Accustomed to rising early, he probably worked inthe relative coolness o early morning. He may also have taken up his penagain in the evening, when the tra c beneath his windows aded and an oc-casional night breeze stirred. It is conceivable too that he skipped some ses-sions o Congress and worked through the day. Lee, with Wythe in tow, hadlef or home, but our other members o Virginia’s delegation were present,aording Jeerson the luxury o staying away i he chose to do so.Only two things are known or certain about Jeerson’s work on the draf:He wrote it while seated in a revolving Windsor chair with a small, oldingwriting desk placed across his lap, both o which had been custom-made orhim by a Philadelphia cabinetmaker.
36
And he delivered the draf quickly.Adams later recalled that only “a day or two” was required or Jeerson tocomplete the task.
37
While Adams may not have meant or his comment tobe taken literally, Jeerson was ordinarily a rapid writer.On a “Friday morn” Jeerson sent a copy o the draf to Franklin—he ad-dressed it to “Doctr. Franklyn”—and asked that he “suggest such alterationsas his more enlarged view o the subject will dictate.” By then, Jeerson hadalready shown Adams what he had written.
38
Tus, in all probability Jeer-son completed his draf within three to ve days and gave it to Adams some-time between Monday, June 17, and Wednesday, June 19. Jeerson probably transmitted the draf document to Franklin on Friday, June 21.Years later Adams, consumed with jealousy at the laurels Jeerson hadreaped as the author o the Declaration o Independence, carped that the document was “a juvenile declamation” that merely rehashed what othershad said. Tere was “not an idea in it, but what had been hackneyed in Con-gress or two years beore.” But Adams had orgotten that neither he nor hiscolleagues on the committee or in Congress wanted Jeerson to write some-thing novel. It would have been ludicrous to have done so. Jeerson correctly understood, as he put it years later, that his task was to avoid “aiming atoriginality o principle or sentiment.” He was to prepare a draf that capturedthe “tone and spirit” o “the American mind” toward the mother country’simperial policies and the king’s decision to make war on them. Along thesesame lines the document had to make clear why Congress, which had repeat-edly insisted that it was not bent on independence, was indeed declaring in- dependence. Within these parameters, Jeerson subsequently said, he merely  sought to avoid copying “rom any particular and previous writing.”
39
As the draf sprang rom Jeerson’s pen, it became clear that the Declara-tion o Independence was to be more than simply a justication o revolution. It need not have been. Te English Declaration o Rights, with which Jeerson
 
310 INDEPENDENCE
and every educated colonist was amiliar, began with “Whereas” and pro-ceeded to list the charges against the king, James II. When Adams, a monthearlier, had written the resolution directing the colonies to abandon theircharters and create new, independent governments, he had begun: “Whereas his Britannic Majesty, in conjunction with the Lords and Commons o Great-Britain, has . . . ,” ollowed by a compilation o the wrongdoings by Britain’sleaders during the past decade. Tat Jeerson’s draf did not ollow thosemodels may have been his unique contribution to the eventual Declaration o Independence. Or, it may have been the result o the instructions provided by  the Committee o Five. For instance, in his private correspondence near thetime the committee rst met, Adams had ervently declared that an indepen-dent America must embrace “a more equal Liberty, than has prevail’d inother Parts o the Earth” and must repudiate hereditary rule by the “Dons,the Bashaws, the Grandees, the Patricians, the Sachems, the Nabobs, call themby what Name you please,” but in short, the “insolent Domination, in a ew, a very ew opulent, monopolizing Families.”
40
He and others on the committeemay have instructed Jeerson to go beyond merely amassing charges o Brit-ish despotism and to delineate the meaning o the American Revolution.Jeersons draf included two segments that consciously sought to do morethan merely justiy the break with Great Britain. Jeerson penned a draf thatenunciated in the broadest terms the principles upon which the new nationwould stand and around which its citizenry could rally. Afer all, until re-cently, the colonists had considered themselves to be British, but those eel-ings had evaporated. Furthermore, the colonists identied rst and oremostwith their province and hardly, i at all, with the Continental Congress or theconcept o an American Union. But the “united colonies” were about to be-come the “United States.” Jeerson’s draf, thereore, was meant not only tobring to a close America’s days as colonies o another nation, but to also an-nounce the creation o the American nation.Tis was also meant to be a war document. Te meaning it gave to theAmerican Revolution should oster a willingness to ght or the new nationand the resplendent ideals or which it stood, while at the same time sus-tain morale on the home ront throughout a lengthy war. However, thisdocument was not to be directed solely at the American citizenry. Its audi-ence included “mankind” in a “candid world,” and none more so than Amer-ica’s riends in Great Britain who might someday play a useul role in thetermination o hostilities and recognition o the United States. Te draf re-erred to “our British brethren” who had long been remarkable or their “na-tive justice & magnanimity,” and especially those among them who had been

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