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The Jeffersonian cyclopedia;

a comprehensive collection of the views of Thomas Jefferson classified and arranged in alphabetical order under nine thousand titles relating to government, politics, law, education, political economy, finance, science, art, literature, religious freedom, morals, etc.;

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2119. DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, Recollections of by Adams.—
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2119. DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, Recollections of by Adams.—

You have doubtless seen Timothy Pickering's
Fourth of July observations on the Declaration
of Independence. If his principles
and prejudices, personal and political, gave
us no reason to doubt whether he had truly
quoted the information he alleges to have
received from Mr. Adams, I should then say,
that in some of the particulars, Mr. Adams's
memory has led him into unquestionable error.
At the age of eighty-eight, and fortyseven
years after the transactions of Independence,
this is not wonderful. Nor should
I, at the age of eighty, on the small advantage
of that difference only, venture to oppose my
memory to his, were it not supported by written
notes, taken by myself at the moment,
and on the spot. He says. “the Committee
of five, to wit, Dr. Franklin, Sherman, Livingston,
and ourselves, met, discussed the
subject, and then appointed him and myself
to make the draft; that we, as a sub-committee,
met, and after the urgencies of each
on the other, I consented to undertake the
task; that the draft being made, we, the sub-committee,
met, and conned the paper over,
and he does not remember that he made, or
suggested a single alteration.” Now these
details are quite incorrect. The Committee
of five met; no such thing as a sub-committee
was proposed, but they unanimously pressed
on myself alone to undertake the draft. I
consented; I drew it; but before I reported
it to the Committee, I communicated it separately
to Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams, requesting
their correction, because they were
the two members of whose judgments and
amendments I wished most to have the benefit,
before presenting it to the Committee;
and you have seen the original paper now
in my hands, with the corrections of Dr.
Franklin and Mr. Adams interlined in their
own handwritings. Their alterations were
two or three only, and merely verbal I
then wrote a fair copy, reported it to the
Committee, and from them, unaltered, to
Congress. This personal communication and
consultation with Mr. Adams, he has misremembered
into the actings of a sub-committee,
Pickering's observations, and Mr. Adams's
in addition, “that it contained no new
ideas, that it is a common-place compilation,
its sentiments hackneyed in Congress for two
years before, and its essence contained in
Otis's pamphlet,” may all be true. Of that
I am not to be the judge. Richard Henry Lee
charged it as copied from Locke's Treatise on
Civil Government. Otis's pamphlet I never
saw, and whether I had gathered my ideas
from reading on reflection, I do not know. I
know only that I turned to neither book nor
pamphlet while writing it. I did not consider
it as any part of my charge to invent new
ideas altogether, and to offer no sentiment
which had ever been expressed before. Had
Mr. Adams been so restrained, Congress
would have lost the benefit of his bold and
impressive advocacy of the rights of the Revolution.
For no man's confident and fervid
addresses, more than Mr. Adam's, encouraged
and supported us through the difficulties
surrounding us, which, like the ceaseless action
of gravity, weighed on us by night and
by day. Yet, on the same ground, we May
ask what of these elevated thoughts was new,
or can be affirmed never before to have entered
the conceptions of man? Whether,
also, the sentiments of Independence and the
reasons for declaring it, which make so
great a portion of the instrument, had been
hackneyed in Congress for two years before
the 4th of July, '76. or this dictum also of
Mr. Adams be another slip of memory, let
history say. This, however, I will say for
Mr. Adams, that he supported the Declaration
with zeal and ability, fighting fearlessly
for every word of it. As for myself, I thought
it a duty to be, on that occasion, a passive
auditor of the opinions of others, more impartial
judges than I could be, of its merits
or demerits. During the debate I was sitting
by Dr. Franklin, and he observed that I was
writhing a little under the acrimonious criticisms
on some of its parts; and it was on
that occasion, that by way of comfort, he
told me the story of John Thompson, the
hatter, and his new sign. Timothy thinks the
instrument the better for having a fourth of it
expunged. He would have thought it still
better, had the other three-fourths gone out
also, all but the single sentiment (the only
one he approves), which recommends friendship
to his dear England, whenever she is
willing to be at peace with us. His insinuations
are that although “the high tone of the
instrument was in unison with the warm
feelings of the times, this sentiment of habitual
friendship to England should never be
forgotten, and that the duties it enjoins
should especially be borne in mind on every
celebration of this anniversary.” In other
words, that the Declaration, as being a libel
on the government of England, composed in
times of passion, should now be buried in
utter oblivion, to spare the feelings of our
English friends and Angloman fellow-citizens.
But it is not to wound them that we
wish to keep it in mind; but to cherish the
principles of the instrument in the bosoms
of our fellow-citizens; and it is a heavenly
comfort to see that these principles are yet
so strongly felt. as to render a circumstance
so trifling as this lapse of memory of Mr.
Adams, worthy of being solemnly announced
and supported at an anniversary assemblage
of the nation on its birthday. In opposition,
however, to Mr. Pickering. I pray God that
these principles may be eternal.—
To James Madison. Washington ed. vii, 304. Ford ed., x, 267.
(M. Aug. 1823)

See 64.


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