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inherent soundness and infinite merit, to detract from the generally admitted title of Mr. Jefferson as their originator and principal promoter. Not only were the doctrines of the Declaration pronounced common-place, and downright plagiarisms, but the authorship of the production itself was brought in question. The newspapers, even of a very modern date,” teem with disgraceful ribaldry upon this topic. To these pusillanimous assaults upon his just reputation, he opposed no other barrier, than that of ‘the dignified contempt by which he has consigned to oblivion, all the spoken and written scurrility of his enemies.’t Among the multitude of sacrilegious strictures upon the primitive palladium of human liberty, and its canonized framer, the most elaborate attempt at disparagement, appeared in the unnatural form of a fourth of July oration, in 1823, by Timothy Pickering. The political opinions advanced in this critique, being matters of mere private speculation, do not deeply concern us; but the material inaccuracies of fact which it contains, relative to the Declaration of Independence, require attention; more especially since they have obtained an extensive currency with the public. The best answer, however, to this diatribe of Pickering, is found in a confidential letter of Mr. Jefferson, to his bosom friend Madison; than which, no example of familiar correspondence could be given, which should illustrate the character of the writer in a more endearing light.
* The following extracts from leading anti-republican journals, so late as the ear 1822, will suffice to exhibit the general character of that warfare, which for
thirty years, was directed against the silent and unresisting claims of the Author of the Declaration. The first is from the Philadelphia Union, and the second from the New-York Commercial Advertiser.
“We have long been acquainted with the facts alluded to in the following article from the Federal Republican. We have seen Mr. Jefferson's draught of the Declaration of Independence, scored and scratched like a school boy's exercise. When Mr. Schaeffer shall comply with his promise to publish the documents relating to this subject, the jackdaw will be stript of the plumage, with which adulation has adorned him, and the crown will be placed on the head of a real patriot.”
“The old controversy relative to Mr. Jefferson's agency in drafting the Declaration of Independence, is again revived, in the southern papers, and, as is usual in most controversies, both parties are in error—the one denying him all credit in regard to the authorship of that splendid document, and the other bestowing it all upon him. It appears to be the common opinion that Mr. Jefferson was the exclusive author of the Declaration of 1776, and he is every year toasted as such in every part of the country. But this is not the fact. Mr. Jefferson was one of the committee appointed to prepare the draught, and he drew the original paper; but his co-adjutors were so little satisfied with the performance, that it was worked orer and altered almost from beginning to end. .Many alterations of language were made, much was stricken out, as much more added; so that when completed it bore but little resemblance to Mr. Jefferson's draught. We have had for several years a copy of this document, which shows at one view, the original draught as made by Mr. Jefferson, the erasures and alterations that were made, and also the additions of the Committee. Mr. Jefferson de
serves as much credit, for the share he took in this labor, as any other member of the Committee, and no more.”
t Edinburgh Review, 1814.
“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' memory has led him into unquestionable error. At the age of eighty-eight, and forty-seven 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, Doctor Franklin, Sherman, Livingston, and ourselves, met, discussed the subject, and then appointed him and myself to make the draught; that we, as a subcommittee, met, and after the urgencies of each on the other, I consented to undertake the task; that, the draught 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 draught. 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 corrections, 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 Doctor 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' in addition, “that it contained no new ideas, that it is a common-place compilation, its sentiments hacknied in Congress for two years before, and its essence contained in Otis' pamplet, 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 Government. Otis' pamphlet I never saw, and whether I had gathered my ideas from reading or reflection I do not know. I know only that I turned to neither book nor pamphlet while yons 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 advocations of the rights of Revolution. For no man's confident and fervent addresses, more than Mr. Adams', 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 makes so great a portion of the instrument, had been hacknied 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 to 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 Doctor 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 Thomson, 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 Eng
land, whenever she is willing to be at peace with us. His insinu
ations 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 Declation, 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 own 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 little lapse of memory of Mr. Adams', worthy of being solemnly announced and supported at an anniversary assemblage of the nation on its birth-day. In opposition, however, to Mr. Pickering, I pray God that these principles may be eternal, and close the prayer with my affectionate wishes for yourself of long life, health and happiness.”
Among the articles of information, which Mr. Pickering alleges to have received from Mr. Adams, he should have included the oft repeated declaration of the latter, that “no man, but the one who did, could have produced that immortal paper.” He might also have cited the well known fact, that he retained to the last, his preference for the primitive reading. With respect to the particular circumstances attending its preparation, the Notes happily taken by Mr. Jefferson at the time, and the original copy of the Declaration, in the hand writing of the author, found among his papers at his death, with the interlineations in the hand writings of Mr. Adams and Dr. Franklin, are placed in one scale, and the imputed recollections of an octogenarian, in the other; and the world must decide between them. The assertion, also, that the doctrines of the Declaration had been hacknied in Congress, for two years before, is contradicted by the whole tenor of history. Nothing had appeared like it, in the range of political disquisition, except his own previous essays; the most important of which, had been rejected as premature and extravagant, but two years before, by the identical Assembly which issued the first instructions recommendatory of Independence. All historians concur in testifying, that total emancipation was not contemplated until the Spring of 76." And Mr. Adams in 75 had declared, “There is not a man in the province, among the whigs, nor ever was, who harbors a wish of Independence.” Again, “Our patriots have never determined or desired to be independent States.” How then could the sentiments of the Declaration have been hacknied, in Congress, for two years before? So far from it, the whole aim and object of that body, anterior to the Spring of '76, had been reconciliation; and all its consultations and discussions had been conducted upon that basis. The reasons and rights of Revolution existed, it is true, in the fundamental principles of colonization. But who, let it be remarked, was the earliest to discover, illustrate, and enforce those principles? Historic fidelity will say, the Author of the Declaration himself, in his masterly dissertation upon the doctrine of expatriation, &c. in ’74 ; in which he constructed the entire, and the only tenable theory of Colonial rights, then deemed so treasonable and revolutionary as to subject him to the ostracism of the British Parliament. Well might he then magnanimously declare, in noticing the vindictive maraudings upon his reputation, “let history speak.' Nor will his confidence in the integrity of that umpire, be deceived. Impartial generations will rely with more confidence, upon the pure text of contemporaneous chronicles, than upon the gratuitous constructions, contortions and surmises of modern critics and commentators. The civil and political history of that renowned race has never been presented in a just and adequate light; its monuments, too, are fast crumbling away; but it is hoped, that enough has been preserved, with the aid of competent hands, to rescue from reproach at least, an age, which united the greatest moral endowments to the greatest power of circumstances, and had a larger share in shaping the destinies of mankind, than any other that has yet appeared. The term for which Mr. Jefferson had been elected to Congress, expired on the 11th of August, 76; and he had communicated to the Convention of Virginia, in June preceding, his intentions to decline a re-appointment. But his excuses were overruled by that body, and he was unanimously re-elected. On receiving intelligence of the result, gratifying as it was in the highest degree, he addressed a second letter to the chairman of the Convention, in which he adhered to his original resolution,--as follows: “I am sorry the situation of my domestic affairs renders it indispensably necessary, that I should solicit the substitution of some other person here, in my room. The delicacy of the House will not require me to enter minutely into the private causes which render this necessary. I trust they will be satisfied I would not have urged it again, were it not unavoidable. I shall with cheerfulness continue in duty here till the expiration of our year, by which time I hope it will be convenient for my successor to attend.” He continued in Congress until the 2d of September following, when, his successor having arrived, he resigned his seat and returned to Virginia. Thus closed the extraordinary career of this illustrious Reformer in the Continental Congress. He had been in actual attendance upon that renowned Legislature, about nine months only, in all; and yet he had succeeded in impressing his character, in distinct and legible forms, upon the whole inchoate empire. The result is astonishing when considered in connection with his immature age. He had, at this time, attained only his thirty-third year, and was
*See Gordon, Ramsay, Marshall, Botta, &c.