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During the three days I wrote about last week, Jefferson showed his draft of the declaration to three of his fellow committee members. They had requested to see it before it was submitted to Congress. I also provided information about a developing military situation in South Carolina that the members of Congress learned about on June 27.
Monday, June 24, 1776. John Adams was the first person he visited.
Jefferson brought a copy of the “Pennsylvania Magazine” to read while Adams reviewed the declaration statement.
The sun had gone down by the time Adam’s finished reading. “I admire your peculiar felicity of expression,” he said as he looked up from the document. “This is further proof that you write ten times better than I do.”
Jefferson saw the approval in Adam’s face. He was pleased and relieved.
“I am delighted with its high tone and flights of oratory,” Adams continued. “However, I do not think your Southern brethren will approve the clause concerning slavery, which I would never oppose. There were other expressions I would not have inserted if I had written it, particularly where you call King George a tyrant. I think this is too personal. I have never believed the King to be a tyrant. I think his advisors in England and America are deceiving him. It sounds too much like scolding for a document of this type. But, since Franklin and Sherman will inspect it later, I am not going to suggest that you strike it out.”
Jefferson felt a sense of disbelief at Adam’s statement. “The King is a tyrant,” he thought to himself, “no one can convince me otherwise.”
Adams asked Jefferson to make some “minor corrections.”
Tuesday, June 25, 1776. The next day he called on Benjamin Franklin. Like Adams, he requested that changes be made.
“Thomas,” Franklin said as he removed his bifocals, “this is an impressive paper … an impressive piece of writing. You have done everything we asked.” He replaced his bifocals. “The preamble is magnificent: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with inherent & 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.’” He paused and thought a moment. “This is a powerful statement. I believe it will win the hearts and minds of everyone who reads or hears it.”
Jefferson did not know how to respond, except to say, “Thank you Benjamin.”
Thursday, June 27, 1776. Congress learned that the British fleet had arrived at the Charleston, South Carolina Harbor, and that patriot forces were constructing a fort at the entrance to the harbor to protect the city.
The nine man-of-war ships arrived on June 1 and anchored outside the Charleston Harbor with a force of 2,900 British troops. Later, [British Major General Sir Henry] Clinton stationed some of his troops on Long Island where they could attack Fort Sullivan from the rear. [Sir Peter] Parker was confident his warships would easily destroy the fort. Clinton ordered Parker to move the fleet closer to Sullivan’s Island.
Everything was in place for a battle to begin.
Roger Sherman, Committee of Five member and delegate from Connecticut, made himself comfortable in Jefferson’s sitting room and read the declaration. When he finished Jefferson asked if he had any corrections or suggestions, Sherman responded, “No, I would not change a word.”
Next week’s journal will cover the introduction of the declaration of independence to Congress and the opening debate on the Virginia Resolution.
I sincerely appreciate your interest in reading this weekly journal. My hope is that you are finding it enjoyable and educational.