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at the beginning of The War between the States to “dissolve the bonds that bound” them to the Union, and in each case there was an idea of fighting, even if bloodshed came, “under the old flag," as abused subjects, or citizens, of the old government, rather than as citizens of an independent country.
Indeed, on November 29, 1775, the date of Jefferson's second letter to Randolph, Congress itself used this language; “that they should rely to the last on heaven and their own virtues for security against the abusive system pressed by the administration for the ruin of America," and that “there is nothing more ardently desired by North America than a lasting union with Great Britain, on terms of justice and equal liberty.”
As late as December, 1775, the Continental Congress speaks of the British constitution as “our best inherit
Remember all this, when we come to discuss the American Counter-Revolution, in the lecture, “Jefferson the Democratizer of National Administration."
What Adams in his old age wrote about the circumstances attending the writing of the Declaration of Independence was equally inaccurate.
On August 30, 1823, what Adams wrote having been printed, Mr. Jefferson made the following correction:
“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. ... Now these details are quite incorrect. The Committee of Five met; no such thing as a subcommittee was proposed, but they unani
mously 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 Doctor 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."
Jefferson gratefully says that Adams was "the colossus of that debate."
From November, 1775, on, the number of those, who had decided upon independence, as the only satisfactory issue out of the contest, increased. It is wonderful even then how few of our people based their contention upon anything more than English statutes and customs and traditions — all of doubtful application. Few of them, except Jefferson, went as far as Johan Derk van Capellen went in his reply to George III, who, having asked the states of Overyssel for troops, was answered that Johan Derk thought, “the Americans worthy of every man's esteem," and looked upon them as “a brave people, defending in a becoming, manly, and religious manner those rights, which, as men, they derived from God; not from the legislature of Great Britain.”
*Thus, though Mr. Jefferson had a hard time at home in keeping his phrases "natural rights," and “inherent rights," and "rights derived from God," and all that, from being stricken out of his public papers as too rhetorical, or too abstract, old Johan Derk van Capellen, away over in Overyssel, had the American idea and expressed it.
On May 15, 1776, Virginia, where the King's name had been already legislated out of the prayer book and the Continental Congress substituted for it, adopted her resolutions instructing her representatives in the Continental Congress to take the initiative and to move independence. Moreover, the House of Burgesses passed a “declaration of rights,” and ordered “a plan of government” to be prepared; in other words, a written constitution for Virginia. Significantly American this written Constitution! The thing had gone out of use since the times of the Greek Republics.
Mr. Jefferson's absence early in May from Philadelphia and his stay in Virginia for nearly four months were due to a desire to prepare the public mind in Virginia for this step. He remained in Virginia nearly four months, at any rate, and then immediately upon his return to Congress, was made chairman of the committee to consider and report a declaration of independence.
Richard Henry Lee, on Friday, June 7th, being “Dean of the Virginia Delegation in Congress," called up the resolutions, which the Virginia House of Burgesses had instructed the delegates from Virginia to present. Their consideration was postponed until the next day. They were debated in committee of the whole, throughout Saturday and the succeeding Monday, and then this resolution was passed: —
“Resolved, That the consideration of the first resolution be postponed to Monday, the first of July next; and in the meanwhile, in order that no time be lost, in case the Congress agree thereto, that a committee be appointed to prepare a declaration to the effect of the first resolution, which is in these words: that these 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.”
The delay was because Congress, like the old Virginia House of Burgesses, was trying “to keep front and rear together.”
It was on the 11th of June, that the committee for preparing and reporting a declaration of independence, consisting of five members, was chosen, as usual, by ballot (the members, by the parliamentary usage of the Continental Congress, taking their places upon the committee list according to the number of votes cast for them, the one receiving the highest vote being ipso facto chairman). The committee thus selected consisted of Thomas Jefferson, first, John Adams, second, Benjamin Franklin, third, Roger Sherman, fourth, and Robert R. Livingston, fifth. Thus fell to Jefferson the glorious task so memorably performed.
During the last session of the last Congress of the United States — such is the legacy of class hatred of Jefferson, deceiving good men - a Senator arose in all a grave Senator's solemnity — wholly unconscious of revamped Federalistic prejudices — and amusingly denied that Thomas Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence, putting him down as a sort of amanuensis or "secretary” to the committee. He also denied that he was “one of the founders of the Government.” It is not worth while to dwell on his first denial. Not only Jefferson's own testimony, but that of Franklin and that of Adams, settle in his favor freedom of tal
exclusively the authorship of the Declaration of Independence. There is more plausibility in the denial, that Jefferson was “one of the founders of our Government,” if the word “Government” be taken to mean the American Government, under the present Constitution. Of course, Jefferson was, at the time of the formation of the present Constitution, in France. But it is also true, as all of us know, that he had a great deal of correspondence, especially with Madison, and with other Virginians, in favor of the adoption of the Constitution, conditioned upon the enactment by way of amendment of what now constitute the first ten amendments — containing, for the most part, the guarantees of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, of assembly, and freedom of religion, etc. — in short, a bill of rights, and also the vital declaration, that "powers not delegated" were reserved to the states or the people.” His opposition, added to that of Henry, Mason and Lee in Virginia, would have defeated its adoption there, and prevented the formation of the new Government. This was appreciated by Madison at the time. His name, authority and letters in favor of adoption were invoked and used. Thus, even in this sense, Jefferson was one of the “founders” of the Government under the present Constitution. It is a mistake, however, to say that our Government was founded with the present Constitution. The present was an "amendment in the nature of a substitute," to the old Constitution of our Union. If not founded when the first Continental Congress convened, or even earlier as a result of the work of the committees of correspondence, then "our Government” was founded
a bill of land freedom of