This week on our annual 4th of July show, Thomas Jefferson reads the Declaration of Independence in it’s entirety and speaks about one of his favorite holidays.
Everybody knows that Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence in the summer of 1776 and that it became the most famous document in American history, but this week we asked, "What about the other signers of the Declaration?"
We asked President Jefferson if he would be so kind as to read the Declaration of Independence to us, and he did.
We talked about how it was set in type, one letter after the next almost with a tweezers, through the night by a man named Dunlap on the fourth of July. His broadsides are now worth upwards of eight million dollars, and they were just the Twitter feed of the time. We asked Mr. Jefferson about some of the signers of the Declaration. "We either hang together or we hang separately," Benjamin Franklin famously said. Benjamin Harrison, who was obese, said to Elbridge Gerry: I'm going to hang a lot more quickly than you will, son. Join us for all that and more, and a happy fourth of July from the Thomas Jefferson Hour.
What Would Jefferson Do?
The following is a rush transcript.
David: 00:00 Good day citizens, good day, Thomas Jefferson Hour podcast listeners, and as I always say, thank you so much for listening and a happy fourth of July,.
Clay: 00:12 The fourth of July, which is the nation's birthday, and it is a celebration that is essentially identical all over the United States. There are coolers and there are beers and there are bratwursts and hot dogs and hamburgers and fireworks and you, you can go anywhere in America and see fireworks on the fourth of July.
David: 00:32 But we don't go there in the show. We talked to President Jefferson this week and one thing that he has never done and he did this week is to read the Declaration of Independence in its entirety.
Clay: 00:43 Pretty amazing. I sat here and read it out at your request. It's a pretty amazing document. You know, we almost never, I almost never read it. You know, the preamble, you know, the ending with, anything, oh yeah, they're quartering tropes and stirring up the Native Americans and uh, encouraging the slaves to revolt, and taking us across the ocean for, for our trials, not with juries of our peers and shutting down our legislatures. And so on, you read all that, but you know, you think, okay blah, blah, more yada yada. But then when you actually sit down —
David: 00:43 Oh, I never think yada yada.
Clay: 01:24 Oh I do, but now when I read it out, I thought, wow, you know, Jefferson obviously is writing a propaganda piece.
David: 01:30 And he says he did it the first draft in a day.
Clay: 01:33 Well but, but he doesn't admit this, but he did have one thing to help him and that was the Virginia Declaration of rights that had been done by his friend George Mason.
David: 01:43 Right. Mason doesn't get enough credit.
Clay: 01:45 And so Jefferson actually had that document. He himself, Jefferson, had written something called a summary view in 1774 with a list of the crimes of the parliament and so on. He had that with him. And so Joseph Ellis, our dear friend, who sometimes likes to kind of belittle Jefferson, or put him in his place a little he wants said it was a cut and paste job. I don't think that's true, but, but Jefferson was not doing this out of the mere brain that he brought to the room.
David: 02:14 Well anyway, it was great to have you read the Declaration as Jefferson, read the Declaration of Independence in its entirety, and it is in the show, but if you are a 1776 Club member, you can, you'll have access to that read and who knows what good fun you can have with that. And if you'd like to become a 1776 Club member and support the show, go to Jeffersonhour.com. Click on donate. You'll find all the instructions there. We so appreciate your support. It all goes into keeping the show afloat and we need your help and we love your input.
Clay: 02:49 You know, David, to prepare for this program, I read a book that has been sitting in my library for 20 years called four days in July by Cornell Lengyel.
David: 02:49 I never even heard of that.
Clay: 03:04 Four days in July. And it's about the first four days of July 1776. When I read it, here's what I thought. It's so easy for us to take this for granted, but imagine what it felt like to be in that room and to realize what they were doing: entering into a state of armed rebellion, declaring independence of the greatest super power on earth. Maybe jeopardizing their lives.
David: 03:31 That would be the best exercise any of us could do, is to try to imagine that.
Clay: 03:36 That's what I did for, for the two days that I read this and I want to just read you one little passage from John Adams. You know, he got it. He nailed it. He, he had a sense of drama that the much cooler and stoic Jefferson would not have brought to this. And here's what he says. He wrote this to Abigail of course, says: 'when I consider the great events which are passed and those greater which are advancing and that I may have been instrumental in touching some springs and turning some small wheels which have had and will have such effects, I feel an awe upon my mind, which is not easily described.' That's amazing.
David: 04:14 Yeah. I remember we talked about that with Ellis during the, uh, the Adams First Family book discussion and I, that just really struck me too. That's a, it's an amazing passage.
Clay: 04:25 In another letter that he wrote to her, he says, I feel like this is what the, the great men of the ancient world would have wanted to be part of — Lycurgus and Demosthenes and Cicero and Cato. That this is one of those moments that, that happens once in a millennium, once in 5,000 years. I mean, almost never. I happened to be living at one of the critical pivotal moments in the history of the planet earth. And I get to be Cicero or I get to be Demosthenes or Solon or Lycurgus, or America. And he's just so aware of the weight of destiny. And he rose to the occasion and I think it really is the case. This book really convinced me and I was reading David McCullough's John Adams too. And it really convinced me that, that he was right later in life when he said, kind of, Jefferson kind of ran away with the revolution by the greatness of his pen because Jefferson gets so much credit when he really was a relatively minor figure up 'til that point, he becomes a much more important figure later. But John Adams was like, Hey, what about me? Am I chop liver? I was the guy who brought this all about. He's just this guy that has a great prose style.
David: 05:43 And I'm laughing because ladies and gentlemen, that's it. You may witness the day and the hour when we got public proof that Jenkinson is slipping into Adamsite.
Clay: 05:57 I became an Adamsite. I couldn't ever become an Adamsite. But I do. I do admire the man.
David: 06:01 This was really a fun show. Thanks for it. And it, you know, I'm so glad we did that show a couple of weeks ago about common sense and, and Thomas Paine because it was a great lead into this. Very, very different than what Jefferson did. But we know Jefferson read it and was aware of it.
Clay: 06:14 And let me, before we go to the show, let me just turn people back to the Jefferson Watch essay that I wrote. I want to ask you a question. I want to ask them a question and that is so what I said basically was either you mean it or you don't. And if you mean all men are created equal, then there's a lot that should be very disturbing to us in the way equality doesn't work for everybody in the world and some people are born into just unbelievable poverty and chaos and destruction and violence and yet 30 miles away you can be born into the upper middle class and so on. So I know that that's you know like a little bit of a dark cloud on a great day of, of national joy. But I think it's important and I, and I wonder what you think when you hear that, David, that you know —
David: 07:02 I can tell you exactly what I thought. It's true that all men are created, all people are created equal. It's true. It's what we as American strive for, but as Americans we fall short and what we need are the voices of men like Jefferson and men like you to call our memories to action. How's that?
Clay: 07:25 Well, I appreciate that. Of course, I've been blessed with the idea of being in the same sentence with Mr Jefferson, but I — What I do think David is I actually woke up in the middle of the night and I thought, okay, I've got to write this essay. I thought, all men are created equal. All men are created equal. All humans are created equal, and I thought is that true? And just a few days ago I had seen one of those ads — those UNICEF ads of the, the starving child in Africa and I thought, why is this fair? Why is it fair that that person is not going to live to be eight and someone born in Boston is going to live to be 108.
David: 08:06 If we could sit down with Mr. Jefferson and talk to them about how Mr. Jefferson, why don't you say we are all created equal and the purpose of America is to further that dream throughout the world.
Clay: 08:18 Well, he meant that. Yeah, he didn't realize. I mean he didn't want to take on too much, but what he basically thought that he was writing the mission statement for the, the rest of human history and it's turned out it's true. I mean not to beat up on Jefferson, you know, of course it's easy to do. His hypocrisies and so on. But look at this, that when Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote the Seneca Falls declaration in the 1840s, she, she essentially just copied Jefferson and said, all men and women are created. When Ho Ci Minh wrote the Declaration of Independence for Vietnam, he copied Jefferson's declaration. Jefferson's declaration is one of the most influential things that ever appeared on Earth and almost every revolutionary movement from Cuba to Vietnam to the natives of northern Canada. When they, when they decide to announce to the world that they're not going to put up with it any longer, they almost invariably go to the source. It's not the Bible, it's not John Milton. It's not Rousseau or Voltaire. The source for all of this — it's not even the Magna Carta — the source is Thomas Jefferson and so you think, Lincoln was right when he said, look, I think what you want about Jefferson, but he launched the most important document ever and it's never going to be rested and we're never going to give up until everyone on earth gets to live according to that set of rights, equalities, and dignities that we just cannot arrest until we extend this thing all the way across.
David: 09:55 Very good sir. Let's go to the show.
David: 09:58 Good day citizens, and welcome to the Thomas Jefferson Hour. Your weekly conversation with President Thomas Jefferson. Mr Jefferson is portrayed by the award winning humanities scholar and author Clay Jenkinson. I'm your host, David Swenson, and seated across from me is President Thomas Jefferson. Good to see you sir.
Jefferson: 10:18 Good Day to you citizen.
David: 10:22 Mr Jefferson, as you know, we're about to celebrate one of the few holidays you celebrated which is the fourth of July, and uh, I wanted to talk to you a bit about that today.
Jefferson: 10:34 One of two holidays that I celebrated as president. I celebrated the first of January, New Year's Day because it's an entirely arbitrary point in the calendar and then I celebrated the fourth of July, which was the birth of the United States of America. Those two, not, not Christmas, not Easter, not thanksgiving. I'm not all hallowed day and Halloween, but, but those two secular moments, and particularly the fourth of July, and as president, I threw open the doors of what you call the White House and invited the people of the district of Columbia to come for a punch or tea or wine, sometimes champagne and what you would call hors d'oeuvres, on that occasion.
David: 11:23 Mr. President, I'm not sure how many Americans in my time have actually read this document or how many did during your time. I'm wondering if I could prevail upon you sir, to, to read the Declaration of Independence to us. Sir.
Jefferson: 11:39 I'm happy to do it. I don't regard myself as a proper orator, but, but I do know the rhythms of the thing.
David: 11:39 Excellent. Let's proceed Sir.
Jefferson: 11:49 When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable 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, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United 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; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
David: 20:51 Excellent. Mr. President. Thank you. Any thoughts? Some 200 years later on the document itself?
Jefferson: 20:58 I stand by what I wrote. There are really several parts of this. There's the preamble, the famous preamble. We hold these truths to be self evident and so on. And then there is the list of the crimes and follies and bureaucratic mistakes of the British Ministry of the parliament and indeed King George III. That's the substance of the thing because we were trying to justify our revolution to a candid world and then finally after all that, go ahead and say, well, we have no choice now. You've forced us to declare independence and so we are now pledging to be a, a new country and, and, and in doing so we realized we're putting our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor on the line. So it was really a three part document.
David: 21:47 I have a number of questions. I'd like to know how you wrote it and how it was circulated and published. And also, sir, if you would share, I would like to know the fate of some of the 55 other men who signed it.
Jefferson: 22:00 I'd be happy to talk about that part of the story that I know.
David: 22:03 Well, let me ask you one quick question. How long did it take you to write it sir?
Jefferson: 22:08 Oh, I wrote the first draft in a single day and then set it aside and tinkered with it for a few days thereafter, but essentially I wrote it in a, in a single afternoon.
David: 22:17 We need to take a short break. We'll be back in just a moment. You're listening to the Thomas Jefferson Hour.
David: 22:28 Welcome back to the Thomas Jefferson Hour, your weekly conversation with President Thomas Jefferson. Mr Jefferson, right before we took our break, you said you wrote the first draft of this in a single day?
Jefferson: 22:41 That's correct. I was staying in a boarding house on market street in Philadelphia and I had been on this committee of five which were asked to draft this document and the other members deferred to me. Several left the committee altogether and that left John Adams and Benjamin Franklin and me and they both asked me to to make the first attempt and so I did this. I was reluctant to do it because I looked at both of them as superior Franklin because he was the greatest writer of of all of the American people and famous for his capacity as a, as a diplomat, our, our, our find a scientist, pure man of the enlightenment Dr Franklin. And John Adams, although not have the same capacity as Franklin was more important I think in the revolution, he was almost the spark of a when everyone else was reluctant and diffident and overly cautious. It was Adams through those months up to the moment of the Declaration of Independence who was pushing the representatives from the 13 individual colonies to swallow hard and to break with Great Britain and probably nobody did more to bring about the moment when we voted on the second of July to declare independence, probably nobody did more in that respect than John Adams, so I felt like a very poor third in that subcommittee, but I did have a reputation for being a very deep student of the history of liberty and human rights and I also was thought by others to be an excellent prose stylist. And so for those reasons, knowing that I would be subject to revision by better men — by Franklin and John Adams, I agreed to take a stab at it.
David: 24:44 You say you were a student of liberty. Certainly you must have given this a great deal of thought. Being able to write a draft of this in in one single day.
Jefferson: 24:52 Well, the enlightenment, which is that European intellectual and social movement that began in the 17th century and culminated in the early 19th century in Scotland and France and England to a certain degree in Germany and Italy also, the enlightenment had awakened us to the fact that humans are born with rights. It's thought that we didn't have some inkling of this, but it had been sort of lost in the business of everyday life and the social hierarchies that existed in the institutional basis that was deeply rooted in European culture and suddenly all these enlightenment thinkers are stepping back and saying, well, in the state of nature, what would it be like? How are governments formed from, from what impulses have they evolved? Do governments have a natural resonance with the deeper harmonies of the universe, or are they arbitrary? Are they just something that happened arbitrarily in this country or in that country? How? How did kingships begin? Does someone who's born have rights or our rights granted to people by benevolent governments, how do people change their society if they regarded as a unjustified in one way or another? All of these questions were were being examined by John Locke and d'Holbach and Rousseau and Dr Johnson and a whole range of people in Scotland and England and France and Germany and Italy and so on, and for the first time in human history, there was a really intense body of growing literature about this and rational literature. For the first time, we were asking these questions and to a certain degree, answering them without reference to God. For most of the history of Western civilization, when people thought about life, they thought about it through a lens that was theocratic, that was based in an understanding of God's providence and God's omnipotence, and there's nothing particularly wrong with that lens, but there are other lenses that are perhaps more useful. And so the enlightenment was in many respects a secularization of culture and the enlightenment asked these very fundamental, I suppose you'd call them radical questions about the nature of life and the nature of government and human nature. It gave us confidence. So when I sat down to write this, I wasn't writing it as if I had been kept alone in a room. For the first 33 years of my life, I had been very fortunate in my education. My father was a reader and had a library of about 40 books and they were good ones and I started reading very early and then I was tutored by Scott's clergyman in my district in western Virginia, and then I went off to the College of William and Mary where I met my two mentors. First, William Small of the Scottish enlightenment, and then George Wythe, the great self taught Greek scholar and jurist and all of them were putting books in my hands. Books were becoming available in an unprecedented way. Less expensive, more available. And so I was fortunate. I lived at a moment when the book was exploding as an artifact, as a delivery system for ideas. And I came from a family that prized education and I was extremely fortunate in my mentors at the College of William and Mary. So by the time Franklin and Adams turned to me, it isn't that I had read everything in the enlightenment, but I had read an enormous amount and I could then digest. Some of that from John Locke and Bolingbroke and Rousseau and Voltaire and others, I could digest some of those ideas that were widely circulating in my time into this, this document, so I, I later said and I meant I consulted neither book nor pamphlet. I just sat down and took out a sheet of paper and a good quill and sharpened it and wrote what I thought was the common sense of the subject. What any well educated American might've written on this occasion.
David: 29:06 I understand how you went about writing it and the knowledge that you already had to use. I'm curious sir, how did this document get circulated? Was it published, and probably more importantly, what was public reaction to it?
Jefferson: 29:20 There was a debate in the Continental Congress about its contents, which I found excruciating because as the author of the thing, of course I was, I was devoted to it and believed that it was the right document.
David: 29:35 I guess no author likes to get edited. Is that correct?
Jefferson: 29:37 That is correct. And Dr Franklin was sitting next to me during this long and protracted debate and he told me a tedious story about a hatter and a sign and he tried to cheer me up, but I couldn't be cheered up. I thought they were mangling the draft that I had presented to them and I couldn't speak to defend it because that's not what a Virginia gentleman does. So there was this long debate and finally on the fourth of July, about 11:00 AM, the members of the Continental Congress voted unanimously to adopt it with all the changes that had been made. About a quarter of it was, was changed. And then my fair copy, I had been making notes on the emanations, on my copy. And then it was taken by me by the, by the secretary of the continental congress. And he presented it. There were no copying machines at this time. He presented it to a printer by the name of Dunlap and Dunlap stayed up all night setting it in a broad side. So let me explain to people of your time what that means. So I, I had this hand written document with squiggling and scratchings out and things carried it in and so on. Marginal bits. It goes to this printer Dunlap. Then he takes it and he gets a frame, a wooden and metal frame and he starts taking out pieces of type. So we hold these truths to be self evident. Capital w you put in the frame, small e and then a space and then h o l, d, each one of these pieces of type is the size of an ant and it's pulled out of a frame, a box of type in which the alphabet divides each letter placed upside down and backwards in this frame and when he finishes, let's take this, took the whole night. When he finished setting it, then he tightens the frame and puts it on a, on a platen on the press and then takes ink and dabs this, this large inkblot in ink and then rubs it and and pounds it all over this type. And then he lays a huge sheet of paper on top of that type and then goes to the press and he pulls with all of his might and the paper is then pushed down onto that inky type and it creates the image and once that's done, he very carefully lifts the page up off of the type and uses the equivalent of clothespins to put it up on a string and then he reads it because there will have been mistakes in a document of that size, setting type and the way that we did, even by experts in my era. There would be mistakes and then he would go back where a word was misspelled or a capital was used when a lowercase should have been used or italics was used, were roman should have been. And then he would replace that type and then make a second proof. And if that one proved to be correct, then he would lock it all up and then start to produce them. And he would produce them in batches of 20, 30 and 40. Each one requiring the same business. Put down a sheet of paper. Pull the press, remove the press, take the paper off and hang it up to dry so each of these is hand printed on this press and in the course of that night set at all and type and produced, I don't know, 40 or 50 or 60 copies, but he couldn't do them fast enough and so for the next few days he kept making more and more and more of them because the demand for them, not only by the people of Philadelphia but the people around the country was huge. So members of the continental congress would get a few copies and then they would fold them up and seal them and send them back to their constituents in Georgia or New Hampshire or Rhode Island and they would hope that the constituents would show them around or hang them up in post offices, but often they would have to send five, 10 or 30 of such copies so that they would make sure that they disseminated correctly all over the country. Then the next step would be for newspapers around the country to print them. And so the first one that was printed was a Philadelphia newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette, which produced the whole front page, all of the Declaration of Independence on the fifth of July, and then that paper would be carried or sent around the country and other newspapers would then copy it for for their local constituents.
David: 34:12 My understanding from previous conversations with you is that the majority of Americans wanted to be able to reconcile with Britain and avoid war.
Jefferson: 34:12 That's correct.
David: 34:27 Did this document, the Declaration of Independence, convince people that the list of grievances was too much? It was time to do this? Or didn't more work needs to be done?
Jefferson: 34:34 Much more work needed to be done. When people read it around the country, I think they thought, well, we've done it. The Congress has done this thing and now we have to live with it. I mean it was a little bit too late at that point to debate and I didn't write it really for the people of the United States. I wrote it for the world so that we could justify what we were doing. And a revolution is a very grave thing.
David: 34:34 Certainly.
Jefferson: 34:57 As I said in the, in the declaration, people would prefer to put up with abuse and corruption and bad government as long as they can possibly endure it because that's preferable to the chaos of an armed rebellion or revolution. And so we had exhausted all the means of, of peaceful redress, of grievances. And we finally were forced into a state of rebellion by the king and the parliament and the ministry. I wanted to do two things with the Declaration of Independence. I wanted to convince the world, and thoughtful people everywhere. that are caused was just that we weren't just a bunch of anti-tax hotheads and I wanted to, if possible, convince the French and other nations to recognize us, you know, a new nation needs to be recognized and to have a formal diplomatic establishment and it bills of exchange for trade and so on. And I thought France was our best chance. And Dr Franklin of course, helped to get us recognized by the people of France.
David: 36:04 I would certainly like to speak to you, Mr. President, about some of the men who signed it, the 56 signers. I look at the list and notice that the two states that had the most delegates sign, were Virginia and Pennsylvania. Could you share with us some recollections about some of the men who signed? Perhaps we could start with the gentleman you mentioned earlier, Mr. Hancock.
Jefferson: 36:26 Well, he was the president of the continental Congress and he was a rich man from Boston. In fact, he had participated as a terrorist in the Boston tea party, but he was such a dandy. He was a very well dressed man, uh, that people who witnessed the Boston tea party said they could see they were dressed as native peoples, as Indians, but they said they could see his lace cuffs beneath the disguise that he was wearing as a Native American. He had so wanted to be the commander in chief and he was a bitter when George Washington was nominated instead by John Adams. And he never fully got over that, but he did, when the moment came, he stepped up and signed in a large way, I should say that the signing did not occur on the fourth of July. That's an American myth that didn't occur until the second of August and later, but when he signed, he signed in the boldest possible way, partly because that sort of was the nature of his ego, but it also was the case that he wanted to show all the rest of us, that he was not afraid for his name to be legible. In a certain sense, when we signed this thing, we could have been signing our death warrants. Now, if we had tried to remain anonymous and just publish this without anybody taking credit for it, we might've been able to slip away from the noose of the British authorities if the revolution had failed. But by signing it, we were essentially saying, our lives now depend upon the success of this revolution. And we probably would have been tried. Some would've been beheaded. Some might've been hanged as common criminals if the British had won. So he started it and he said, now George III won't have to wear spectacles in order to see my name. So that was the first one.
David: 38:09 Mr Hancock, if I recall correctly, was from Massachusetts. Are there any other delegates that you recall that you'd like to speak about?
Jefferson: 38:16 Yes, but let me say first a few things by way of statistics of the people who signed the Declaration of Independence. Twenty four were lawyers, 11 were merchants, nine farmers. There was one teacher, one musician and one printer, that of course would be Benjamin Franklin, 12 of the signers later had their homes ransacked and burned. Nine of the signers fought and died from wounds that they received during the revolutionary cause. Five were captured and tortured by the British. This was a pretty brave thing that people were doing, and not the majority, but certainly a large number of the signers had their lives effectively destroyed by this. You can think of a few. So Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island was a, had the palsy and he came up under the dais to sign. He was using a hickory cane. And his hands were trembling and he said this, he said, my hands tremble, but my heart does not. And I remember when Benjamin Harrison of Virginia, he was obese. He was a huge man and he signed and turned to Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts. And Gerry was just a tiny little man, thin as can be and short. And Benjamin Harrison said to Gerry, you know, if we hang over this, I'll have the great advantage over you because all die almost instantly. But you as a little man will bounce around for a long time before you die.
New Speaker: 38:16 Perhaps some gallows humor.
Jefferson: 39:56 Gallows humor. Caesar Rodney, of Delaware, had skin cancer. His face was disfigured, but he came and he had a green silk scarf placed over half of his face. Not in shame, but because he was deathly ill at the time, but all of us felt we must own what we had done. We must take responsibility and we needed to encourage each other and encourage all of the people in the rest of the country that the cause we had chosen was the right one. By the way, George Washington was not one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence because he was off in New York City trying to save us from the British invasion, which was occurring at precisely the same time, but George Wythe, my beloved mentor in law and the great self taught Greek scholar was one of the signers, and Richard Henry Lee. He's important because he's the one who on the seventh of June, first proposed that we declare independence. He's the one who offered the resolution that we would be now free and independent and it was tabled for a long time because the congress was at that moment not quite ready for all of this and finally not from Virginia, but Francis Hopkinson is important. Hopkinson was a musician, but he's also the designer of the American flag.
David: 41:07 Mr Jefferson, I thank you so much for taking the time to read the Declaration of Independence for us today and, and I thank you for the conversation right now, sir. We need to take a short break, but we'll be back in just a moment. You're listening to the Thomas Jefferson hour.
David: 41:27 Welcome back to the Thomas Jefferson hour, your weekly conversation with President Thomas Jefferson and now our weekly conversation with the creator of the Thomas Jefferson hour, Mr Clay Jenkinson, and a happy fourth to you sir.
Clay: 41:43 Happy fourth to you, David, and to everyone who is a friend of the Thomas Jefferson hour and everyone who is a citizen of the United States. Happy fourth of July.
David: 41:50 You know, every year we do a fourth of July show on the Thomas Jefferson our and this was a pretty interesting one. There was no talk about fireworks and beaches and broths and all that kind of stuff. It was pretty serious with Mr Jefferson this week.
Clay: 42:04 Well, a couple of things. First of all, we have never done a program on the other signers.
David: 42:04 Right.
Clay: 42:10 And there are lots of mythologies that float around about this. I once had a public quarrel with Ross Perot, if you can imagine it, in Dallas, and he stood up at a performance that I was doing and said now half of them were tortured. Their families were thrown off their land and their farms were burned and they were, their cattle were killed, and I said, I don't really think that's true, Mr Perot, and he said, it is true and you're wrong. So he, as you know, there's a whole mythology about suffering and some of it is true in some of it is not true, but we know — and even the stories that I told today about Benjamin Harrison saying to Elbridge Gerry, you're going to dangle a lot longer than I am. And so on. Historians like Joseph Ellis and David McCullough say, well, maybe — we don't have. We don't have explicit notes. What happens around an event like this and one of the most monumental moments in human history, certainly one of the most monumental moments in American history, is that a whole series of recollections and memories and embellishments and apocrypha attached to those stories and they — some of them have the same status as George Washington chopping down the cherry tree. That no basis in fact, in some of them are partly based in fact. And most of them have been touched up and embellished. And we just don't know. One of the things that Jefferson was so upset by is that nobody in the second continental congress was trying to keep a verbatim record of the transactions. So John Adams, for example, on the, I think it was the third of July, gave what David McCullough says is the greatest speech of his life, four hours, to defend the Declaration of Independence and to push the delegates to, um, to, to make the fatal vote. We only have some very basic summaries of that great speech. Jefferson said, oh, you know, if somebody had had a polygraph or a recording device of some sort, we would, we'd have this definitive history. We just don't. And so in all such cases, as you know, David, mythology begins to creep in. And as historians we like to question some of that. You don't want to be sour about it because some of these stories are terrific. On the other hand, you know, people on the spot are not usually as witty as they turn out to be when history looks at them 200 years later and you know, Franklin has said that at one point in the signing, someone turns to Dr Franklin and says, um, he's, he's like reading over the document with his spectacles and says, well, don't just hang there. And then Dr Franklin turns and famously says, well, if we don't hang together, we are certain to hang separately.
David: 44:55 And I really, I still want that to be true.
Clay: 44:58 We don't know. But what a great thing.
David: 45:00 The other one of Franklin's that I so want to be true is a republic, Madam, if you can keep it.
Clay: 45:04 I think that one is likelier to be true from 1787 when he was leaving the constitutional convention and a woman's like, well, what have you produced. And he said, well, a republic if you can keep it. That sounds like Franklin. My point is that, that history is always partly mythological and if we actually had a recording device, if someone discovered that there was — Remember that year we did a program on this, the way you could like — their vibrations and so on, but if say we had suddenly a recording of the whole thing, we might come away pretty disappointed.
David: 45:38 Oh, I hate to think that —
Clay: 45:40 — but it could be.
David: 45:40 Yeah, but you're right though. There are a lot of popular myths and one needs only to Google and you find almost the exact verbiage on tons of sites. You know, that thing about five signers were captured by the British as traders and tortured —
Clay: 45:55 — and some of it could be true in some of it is not, but, but there's a lot of martyrdom and the Ross Perot type, like these men, they had the right stuff and we no longer do kind of thing.
David: 46:07 I searched to my best ability and found that there was only one guy who was specifically taken because of his status as a signatory. And that was Richard Stockton of New Jersey
Clay: 46:16 He was beaten almost to death and died early because of it.
David: 46:20 Taken to a jail, like a common criminal. But anyway —
Clay: 46:23 — let me read. Let me, you said we, we've had no fireworks. Let me give you my favorite moment with and —
David: 46:28 I thought we were going to get —
Clay: 46:29 I do every year, John Adams on this, John Adams wrote to Abigail and of course he believed that the second of July was the big day and the fourth was just the news release —
David: 46:40 he never really let go of that did he?
Clay: 46:41 No and I can't either. He is — what he says — because it's so right. He nailed it, but he just got the day wrong. He says to Abigail, the second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epica in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other. From this time forward forevermore. That's exactly what we do, we just do it two days later. On the fourth of July. So he was right. He was a brilliant man and he, he was actually right about this too, that the second of is the day they all stepped up and voted for independence. The fourth was just the day they adopted Jefferson's Declaration of Independence.
David: 47:38 I really enjoyed listening to Mr Jefferson. Talk about how it was printed and these are the Dunlap broadsides that he was talking about and I'm looking at it. The last one that was found was a previously unknown copy and it was sold for over $8,000,000 in 2000 because —
Clay: 47:55 At the time they were, it was just like a twitter feed, you know. So imagine if this happened today, so it'll be live coverage but, but then it would be out within seconds and think what we can do. So in his time, you know, I gave you that sort of painstaking take the t, take the —
David: 48:12 I love that. My father was an amateur printer, had had like an 1890 chandler and price in the basement and I used to go down there and watch him set lead type. You can see that in what's that movie? The Post.
Clay: 48:22 And I did this when I was a young man. I was. I worked for the Dickinson, North Dakota, and so it was great. It was a great era, but it was so slow and so today you know, you tap this thing out. You might even have voice recognition software that goes out instantly and it would have today. It would reach a billion people within two hours.
David: 48:40 Another instance where technology has wiped out a craft.
Clay: 48:43 But it wiped out a craft, but of course Jefferson said in his lifetime, he said, the fact of the book means that tyranny is on the wane and liberty is on the rise because now that the book is cheaply reproduced, we can smuggle it into all of the repressive regimes on earth and once people read the truth, they will never live with tyranny. Imagine how the Internet, twitter and face time and so on could be used as forces for enlightenment and they are to a certain degree, if we really wanted them to.
David: 49:15 It would have been harder for people to edit Jefferson's draft. I look and they said they made 86 changes to it? It just had to kill him.
Clay: 49:25 It did kill him, and most of their changes were right. Even taking out the famous antislavery charter, which was the last of his indictments of George III he said he has waged war against human nature itself by vetoing our attempts to do this and et cetera. You know, everyone knew that when the responsibility for slavery was meted out, it wasn't really going to stick with George III. He might have played a little role in the perpetuation of the slave trade, but slavery is really on us, on the American people. So they pulled it, they pulled it —
David: 49:57 — and it never would have been ratified or passed —
Clay: 50:02 Georgia and South Carolina said, no, we're not, we're not doing — So that. And then some personal stuff. Jefferson made the, he talked about the last spasms of consanguinity and loyalty. He over-personalized the divorce. And so the members of the continental congress toned that down some. And they added famously for the protection, the protection of divine providence. Jefferson did not have, in the famous ending, the protection of divine providence and the members of the continental congress inserted that, somewhat to his chagrin because he believed that this was a very human thing.
David: 50:41 Great conversation this weekend. I know you will join me in wishing all Americans a very happy and safe Fourth of July, and now sir it is time for this week's Jefferson Watch.