“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.”
Two hundred forty-one years ago, the Second Continental Congress approved the final wording of the Declaration of Independence penned by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson, however, had to be pressured into duty, preferring that the fiery John Adams undertake the writing of the declaration instead. After some back and forth between Jefferson and Adams, Adams finally convinced Jefferson with these words:
“Reason first, you are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second, I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third, you can write ten times better than I can.”
“Well,” said Jefferson, “if you are decided, I will do as well as I can.”
“Very well. When you have drawn it up, we will have a meeting.”
Over the course of seventeen days, in between meetings and other government obligations, Jefferson penned the initial draft of the Declaration of Independence, drawing from his own proposed draft of the Virginia Constitution and George Mason’s draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Once the draft was submitted to the entire congress, after four days of debate and 86changes, the Second Continental Congress formally approved the final text of the Declaration of Independence. They would not get around to signing it until August 2.
Meanwhile, on that same July Fourth, 1776, George III, King of England, wrote in his diary, ‘Nothing of importance happened today.’
Jefferson died at age 83 on the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Less than 6 hours later, John Adams also died, his last words being: “Thomas Jefferson survives,” unaware of his beloved colleague and rival’s death. Jefferson’s words do indeed survive, and taking a few minutes of our time to re-read the Declaration on this July Fourth is time well-spent. See the full text here. Listen to a dramatic, full text reading here, and a host of Hollywood actors reciting it here.
In memory of The Honorable Paul V. Gadola (1929-2014), United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The Declaration of Independence was read aloud in his courtroom, on the record, every year in early July.