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Q: Declaration Of Independence ( Answered,   1 Comment )
Subject: Declaration Of Independence
Category: Reference, Education and News > General Reference
Asked by: dianediane-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 25 Aug 2004 15:40 PDT
Expires: 24 Sep 2004 15:40 PDT
Question ID: 392606
Who was asked to write the declaration of independence before Thomas Jefferson? And
why did he decline???
Subject: Re: Declaration Of Independence
Answered By: livioflores-ga on 25 Aug 2004 17:03 PDT
Hi dianediane!!

According to my research the man who asked to write the Declaration of
Independence and refuse to do that was John Adams.

At the site "EyeWitness to" I found the following page:
"Writing the Declaration of Independence, 1776":

At this page it is transcribed a letter that John Adams wrote to
Timothy Pickering responding to Pickering's questions about the
writing of the Declaration of Independence, please read that letter:

"You inquire why so young a man as Mr. Jefferson was placed at the
head of the committee for preparing a Declaration of Independence? I
answer: It was the Frankfort advice, to place Virginia at the head of
everything. Mr. Richard Henry Lee might be gone to Virginia, to his
sick family, for aught I know, but that was not the reason of Mr.
Jefferson's appointment. There were three committees appointed at the
same time, one for the Declaration of Independence, another for
preparing articles of confederation, and another for preparing a
treaty to be proposed to France. Mr. Lee was chosen for the Committee
of Confederation, and it was not thought convenient that the same
person should be upon both. Mr. Jefferson came into Congress in June,
1775, and brought with him a reputation for literature, science, and a
happy talent of composition. Writings of his were handed about,
remarkable for the peculiar felicity of expression. Though a silent
member in Congress, he was so prompt, frank, explicit, and decisive
upon committees and in conversation - not even Samuel Adams was more
so - that he soon seized upon my heart; and upon this occasion I gave
him my vote, and did all in my power to procure the votes of others. I
think he had one more vote than any other, and that placed him at the
head of the committee. I had the next highest number, and that placed
me the second. The committee met, discussed the subject, and then
appointed Mr. Jefferson and me to make the draft, I suppose because we
were the two first on the list.
The subcommittee met. Jefferson proposed to me to make the draft. I
said, 'I will not,' 'You should do it.' 'Oh! no.' 'Why will you not?
You ought to do it.' 'I will not.' 'Why?' 'Reasons enough.' 'What can
be your reasons?' '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.'
A meeting we accordingly had, and conned the paper over. I was
delighted with its high tone and the flights of oratory with which it
abounded, especially that concerning Negro slavery, which, though I
knew his Southern brethren would never suffer to pass in Congress, I
certainly never would oppose. There were other expressions which I
would not have inserted if I had drawn it up, particularly that which
called the King tyrant. I thought this too personal, for I never
believed George to be a tyrant in disposition and in nature; I always
believed him to be deceived by his courtiers on both sides of the
Atlantic, and in his official capacity, only, cruel. I thought the
expression too passionate, and too much like scolding, for so grave
and solemn a document; but as Franklin and Sherman were to inspect it
afterwards, I thought it would not become me to strike it out. I
consented to report it, and do not now remember that I made or
suggested a single alteration.
We reported it to the committee of five. It was read, and I do not
remember that Franklin or Sherman criticized anything. We were all in
haste. Congress was impatient, and the instrument was reported, as I
believe, in Jefferson's handwriting, as he first drew it. Congress cut
off about a quarter of it, as I expected they would; but they
obliterated some of the best of it, and left all that was
exceptionable, if anything in it was. I have long wondered that the
original draft had not been published. I suppose the reason is the
vehement philippic against Negro slavery.
As you justly observe, there is not an idea in it but what had been
hackneyed in Congress for two years before. The substance of it is
contained in the declaration of rights and the violation of those
rights in the Journals of Congress in 1774. Indeed, the essence of it
is contained in a pamphlet, voted and printed by the town of Boston,
before the first Congress met, composed by James Otis, as I suppose,
in one of his lucid intervals, and pruned and polished by Samuel
From "Writing the Declaration of Independence, 1776," EyeWitness to
History, (1999).

Note that efferson's account is different. Writing to Madison in 1823, he says:

"Mr. Adams memory has led him into unquestionable error. At the age of
88 and 47 years after the transactions,?.this is not wonderful. Nor
should I?.venture to oppose my memory to his, were it not supported by
written notes, taken by myself at the moment and on the spot?. The
Committee of 5 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;?.and you have seen the original paper now in my
hands, with the corrections of Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams interlined
in their own handwriting. 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 the Congress."
Writings of Thomas Jefferson (ed. 1869), VII, 304.

See the following pages for references:

At this page this section will be of your interest:

The following two pages will add more info about the context:
"Biography of John Adams, Declaration of Independence":

"The Patriot Resource: Declaration of Independence"


Search strategy:
american independence declaration
"declaration of independence" committee
"declaration of independence" committee draft
"declaration of independence" adams Pickering letter

I hope that this helps you. Feel free to request a clarification if it needed.

Best regards.
Subject: Re: Declaration Of Independence
From: pinkfreud-ga on 25 Aug 2004 17:11 PDT
Another possible answer is Benjamin Franklin, whose health problems
caused him to decline invitations to write the Declaration of

"A year after skirmishes at Lexington and Concord turned angry words
into armed rebellion, when the delegates to the Continental Congress
decided that a rationale for the revolution needed to be put on paper,
Franklin was the most likely candidate to write the manifesto. He had
just returned from a long and difficult trip to the Ohio country, and
had come down with gout. His three score and ten years showing on him,
Franklin declined invitations to write the Declaration of
Independence. He did join the drafting committee, and eventually
became Thomas Jefferson's major editor."

"How was it that Jefferson, at 33, got the honor of drafting the
document? His name was listed first on the committee, signifying that
he was the chairman, because he had gotten the most votes and because
he was from Virginia, the colony that had proposed the resolution. His
four colleagues had other committee assignments that they considered
to be more important, and none of them realized that the document
would eventually become viewed as a text akin to Scripture. As for
Franklin, he was still laid up in bed with boils and gout when the
committee first met. Besides, he later told Jefferson, 'I have made it
a rule, whenever in my power, to avoid becoming the draughtsman of
papers to be reviewed by a public body.'

And thus it was that Jefferson had the glorious honor of composing, on
a little lap desk he had designed, some of the most famous phrases in
history while sitting alone in a second-floor room of a home on Market
Street in Philadelphia just a block from Franklin's house."

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