Thomas Jefferson: A Biography

By Nathan Schachner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9 Coming of the Revolution

THE extralegal Convention was scheduled to meet in Williamsburg on August 1, 1774. Jefferson set out from Monticello a few days before. In his traveling bags were several copies of the proposed instructions he had drawn in such haste.

But somewhere on the road--the exact place is unknown he took ill with dysentery and could proceed no further. Nothing could have been more unfortunate, Virginia was on the broad highway to decisive action, the ultimate consequences of which no one could foresee. Measures would be taken in which he would have no part. Delegates would be elected to a general Congress of all the colonies, and now there was no chance that he would be among them. The white-hot indictment he had drawn rested passive in his bags, their drafting futile, their mission at an end. At least they must reach the Convention, and stand for him in loco parentis.

Returned to Monticello, Jefferson expressed from his bed of weakness two copies to the assembled delegates; one under cover to Peyton Randolph, who doubtless would preside; the other to Patrick Henry, in whose energy and boldness he confided. Then, impatiently, he awaited the result.

Alas, Patrick Henry did not live up to the trust that Jefferson had in him. The draft Jefferson sent to him in such haste never emerged from his hands. Afterwards, Jefferson reflected bitterly that either he had deemed it too bold for presentation or he had been too lazy to read it; "for he was the laziest man in reading I ever knew."1 It is possible that Jefferson's disillusionment and later break with Patrick Henry had its seeds in this episode.

Peyton Randolph, on the other hand, though fundamentally at odds with the whole tenor and violence of the Summary View, conscientiously presented it to the delegates for their consideration. But before he did so he tried it out on a large company in his own house, among whom were members of the forthcoming Convention. Edmund Randolph, who was present, distinctly remembered that most of the paragraphs were greeted with applause, though the more fiery ones were not equally approved. "The young," he remarked, "ascended with Mr. Jefferson to the source of these rights; the old required time for consideration, before they could tread this lofty ground." They marched, he believed, "far beyond the polkicks of the day."2

The older heads prevailed when the document came up again formally

-103-

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