Thomas Jefferson: A Biography

By Nathan Schachner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II The Great Revisions

DURING the great debate on independence and the Declaration which was to proclaim it to the world, Jefferson did not relinquish his other pursuits. On July 1st, for example, he began a detailed and meticulous series of weather observations which were continued, with but few interruptions, through most of his life.1 Each morning and evening he noted the exact temperature and, dissatisfied with the accuracy of his instrument, he took time on July 4th--the great day itself--to buy a new and expensive thermometer for £3, 15 S. To this he added on the 8th a barometer, costing £4, 10 S.

As time went on, more information was jotted down in his notebooks-- wind direction and velocity; the first appearance and final departure of leaves, flowers, fruits, insects and birds; observations on solar eclipses and the aurora borealis. No press of private or public business was permitred to interfere; and eventually he entered into correspondence with like-minded amateur meteorologists in other sections of the country for an interchange of information and observational data. in effect he was instituting, without quite realizing it, the first general weather bureau in the world.

Nor did he forget his family at home during this trying period. On that same notable 4th of July he visited the Philadelphia purveyors of fine articles for ladies and chose seven pairs of gloves to send to Monticello and, at a later date, six pairs of shoes.2

While all the colonies celebrated the Declaration of independence with parades, speeches, fireworks and the noise of guns, Jefferson viewed his handiwork, as it emerged in final form from the deliberations of Congress, with mixed feelings. They had mutilated his precious phrases, he thought, and his auctorial vanity suffered intensely.

While under the spell of his fancied grievance he sent copies of the public Declaration to all his friends, taking care at the same time to forward copies of his original draft, so that they might be able to compare the two and note the differences.

The friends rose to the occasion and responded in terms calculated to soothe his wounded pride. Edmund Pendleton obliged with the remark that Congress had treated Jefferson's draft "as they did yr Manifestto last summer, altered it much for the worse. Their hopes of a

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