Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History

By Fawn M. Brodie | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX

The Flight from Power

Circumstances very peculiar in the situation of my family ...

Jefferson to John Hancock, October 11, 1776

Had Jefferson won his demand to be released from the Constitutional Congress to go to Williamsburg to help write the Virginia constitution, who would have written the Declaration of Independence? John Adams perhaps, for Benjamin Franklin was crippled with gout, and Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston, also on the committee, were obviously lesser men. But when on June 11, 1776, Congress elected five men for the task, the thirty-three-year-old Jefferson, surely to his astonishment, received the largest vote. Deferential to the father of the Revolution and what he called "our colossus" on the floor of Congress, Jefferson asked Adams to write the document. He declined.

"Why will you not?" Jefferson asked. "You ought to do it."

"Reasons enough."

"What can be your reasons?"

"Reason ist. You are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason 2d. I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason 3d. You can write ten times better than I can."

"Well, if you are decided I will do as well as I can." 1

This is John Adams' famous version, written forty-six years later, and though Jefferson remembered the occasion somewhat differently, no one can quarrel with its essential validity, for Adams even then could look

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