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Wednesday, 31 March 2010
Edits and Egos

This week I am busy fine-tuning the article version of my talk about Mary Ball Washington for Patriots of the American Revolution. The final word count was around 3,000 and I found some excellent sources for illustrations including several books published in the 1880’s. This 20-minute speech is rapidly growing into a much larger and more scholarly project. In addition to the upcoming feature in PAR, I am also giving a 1-hour presentation on George’s mother to the Stafford County Historical Society in October. I also anticipate posting the video version of this from the VA Farm Bureau Women’s Conference next week. (Stay tuned)

My commute has me casually reading through Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson and I am gaining a whole ‘new’ perspective on Dr. Franklin. Much like his associates John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, Franklin was also a brilliant, multi-talented entrepreneur. Unlike them, he also appears to have held the nefarious title of “playboy.” Let’s just say that Benjamin Franklin was a very busy man…who stayed busy…in three countries.

Although I have zero interest in his sex life, I am very interested in how he handed personal relationships. More specifically, I am interested in the personal and political relationships between Franklin and Adams and Jefferson. These three egos in one room must have been a sight to behold. I have read that there was a mutual respect and competitive spirit surrounding their kinship, as well as periodic animosity.

The first sign of tension between these giants may have come during their early collaboration on the Declaration of Independence. As the most eloquent writer of the group, Jefferson was tasked with authoring the first draft, which was then reviewed by Adams and Franklin. Both critics were adamant that a document of this magnitude could not be created in it’s entirely by one man. Their fellow colleagues from the Continental Congress also injected their opinions, which in turn, led to protesting from the original author. 

As portrayed in the HBO Mini-Series John Adams, Jefferson is said to have been visibly apprehensive with the editorial comments made by his peers. I was curious as to the level of “apprehension,” so I did some research into this episode and found an account that was written by Franklin’s grandson, William Temple. It was later published in William Temple’s Diary: A Tale of Benjamin Franklin’s Family In the Days Leading up to The American Revolution. It reads:

June 23, 1776

The awesome day has come and gone. Father made the proposed “tenderness and delicacy” impossible. In no uncertain terms, he told the Provincial Congress that they were an illegal body, definitely not representative of the population of New Jersey. He called them “pretended patriots,” “insidious malcontents bent on replacing British liberty with Republican tyranny.” He refused to answer the questions asked by the President of Congress. At some point, Mr. Witherspoon, President of Princeton College, lost his temper and alluded sarcastically to Father’s “exalted birth.” It was finally decided, with the approval of the Philadelphia Continental Congress, that the governor should be removed from New Jersey and sent under guard to the custody of Governor Trumbull in Connecticut. Exactly what Father had predicted!

As my aunts shed copious tears, I wondered whether this was Father at his worst — unbearably arrogant — or at his best — true to himself, whatever the cost. “To thine own self be true...” a nice Shakespeare quotation that might comfort Aunt Jane in a calmer moment.

On the very day of Father’s trial, Grandfather, now back home and feeling much better, was looking over Mr. Jefferson’s draft of a Declaration of Independence. Mr. Thomas Jefferson, a tall, lanky man with reddish hair, lives only a couple of blocks from us on Market street. The motion for such a Declaration was proposed some time ago by a fellow Virginian, Richard Henry Lee, but is acted upon only now. Known to be an excellent writer, Mr. Jefferson, also a Virginian, was quite upset by the many changes to his text suggested by various congressional colleagues. Grandfather told me that he had recommended only one important change. In the introductory sentence, “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable...” Grandfather suggested replacing those two qualifiers by the word self-evident, and Jefferson agreed.

BELOW: Jefferson's original draft of the Declaration with Adam’s and Franklin’s marks. (Source: Independence Hall Association) View an enlarged and legible version of the draft at

Posted by ny5/pinstripepress at 1:28 PM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 8 April 2010 9:19 AM EDT
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