We have no report of this celebrated oration, and can only gather its
purport from allusions scattered here and there in the letters of those
who heard it. We know, however, that Mr. Adams dwelt forcibly upon this
one position, that the king himself having absolved them from their
allegiance, and having made unprovoked war upon them, the proposed
Declaration would be simply a proclamation to the world of a state of
things already existing.
Many members followed. When the debate had proceeded for a long time,
three new members from New Jersey came in: Richard Stockton, Dr.
Witherspoon and Francis Hopkinson. These gentlemen, on learning the
business before the House, expressed a strong desire to hear a
recapitulation of the arguments which had been brought forward.
Again there was an awkward silence. Again all eyes were turned upon John
Adams. Again he shrank from taking the floor. Mr. Edward Rutledge of
South Carolina came to him and said:
"Nobody will speak but you upon this subject. You have all the topics so
ready that you must satisfy the gentlemen from New Jersey."
Mr. Adams replied that he was ashamed to repeat what he had said twenty
times before. As the new members still insisted on hearing a
recapitulation, he at length rose once more, and gave a concise summary
of the whole debate. The New Jersey gentlemen said they were fully
satisfied and were ready for the question. It was now six o'clock in the
evening. The debate had continued all day, nine hours, without the least
interval for rest or refreshment, and during that long period, as Mr.
Jefferson wrote at a later day, "all the powers of the soul had been
distended with the magnitude of the object."
Mr. Edward Rutledge, of South Carolina, then rose, and asked as a favor
that the voting be deferred until the next morning, as he and his
fellow-members wished still further to deliberate.
The request was granted; the House adjourned; the hungry and exhausted
members went to their homes.
The next morning members met in a cheerful mood, for it was well
ascertained that every colony was prepared to vote for Independence.
When Mr. Adams reached the State House door, he had the pleasure of
meeting Caesar Rodney, still in his riding-boots, for he had ridden all
night from Delaware to vote on the momentous question. Mr. Adams, it is
said, had sent an express at his own expense eighty miles to summon him,
and there he was to greet him at the State House door.
The great question was speedily put, when every State but New York voted
for declaring independence, and that State's adherence was delayed a few
days only by a series of accidents.
What a happy man was John Adams, and what a triumphant letter was that
which he wrote to his noble wife on the 3d of July, telling her the
great news that Congress had passed a resolution, without one dissenting
colony, "that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free
and independent States." Then he continued in the passage so often
"The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the
history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by
succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be
commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God
Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows,
games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of
this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore."
But, no; not on July second. The transaction was not yet complete. As
soon as the vote was recorded, Mr. Jefferson's draft of the Declaration
was taken from the table, and discussed paragraph by paragraph. Many
alterations were made, thirty-four in all, most of them for the better.
This discussion lasted the rest of that day, all the next, and most of
the next, which was the fourth. Late in that afternoon the members
present signed the document, and so the day we celebrate is the FOURTH
ANECDOTES OF JOHN ADAMS.
The first office ever held by President John Adams was that of Roadmaster
to his native town. The young barrister, as he himself confesses, was very
indignant at being elected to a post, with the duties of which he was
unacquainted, and which he considered beneath his pretensions. His friend,
Dr. Savil, explained to him that he had nominated him to the office to
prevent his being elected constable.
"They make it a rule," said the Doctor, "to compel every man to serve
either as constable or surveyor of the highways, or to pay a fine."
"They might as well," said Mr. Adams, "have chosen any boy in school,
for I know nothing of the business; but since they have chosen me at a
venture, I will accept it in the same manner, and find out my duty as I
Accordingly he went to plowing, ditching, and blowing rocks and built a
new stone bridge over a stream. He took infinite pains with his bridge,
and employed the best workmen; "but," says he, "the next spring brought
down a flood that threw my bridge all into ruins." The blame, however,
fell upon the workmen, and all the town, he tells us, agreed that he had
executed his office with "impartiality, diligence, and spirit."
Mr. Adams was an extremely passionate man. One evening, just before the
breaking out of the Revolution, while spending an evening in company
with an English gentleman, the conversation turned upon the aggressions
of the mother country. He became furious with anger. He said there was
no justice left in Britain; that he wished for war, and that the whole
Bourbon family was upon the back of Great Britain. He wished that
anything might happen to them, and, as the clergy prayed for enemies in
time of war, that "they might be brought to reason or to ruin." When he
went home he was exceedingly repentant for having lost his temper, and
wrote in his diary the following remarks:
"I cannot but reflect upon myself with severity for these rash,
inexperienced, boyish, wrong, and awkward expressions. A man who has no
better government of his tongue, no more command of his temper, is unfit
for anything but children's play, and the company of boys. A character
can never be supported, if it can be raised, without a good, a great
share of self-government. Such flights of passion, such starts of
imagination, though they may strike a few of the fiery and
inconsiderate, yet they sink a man with the wise. They expose him to
danger, as well as familiarity, contempt, and ridicule."
One of the most interesting events in the life of John Adams was his
nomination of George Washington to the command of the Revolutionary
armies. One day, in 1775, when Congress was full of anxiety concerning
the army near Boston, and yet hesitated to adopt it as their own,
fearing to take so decisive a step, John and Samuel Adams were walking
up and down the State House yard in Philadelphia before the opening of
the session, and were conversing upon the situation.
"What shall we do?" asked Samuel Adams, at length.
His kinsman said: "You know I have taken great pains to get our
colleagues to agree upon _some_ plan that we might be unanimous
upon; but you know they will pledge themselves to nothing; but I am
determined to take a step which shall compel them, and all the other
members of Congress, to declare themselves for or against
_something_. I am determined this morning to make a direct motion
that Congress shall adopt the army before Boston, and appoint Colonel
Washington commander of it."
Samuel Adams looked grave at this proposition, but said nothing. When
Congress had assembled, John Adams rose, and, in a short speech,
represented the state of the colonies, the uncertainty in the minds of
the people, the distresses of the army, the danger of its disbanding,
the difficulty of collecting another if it should disband, and the
probability that the British army would take advantage of our delays,
march out of Boston, and spread desolation as far as they could go. He
concluded by moving that Congress adopt the army at Cambridge and
appoint a general.
"Although," he continued, "this is not the proper time to nominate a
general, yet, as I have reason to believe that this is a point of the
greatest difficulty, I have no hesitation to declare that I have but one
gentleman in my mind for that important command, and that is a gentleman
from Virginia, who is among us, and is very well known to all of us; a
gentleman whose skill and experience as an officer, whose independent
fortune, great talents, and excellent universal character will command
the approbation of all America, and unite the cordial exertions of all
the colonies better than any other person in the Union."
When Mr. Adams began this speech, Colonel Washington was present; but as
soon as the orator pronounced the words "Gentleman from Virginia," he
darted through the nearest door into the library. Mr. Samuel Adams
seconded the motion which, as we all know, was, on a future day,
unanimously carried. Mr. Adams relates that no one was so displeased
with this appointment as John Hancock, the President of Congress.
"While I was speaking," says John Adams, "on the state of the colonies,
he heard me with visible pleasure; but when I came to describe
Washington for the commander, I never remarked a more sudden and
striking change of countenance. Mortification and resentment were
expressed as forcibly as his face could exhibit them."
Hancock, in fact, who was somewhat noted as a militia officer in
Massachusetts, was vain enough to aspire to the command of the colonial
They had a fashion, during the Revolutionary war, John Adams tells us,
of turning pictures of George III. upside down in the houses of
patriots. Adams copied into his diary some lines which were written
"under one of these topsey-turvey kings":
Behold the man who had it in his power
To make a kingdom tremble and adore.
Intoxicate with folly, see his head
Placed where the meanest of his subjects tread.
Like Lucifer the giddy tyrant fell,
He lifts his heel to Heaven, but points his head to Hell.
It is evident, from more than one passage in the diary of John Adams,
that he, too, in his heart, turned against Gen. Washington during the
gloomy hours of the Revolution. At least he thought him unfit for the
command. Just before the surrender of Burgoyne, Adams wrote in his diary
the following passage:
"Gates seems to be acting the same timorous, defensive part which has
involved us in so many disasters. Oh, Heaven grant us one great soul!
One leading mind would extricate the best cause from that ruin which
seems to await it for the want of it. We have as good a cause as ever
was fought for: we have great resources; the people are well tempered;
one active, masterly capacity would bring order out of this confusion,
and save this country."
Thus it is always in war-time. When the prospect is gloomy, and when
disasters threaten to succeed disasters, there is a general distrust of
the general in command, though at that very time he may be exhibiting
greater qualities and greater talents than ever before.
John Adams tells us the reason why Thomas Jefferson, out of a committee
of five, was chosen to write the Declaration of Independence.
"Writings of his," says Mr. Adams, "were handed about, remarkable for
the peculiar felicity of expression. Though a silent member in Congress,
he was so 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, because we were the two first upon the list."
When this sub-committee of two had their first meeting, Jefferson urged
Mr. Adams to make the draft; whereupon the following conversation
occurred between them:
"I will not," said Mr. Adams.
"You should do it," said Jefferson.
"Oh no," repeated Adams.
"Why will you not?" asked Jefferson. "You ought to do it."
"I will not," rejoined Adams.
"Why?" again asked Jefferson.
"Reasons enough," said Adams.
"What can be your reasons?" inquired Jefferson.
"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
"Very well," said Mr. Adams; "when you have drawn it up, we will have a
Thus it was that Thomas Jefferson became the author of this celebrated
document. Mr. Adams informs us that the original draft contained "a
vehement philippic against negro slavery," which Congress ordered to be
Mr. Adams relates an amusing story of his sleeping one night with Doctor
Franklin, when they were on their way to hold their celebrated
conference with Lord Howe on Staten Island. It was at Brunswick, in New
Jersey, where the tavern was so crowded that two of the commissioners
were put into one room, which was little larger than the bed, and which
had no chimney and but one small window. The window was open when the
two members went up to bed, which Mr. Adams seeing, and being afraid of
the night air, shut it close.
"Oh," said Doctor Franklin, "don't shut the window, we shall be
Mr. Adams answered that he was afraid of the evening air; to which
Doctor Franklin replied:
"The air within this chamber will soon be, and indeed is now, worse than
that without doors. Come, open the window and come to bed, and I will
convince you. I believe you are not acquainted with my theory of colds."
Mr. Adams complied with both these requests. He tells us that when he
was in bed, the Doctor began to harangue upon air, and cold, and
respiration, and perspiration, with which he was so much amused that he
soon fell asleep. It does not appear that any ill consequences followed
from their breathing during the night the pure air of heaven.
THE WRITING AND SIGNING OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE.
We happen to know what kind of weather it was in Philadelphia on
Thursday, the Fourth of July, 1776. Mr. Jefferson was in the habit, all
his life, of recording the temperature three times a day, and not
unfrequently four times. He made four entries in his weather record on
this birthday of the nation, as if anticipating that posterity would be
curious to learn every particular of an occasion so interesting. At six
that morning the mercury marked sixty-eight degrees. At nine, just
before going round to the State House to attend the session of Congress,
he recorded seventy-two and a half degrees. At one, while he was at home
during the recess for dinner, he found the mercury at seventy-six. At
nine in the evening, when the great deed had been done, the instrument
indicated seventy-three and a half degrees.
From another entry of Mr. Jefferson's we learn that he paid for a new
thermometer on that day. The following are the three entries in his
expense-book for July fourth, 1776:
"Paid Sparhawk for a thermometer...................L3 15s.
Pd. for 7 pr. women's gloves....................... 27s.
Gave in charity.................................... 1s. 6d."
The price that he paid for his thermometer was equivalent to about
twenty dollars in gold; and as Mr. Jefferson was not likely to spend his
money for an elaborately decorated thermometer, we may infer that
instruments of that nature were at least ten times as costly then as
they are now. An excellent standard thermometer at the present time can
be bought for five dollars, and the sum which Mr. Jefferson paid in 1776
was fully equal, in purchasing power, to fifty dollars in our present
Mr. Jefferson lived then on the south side of Market street, not far
from the corner of Seventh, in Philadelphia. As it was the only house
then standing in that part of the street, he was unable in after years
to designate the exact spot, though he was always under the impression
that it was a corner house, either on the corner of Seventh street or
very near it. The owner of the house, named Graaf, was a young man, the
son of a German, and then newly married. Soon after coming to
Philadelphia, Mr. Jefferson hired the whole of the second floor, ready
furnished; and as the floor consisted of but two rooms - a parlor and a
bed-room - we may conjecture that the house was of no great size. It was
in that parlor that he wrote the Declaration of Independence.
The writing-desk upon which he wrote it exists in Boston, and is still
possessed by the venerable friend and connection of Mr. Jefferson to
whom he gave it. The note which the author of the Declaration wrote when
he sent this writing-desk to the husband of one of his grand-daughters,
has a particular interest for us at this present time. It was written in
1825, nearly fifty years after the Declaration was signed, about midway
between that glorious period and the Centennial. It is as follows:
"Thomas Jefferson gives this writing-desk to Joseph Coolidge, Jr., as a
memorial of affection. It was made from a drawing of his own by Benj.
Randolph, cabinet-maker, at Philadelphia, with whom he first lodged on
his arrival in that city, in May, 1776, and is the identical one on
which he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Politics as well as
religion has its superstitions. These, gaining strength with time, may
one day give imaginary value to this relic for its associations with the
birth of the Great charter of our Independence."
The note given above, although penned when Mr. Jefferson was eighty-two
years of age, is written in a small, firm hand, and is quite as legible
as the type which the reader is now perusing. There is no indication of
old age in the writing; but I observe that he has spelt the most
important word of the note French fashion, thus: "_Independance_."
It certainly is remarkable that the author of the Declaration of
Independence should have made a mistake in spelling the word. Nor can it
be said that the erroneous letter was a slip of the pen, because the
word occurs twice in the note, and both times the last syllable is spelt
with an _a_. Mr. Jefferson was a very exact man, and yet, like most
men of that day, he used capitals and omitted them with an apparent
carelessness. In the above note, for example, the following words occur,
"Great charter." Here he furnishes the adjective with a capital, and
reduces his noun to the insignificance of a small letter.
The Declaration was written, I suppose, about the middle of June; and,
while he was writing it, Philadelphia was all astir with warlike
preparation. Seldom has a peaceful city, a city of Quakers and brotherly
love, undergone such a transformation as Philadelphia did in a few
months. As Mr. Jefferson sat at his little desk composing the
Declaration, with the windows open at that warm season, he must have
heard the troops drilling in Independence Square. Twice a day they were
out drilling, to the number of two thousand men, and more. Perhaps he
was looking out of the window on the eleventh of June, the very day
after the appointment of the committee to draw up the Declaration, when
the question of independence was voted upon by the whole body of
Philadelphia volunteers, and they all voted for independence except
twenty-nine men, four officers and twenty-five privates. One of these
objectors made a scene upon the parade. He was so much opposed to the
proceeding that he would not put the question to his company. This
refusal, said the newspaper of that week, "Gave great umbrage to the
men, one of whom replied to him in a genteel and spirited manner."
Besides this morning and afternoon drill in the public squares of the
town, preparations were going forward to close the river against the
ascent of a hostile fleet. Dr. Franklin, as I have related, had twenty
or thirty row galleys in readiness, which were out on the river
practising every day, watched by approving groups on the shore. Men were
at work on the forts five miles below the city, where, also, Dr.
Franklin was arranging his three rows of iron-barbed beams in the
channel, which were called _chevaux de frise_. In a letter of that
day, written to Captain Richard Varick, of New York, I find these French
words spelt thus: "Shiver de freeses." Committees were going about
Philadelphia during this spring buying lead from house to house at
sixpence a pound, taking even the lead clock-weights and giving iron
ones in exchange. So destitute was the army of powder and ball that Dr.
Franklin seriously proposed arming some regiments with javelins and
Mr. Jefferson was ready with his draft in time to present it to Congress
on the first of July; but it was on the second, as I conjecture, that
the great debate occurred upon it, when the timid men again put forward
the argument that the country was not yet ripe for so decisive a
measure. Mr. Dickinson, of Pennsylvania, a true patriot, but a most
timorous and conservative gentleman, who had opposed Independence from
the beginning, delivered a long and eloquent speech against the measure.
The author of the Declaration used to relate after dinner to his guests
at Monticello, that the conclusion of the business was hastened by a
ridiculous cause. Near the hall was a livery stable, from which swarms
of flies came in at the open windows, and attacked the trouserless legs
of members, who wore the silk stockings of the period. Lashing the flies
with their handkerchiefs, they became at length unable to bear a longer
delay, and the decisive vote was taken. On the Monday following, in the
presence of a great crowd of people assembled in Independence Square, it
was read by Captain Ezekiel Hopkins, the first commodore of the American
Navy, then just home from a cruise, during which he had captured eighty
cannon, a large quantity of ammunition, and stores, and two British
vessels. He was selected to read the Declaration from the remarkable
power of his voice. Seven weeks later, the Declaration was engrossed
upon parchment, which was signed by the members, and which now hangs in
the Patent Office at Washington.
THE FINANCIER OF THE REVOLUTION.
Robert Morris, who had charge of the financial affairs of the thirteen
States during the Revolutionary War, and afterwards extended his
business beyond that of any other person in the country, became bankrupt
at last, spent four years of his old age in a debtor's prison, and owed
his subsistance, during his last illness, to a small annuity rescued by
his wife from the wreck of their fortunes.
Morris was English by birth, a native of Lancashire, where he lived
until he was thirteen years of age. Emigrating to Philadelphia in 1747,
he was placed in the counting-house of one of the leading merchants,
with whose son he entered into partnership before he had completed his
twenty-first year. This young firm, Willing, Morris & Co., embarked
boldly and ably in commerce, until at the beginning of the Revolution it
was the wealthiest commercial firm in the Colonies south of New England,
and only surpassed in New England by two. When the contention arose
between the Mother country and the colonies, his interest was to take
the side of the Mother country. But he sided with the Colonies - to the
great detriment of his private business. He served in Congress during
nearly the whole of the War, and was almost constantly employed in a
struggle with the financial difficulties of the situation.
I do not see how the revolution could have been maintained unless some
such person could have been found to undertake the finances. When all
other resources gave out he never refused to employ his private
resources, as well as the immense, unquestioned credit of his firm, in
aid of the cause. On several occasions he borrowed money for the use of
the government, pledging all his estate for the repayment. In 1780,
aided by the powerful pen of Thomas Paine, he established a bank through
which three million rations were provided for the army. Fortunately, he
was reputed to be much richer than he was, and thus he was several times
enabled to furnish an amount of assistance far beyond the resources of
any private individual then living in America.