Story of Thomas Jefferson - J. W. McSpadden

The Declaration of Independence

It was not until May, 1776, that Jefferson went back to Congress. During the spring which he spent at home, affairs in the colonies sped swiftly. The news that General Washington had captured Boston, and that the red-coats had been forced to leave it, added another thrill to the stirring excitement that filled the air. On the seventh of June, 1776, Richard Henry Lee asked Congress to declare the colonies free from Great Britain.

For two days this was talked over, many of the members thinking that it was too soon to take such a step. Then, in order that everything might be done properly and well, further action was put off for twenty days, and a committee of five members was appointed to write a Declaration of Independence. The first man named was Thomas Jefferson. With him were Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston.

To Thomas Jefferson, youngest of the five, was given the glorious task of putting upon paper the burning words which would declare to the world that the people of the colonies were forever free.

Beginning with the immortal sentence: "When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another,"—Jefferson wrote down in plain, vigorous words a detailed recital of America's wrongs, and why it was that we should become "free and independent states." This brief but weighty document has become one of the nation's priceless possessions.

Declaration of Independence


Thursday, the fourth day of July, 1776, had come. For three days Congress had been debating the Declaration of Independence, changing a word here, leaving out an expression there; while outside the streets of Philadelphia were thronged with the excited people, waiting to hear their decision.

"There was tumult in the city

In the quaint old Quaker Town,

And the streets were rife with people

Pacing, restless, up and down

People gathering at corners,

Where they whispered each to each,

And the sweat stood on their temples

With the earnestness of speech.

Will they do it? Dare they do it?

Who is speaking? What's the news?

What of Adams? What of Sherman?

Oh, God grant they won't refuse!"

"The bell will ring the tidings," were the words that had been passed from mouth to mouth, and many were the anxious looks cast upward to the old bell whose motto, "Proclaim liberty throughout the land, to all the inhabitants thereof," seemed like a holy prophecy. Suddenly, above the cheering, madly-excited crowd, it began to swing, and clear, deep-toned and thrilling came the iron voice to send forth its message over land and sea. "Ding-dong! Ding-dong! Ding-dong!"

"How they shouted! What rejoicing!

How the old bell shook the air,

Till the clang of freedom ruffled

The calmly gliding Delaware!"

Inside the building, John Hancock, the speaker, was signing the Declaration of Independence.

"There," he remarked, smiling as he laid down the pen, "John Bull may read my name without spectacles!"

Then, more seriously, John Hancock spoke to those before him of the need of firmness and loyalty to the sacred cause of liberty.

"We must all hang together, gentlemen, he repeated, earnestly.

Benjamin Franklin laughed. The strain of the long struggle gone, and the decision made, a sudden feeling of joyousness seemed to seize all these grave men.

"Yes, gentlemen," said the old statesman, his merry eyes twinkling, "we must all hang together, or else, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately!"

The great moment had come and gone. A! new country, the United States of America, declared independent by the immortal pen of Thomas Jefferson, had flung its defiance to the tyrant across the broad Atlantic. But that independence remained yet to be won.

The next Monday, at noon, the Declaration was read aloud in Independence Square. Thousands of people stood silent to listen and, with the last words, broke into a rapture of cheers. The coat-of-arms of George the Third was torn from the hall of the State House and set on fire. Every colon, hail its own public reading of the Declaration soon as copies could be had, the people greeting it everywhere with delight.

As for Thomas Jefferson, he felt that his work in the Congress was now finished. Mrs. Jefferson, whose health was failing, needed him; his estate was going to ruin without him; and Virginia needed him. With the coming of September he said good-bye to "the quaint old Quaker Town" and rode back to Monticello.