SAN JOSE, April 13, 2014 — Today is the birthday of one of the most important Founding Fathers. Unfortunately, this day is not special to Americans. Thomas Jefferson is not readily remembered on this day for many of the incredible things he did. Although he went on to become the third president of the United States, many Americans do not really remember what he did when he was president.
There is no federal holiday to honor Jefferson on the day of his birth like holidays honoring others who have done things less remarkable than creating an intellectual or philosophical framework of thought that sparked and sustained American colonist’s fight for freedom.
Although many Americans will not remember the date of Jefferson’s birthday, and many may be clueless about what happened during his two terms as president, most who know American history will connect Jefferson to the Declaration of Independence. Moreover, several of the more reflective citizens will remember specific words of wisdom he imbedded in the Declaration. And often in enlightened thought around the time of the Fourth of July, citizens remember that he was at the center of creating the ideological framework for the formation of a nation founded upon the principles of freedom. Jefferson is remembered, but mainly when linked with penning the Declaration of Independence.
Many ambitious historians have depicted the man in different perspectives, and despite a multitude of accounts of Thomas Jefferson’s life, many that paint him in a saintly light, many that regard him in disparaging terms, the inescapable theme linked to his life is his central role in writing the manifesto of freedom. In more recent years, much attention has been focused upon Mr. Jefferson and his relation to Sally Hemmings, the slave with whom he is claimed to have fathered children. In addition, beyond this sensational type of controversy, Jefferson was involved in bewildering or contradictory behavior as a leader and public figure that casts him in a less respectable light.
What seems needless to point out is that Jefferson shines as a father of freedom as he is inextricably linked to the Declaration of Independence. It is more than likely if Jefferson were alive today, he would be more concerned whether Americans would remember the values and the vision that existed in him and within the other Founding Fathers during the time they devoted themselves to the creation of a new nation. And in the turbulent times that exist in America today, Americans need to remember Thomas Jefferson for the ideals and values he and the other Founders believed in, and to respect his memory for the principles for which he worked as a key leader during the infancy of the United States.
The fundamental core of the beliefs and values that the Founders shared still exists within the ideals espoused in the Declaration of Independence. Nevertheless, the document that is essentially attributed to Thomas Jefferson was amended 88 times. Most Americans are not aware of the complete original text of what he wrote in the initial draft because he offered his work to John Adams and Benjamin Franklin to be edited, and then to the rest of the committee of five; but before the members of the Continental Congress put their names on the Declaration of Independence, they made change after change. After the language was deemed satisfactory and expressed the essence of what the delegates could agree upon, they voted their acceptance on July 4, 1776.
This was the culmination of process that started when debate in the Continental Congress over Richard Henry Lee’s resolution that the colonies were “United Colonies” and “of Right, ought to be FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES” became stagnated. Lee, a delegate from Virginia, had put forth a proposal that had originally been approved unanimously by the Virginia convention and their President, Edmund Pendleton. It boldly proposed outright independence from Great Britain. Although by May of 1776, a majority of delegates had come to favor independence, support for Richard Henry Lee’s resolution was not readily accepted and after three days, the delegates decided to adjourn, go back to their respective colonies, and secure clarity on this most critical question.
The submission of Lee’s proposal was the formal act of challenging Congress to make a serious decision of whether to allow business as usual or make a dramatic break with the mother country. The Lee Resolution essentially required everyone to get real about making one of the most important decisions of their lives. In reality, it seemed too big of a decision for them to make on their own. The delegates decided to reconvene on July 1st to consider the weighty Lee Resolution, but during that time, John Adams, who had seconded Lee’s proposition, secured permission to have a committee draft a formal document of resolution so as to save time should the delegates vote favorably on Lee’s proposal that July.
Thomas Jefferson was selected to join Adams and three others to be involved in the drafting committee: Roger Sherman, Robert R. Livingston, and Benjamin Franklin, but it was Jefferson that was asked to be the one to compose the initial draft. Jefferson was the only member of the committee from the South, and had rented a second floor bedroom and parlor for the duration of the Congress in Philadelphia. There he set to work, almost as if still a student at William and Mary College. Jefferson the scholar, did not simply pen his own ideas. Jefferson brought ideals from ancient as well as his contemporary philosophers and thoughts of colleagues. He especially drew upon the ideas of John Locke.
Thomas Jefferson was an eloquent writer and he sifted through all of the incredible ideals through which he had received inspiration, and he bound them to his own thoughts and composed a document that even impressed John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. They were moved by his composition and John Adams felt that the part attacking slavery was the most important aspect of Jefferson’s creation. However, knowing the task of having unanimous acceptance of the document, these two altered the original as they offered their input as the first ones to edit and revise the Declaration of Independence. Although many of the ideals had been around for some time, they had never been more than philosophical treatises.
Jefferson’s words formulated a framework and a premise for all people to declare their alliance with the belief that all men were created equal, and that all were endowed by the Creator with the unalienable rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Indeed, it was much more than a philosophical treatise; it was essentially a declaration of war against Great Britain, and yet woven into the very fabric of the Declaration of Independence was a manifesto for the freedom of all humanity. Jefferson had reiterated very efficiently what Thomas Paine had claimed in his pamphlet of Common Sense, and reaffirmed that the cause of America was the cause of the world!
The words of the Declaration of Independence are quite powerful words still today. Though Richard Henry Lee’s resolution was approved on July 2nd, it was not the final word on declaring independence from the Crown because their words could be viewed in the context of simply “blowing smoke” that would drift away with the wind. By voting for and affirming belief in the words as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, and then later affixing their names upon the document, the Founding Fathers were essentially making their decision formally binding, and documenting their determination.
Putting such exacting words of determination upon paper was critical, and such a decision it could be argued, was not entirely official until it was written and accepted in unanimous consent by the Founders. They made a promise as a unified body of men, substantially pledging “…their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor…” to the cause for freedom. They were risking so much to make the concept of freedom more than philosophical conjecture, but the initial determination and commitment to the creation of the Land of the Free.
Happy Birthday Mr. Jefferson!