Thomas Jefferson Papers

From Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Franklin, [21 June 1776?]

To Benjamin Franklin

Friday morn. [21 June 1776?]

Th: J. to Doctr. Franklyn

The inclosed paper has been read and with some small alterations approved of by the committee. Will Doctr. Franklyn be so good as to peruse it and suggest such alterations as his more enlarged view of the subject will dictate? The paper having been returned to me to change a particular sentiment or two, I propose laying it again before the committee tomorrow morning, if Doctr. Franklyn can think of it before that time.

RC (PPAP); addressed in TJ’s hand “To Doctor Franklyn.” Watermark LVG. Respecting the enclosure, see the explanatory note below,

I. Minis Hays thought it possible the enclosure referred to was the Declaration of Independence (Cal. Franklin Pap., i, 181). This is plausible, though other possibilities are not to be ruled out. The letter was obviously written during the years 1775–1776, for Franklin and TJ were associated together in Congress only between the following dates: 21 June to 31 July 1775; 2 Nov. to 31 Dec. 1775; and 31 May to 2 Sep. 1776. During this period TJ served on at least thirty-four committees. It seems clear that the document enclosed must have been of some importance; this is indicated both by the fact that TJ had been asked “to change a particular sentiment or two” and by the fact that he appealed to Franklin for advice. There were eleven committees on which TJ and Franklin served together in 1775–1776, several of which can be eliminated because TJ did not write the committee report, or because the time elapsed between the appointment and report of the committee did not cover a “Friday morn.” But we cannot be certain that this matter involved a committee on which both sat. All we know definitely is that TJ was a member; that at least two meetings of the committee were held; that he wrote the draft which it considered; that he consulted Franklin; that the work of the committee extended over a Friday and a Saturday; and that the committee was not wholly satisfied with his draft. To these criteria we should add the assumption that the matter involved was one of importance. The editors, applying these criteria as rigorously as possible, have reached the conclusion that the “Friday morn.” note could with some plausibility refer to the committees concerned with the Declaration of Independence, the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity for Taking Up Arms, the Appeal to the Hessians, Lord North’s Proposal, and the Seal of the United States. It is conceivable that it might apply to the work of one of the other 29 committees on which TJ served during 1775–1776, but these have been eliminated for what have seemed valid reasons. Even the last two of the five listed above seem improbable. The committee concerned with the Seal of the United States did not depend so much upon a draft by a single member as upon a genuine collaborative effort. The committee on Lord North’s Proposal was appointed on Saturday, 22 July 1775, and reported on the following Tuesday, when the report was laid on the table to be taken up Monday, 31 July. To admit this document as a possibility would involve the improbable assumption that the committee continued to meet and revise its draft after submitting its report. As for the appeal to the Hessians, the note could possibly refer to the earlier of the two reports, 14 Aug. 1776 (see note to Report of 27 Aug.). But for this there is no MS and no proof positive of TJ’s authorship. Then too, this committee was appointed on Friday, 9 Aug., and reported on Wednesday, 14 Aug.; it is possible, of course, that TJ could have written the report, that he wrote it the day of the committee’s appointment, and that the committee planned to meet again the next day. TJ was always prompt and attentive to business, but such urgency in this case seems unlikely. (If the committee seemed under such necessity for haste and if it met on Friday and Saturday, why should it have delayed until the following Wednesday to report when all that needed changing was “a particular sentiment or two”?) As for the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity for Taking Up Arms, we know that TJ wrote one draft, but the person whom he consulted individually was John Dickinson, who made alterations on TJ’s fair copy. We do not know that TJ consulted Franklin privately on this occasion. It is also certain that Dickinson objected to more than “a particular sentiment or two” in the draft by TJ; he wanted to change the phraseology considerably and in particular to insert certain sentiments which TJ must have been unwilling to accept. Nevertheless, it is possible that the “Friday morn.” note is really an appeal to Franklin for support as against the changes TJ was disinclined to make. Yet, of all the possibilities to be considered, the Declaration of Independence is the only one concerning which we know indisputably that TJ consulted Franklin privately (Boyd, Declaration of Independence, 1945, p. 24). We also know that Franklin was ill some of the time during which the Declaration was before the Committee of Five, thus making a communication by letter seem plausible. On 21 June, Franklin wrote to Washington, “I am just recovering a severe fit of the Gout, which has kept me from Congress and Company almost ever since you left us, so that I know little of what has pass’d there, except that a Declaration of Independence is preparing… “(Burnett, Letters of Members, I, No. 722). This was ten days after the Committee of Five had been appointed and only a week before the draft was reported on 28 June. It is quite possible, therefore, that after TJ had first consulted Adams about the Declaration, he then consulted the Committee of Five and, after that, Franklin, though this is contrary to TJ’s later recollection (Boyd, Declaration of Independence, 1945, p. 11, 26).

Though the evidence is far from conclusive, the editors feel that Dr. Hays’ conjecture probably has more plausibility than a similar claim that might be advanced for any of the other papers drawn up by TJ for Congress in 1775–1776.

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