Thomas Jefferson Papers

II. Jefferson’s Proposal, 20 August 1776

II. Jefferson’s Proposal

Pharaoh sitting in an open chariot, a crown on his head and a sword in his hand passing thro’ the divided waters of the Red sea in pursuit of the Israelites: rays from a pillar of fire in the cloud, expressive of the divine presence, and command, reaching to Moses who stands on the shore and, extending his hand over the sea, causes it to overwhelm Pharaoh. Motto. Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to god.


As set down in this note by TJ, his scheme apparently derives from Franklin’s, but this was not TJ’s only proposal, and it is not complete. John Adams, writing Mrs. Adams on 14 Aug., reported that

“Mr. Jefferson proposed the children of Israel in the wilderness, led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night; and on the other side, Hengist and Horsa, the Saxon chiefs from whom we claim the honor of being descended, and whose political principles and form of government we have assumed” (Familiar Letters, p. 211).

In TJ’s Account Book for 1774, but undoubtedly inserted later, appears this suggestion:

“A proper device (instead of arms) for the American states united would be the Father presenting the bundle of rods to his sons.

“The motto ‘Insuperabiles si inseparabiles’ an answer given in parl. to the H. of Lds. & Comm. 4 Inst. 35. He cites 4. H. 6. nu. 12. parl. rolls, which as I suppose was the time it happd.”

The father-and-son story is from Aesop; the motto is adapted from Sir Edward Coke, The Fourth Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England, London, 1681, p. 35.

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