The Fourth of July, the day we celebrate our nation’s independence, was a watershed moment in US history. On this patriotic holiday, people dressed in red, white, and blue, marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in the nation’s capital, and cheered as thirteen stripes and the American flag were raised high above the government buildings.
While we honor this historical event each year, few of us stop to consider the people who made it possible. In an effort to figure out who were these men and women who risked their lives for the cause of independence, I did some research and uncovered fascinating details about this seminal moment in our country’s history. Let’s take a look at some of the things I found out.
Who Drafted the Declaration of Independence?
The Declaration of Independence, adopted on July 4, 1776, was not drafted by a single person but was the collaborative effort of many. The writing of this document was led by Thomas Jefferson, with many others offering suggestions and editing the text. It was first published in July 1776 and was later printed in large-size illustrated editions for people to buy as a poster to stick on their wall.
During Jefferson’s time as America’s third president, he commissioned the renowned French engraver and publisher, Claude-Louisiana Blanchard, to do a large-scale edition of the Declaration of Independence for the American populace. It was this version that became known as the “poster edition,” and is quite similar to the one we know today. It has never been out of print and is considered to be the Holy Grail of American political badges; it’s been described as the “Bible of the revolution” and “the Magna Carta of the United States.” This edition, which is nearly 200 years old, is incredibly rare and thus worth more than $20,000 today.
The Person Behind This Iconic Edition
While the Declaration of Independence is a milestone in US history, it was not the first revolutionary document printed in America. That title goes to the Massachusetts Constitution of 1779, which was also the work of Thomas Jefferson. We can’t know for sure how many copies of this original were printed, but it’s estimated that anywhere from 12,000 to 15,000 of these documents were put into circulation during the American Revolution.
After the American Revolution, the printing trade in Boston, Massachusetts, was heavily damaged, and the city had to rely on imports for much of its printing needs. To help the city’s printers with the transition, in November 1786, the Massachusetts government passed a law allowing citizens to purchase a “poster” copy of the Massachusetts Constitution for 10¢.
Thomas Jefferson’s Roles in Drafting This Document
Thomas Jefferson is regarded as the “Father of the American Revolution” and is often referred to as the “author” of our Declaration of Independence. While Jefferson was not the first president of the United States, he is widely considered to be one of the most influential and prominent US presidents. During his time in office, Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, the Louisiana Purchase Treaty, the Notes on the Jeffersonian Institute, and the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, among many other pieces of major legislation. The importance of the Declaration of Independence, in particular, cannot be overstated; this document would go on to have a monumental impact not just on the American Revolution but on the formation of the United States of America as we know it.
On August 1, 1776, the Continental Congress appointed Jefferson to be the United States minister to France, and three months later, on November 2, 1776, Jefferson was officially installed in his new post. While he was in Paris, Jefferson took the opportunity to meet with many of the major players in the French Revolution, including the Marquis de Lafayette, who helped the American cause during the Revolutionary War when he supplied the Colonies with troops and weapons. Lafayette was an influential member of the French National Assembly and helped Jefferson draft the Declaration of Independence, which was presented to the French National Assembly on July 4, 1776, and later signed by both men on August 20, 1776.
It was also during this time that Jefferson negotiated a loan of $3.5 million with the French government in order to help fund the American Revolution. This loan was guaranteed by the future United States, making it the first US government-backed loan ever granted by a foreign government.
The Significance of the American Revolution
It wasn’t just Thomas Jefferson who played a crucial role in the writing of the Declaration of Independence. The entire American Revolution was an inspiration for the document, and it’s difficult to overstate the impact this document had on the cause of American independence. For starters, the Declaration of Independence is often cited as one of the primary reasons the American Revolution happened in the first place. As noted above, Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, and this document would go on to inspire many others, including the Founding Fathers, to take up arms against Great Britain. John Adams, for example, once said, “Had the Declaration of Independence not been written, the French might have decided to stay home and watch TV.”
Writing the Declaration of Independence was also a step toward establishing democracy in America. Thomas Jefferson believed that a well-governed nation will be a prosperous nation, and he wanted to see a self-sufficient democracy built in the New World that is controlled by its own citizens and protected by its God. Well-known political activist and signer of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams, agreed and said in a letter to a friend that “the independent spirit that pervades the Declaration of Independence is the best possession of our Country.”
This independent spirit, which Adams so highly praised, is precisely what makes the Declaration of Independence so exceptional and iconic. The writing of this document was a landmark event in the American Revolution, and it’s important to remember the people who influenced and helped bring about this milestone.