This is from our contributor Joe Menkevich.
August 31, 1774
Here in Frankford, the Revolution began long ago with the arrival of the Founding Fathers. The Founding Fathers stopped in Frankford before the first meeting of Continental Congress in Philadelphia took place.
There were many secret meetings held here in Frankford during the formative stages of the Declaration of Independence. A Pickering family had a seat here, and is is said (as oral history) that Jefferson was distantly related to Dr. Enoch Edwards who bought the old Summer Home from the Drinker family. Womrath park is the only thing left of that estate.
In later years John Adams would recall the warning advice given to the Massachusetts delegation the day of their arrival for the First Congress. Benjamin Rush, Thomas Mifflin, and two or three other Philadelphia patriots had ridden out to welcome the Massachusetts men, and at a tavern in the village of Frankford, in the seclusion of a private room, they told the New Englanders they were “suspected of having independence in view.” They were perceived to be “too zealous” and must not presume to take the lead. Virginia, they were reminded, was the largest, richest, and most populous of the colonies, and the “very proud” Virginians felt they had the right to lead.
According to Adams, the advice made a deep impression, and among the consequences was the choice of George Washington to head the army. But Adams also wrote that he had “not in my nature prudence and caution enough” always to stand back. Years before, at age twenty, he had set down in his diary that men ought to “avow their opinions and defend them with boldness.”
Excerpts from: Thomas Jefferson, July 27, 1821, Autobiography Draft Fragment, January 6 through July 27 – Library of Congress
In Congress, Friday June 7, 1776. The delegates from Virginia moved in obedience to instructions from their constituents that the Congress should declare that these United colonies are & of right ought to be free & independent states, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown, and that all political connection between them & the state of Great Britain is & ought to be, totally dissolved; that measures should be immediately taken for procuring the assistance of foreign powers, and a Confederation be formed to bind the colonies more closely together….(note immediately below in quotes)
“The Congress sat till 7 o’clock this evening in consequence of a motion of R. H. Lee’s rendering ourselves free and independent States. The sensible part of the House opposed the Motion–they had no objection to forming a Scheme of a Treaty which they would send to France by proper Persons & uniting this Continent by a Confederacy; they saw no wisdom in a Declaration of Independence, nor any other Purpose to be enforced by it, but placing ourselves in the power of those with whom we mean to treat, giving our Enemy Notice of our Intentions before we had taken any steps to execute them…..” — E. Rutledge to John Jay, June 8, 1776.]
A different account is given of this by John Adams, as follows
John Adams to Timothy Pickering.
August 6, 1822
You inquire why so young a man as Mr. Jefferson was placed at the head of the committee for preparing a Declaration of Independence? I answer: It was the Frankfort advice to place Virginia at the head of everything. Mr. Richard Henry Lee might be gone to Virginia, to his sick family, for aught I know, but that was not the reason for Mr. Jefferson’s appointment. There were three committees appointed at the same time, one for the Declaration of Independence, another for preparing articles of confederation, and another for preparing a treaty to be proposed to France. Mr. Lee was chosen for the Committee of Confederation, and it was not thought convenient that the same person should be upon both. Mr. Jefferson came into Congress in June, 1775, and brought with him a reputation for literature, science, and a happy talent of composition. Writings of his were handed about, remarkable for the peculiar felicity of expression. Though a silent member in Congress, he was so prompt, frank, explicit and decisive upon committees and in conversation-not even Samuel Adams was more so-that he soon seized upon my heart; and upon this occasion I gave him my vote, and did all in my power to procure the votes of others. I think he had one more vote than any other, and that placed him at the head of the committee. I had the next highest number, and that placed me the second. The committee met, discussed the subject, and then appointed Mr. Jefferson and me to make the draught, I suppose because we were the two first on the list.
The sub-committee met. Jefferson proposed to me to make the draught. I said, “I will not.”
“You should do it.”
“Why will you not? You ought to do it.”
“I will not.”
“What can be your reasons?”
“Reason first – You are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second – I am obnoxious, suspected and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third – You can write ten times better than I can.”
“Well,” said Jefferson, “if you are decided, I will do as well as I can.”
“Very well. When you have drawn it up, we will have a meeting.”
A meeting we accordingly had, and conned the paper over. I was delighted with its high tone and the flights of oratory with which it abounded, especially that concerning Negro slavery, which, though I knew his Southern brethren would never suffer to pass in Congress, I certainly never would oppose. There were other expressions which I would not have inserted, if I had drawn it up, particularly that which called the King tyrant. I thought this too personal; for I never believed George to be a tyrant in disposition and in nature; I always believed him to be deceived by his courtiers on both sides of the Atlantic, and, in his official capacity only, cruel. 1 thought the expression too passionate, and too much like scolding, for so grave and solemn a document; but as Franklin and Sherman were to inspect it afterwards, I thought it would not become me to strike it out. I consented to report it, and do not now remember that I made or suggested a single
We reported it to the committee of five. It was read, and I do not remember that Franklin or Sherman criticized any thing. We were all in haste. Congress was impatient, and the instrument was reported, as I believe, in Jefferson’s handwriting, as he first drew it. Congress cut off about a quarter of it, as I expected they would; but they obliterated some of the best of it, and left all that was exceptionable, if any thing in it was. 1 have long wondered that the original draught has not been published. I suppose the reason is the vehement philippic against Negro slavery.
As you justly observe, there is not an idea in it but what had been hackneyed in Congress for two years before. The substance of it is contained in the declaration of rights and the violation of those rights in the Journals of Congress, in 1774. Indeed, the essence of it is contained in a pamphlet, voted and printed by the town of Boston, before the first Congress met, composed by James Otis, as I suppose, in one of his lucid intervals, and pruned and polished by Samuel Adams. …”
(Disclaimer, almost all of the above text is borrowed and only rearranged. Many other authors have written on the subject. This is just a reminder of this day in Frakford’s History.)