Humility

This Day in History

The lauded “Committee of Five” was selected from and by the delegates of the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on this day in 1776. These highly-regarded gentlemen would collectively draft what would soon be known as the Declaration of Independence.

This beautifully written treatise would proclaim our right and fervent desire to separate from England and become a sovereign nation in all respects. It was, for all intents and purposes, America’s birth certificate. The import of this hallowed parchment sets it apart and ——-ahead of all other decrees.

John Adams Engraving

Surprisingly, it took only a few weeks for this seminal document to be penned by Jefferson. He had no need of books or resources.

Everyone, including he, knew what had to be said. It was, of course, helpful that just prior, Richard Henry Lee had succinctly laid out, in his famous Lee Resolution, the three basic tenets upon which the final document would be based.

Even elementary school children know well that Thomas Jefferson is considered the author of the Declaration of Independence, but that may have turned out quite differently had Richard Henry Lee’s wife not taken ill while was he was serving as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress.

Considering that he was the brainchild behind the Lee Resolution, he would certainly have been the logical choice to write the final and more fully developed document.

Thomas Jefferson Engraving

But alas, a young delegate garnering much attention from his peers was asked to step in after Lee left the convention early to tend to his ailing bride.

At a mere 33 years old, Thomas Jefferson did not immediately embrace the opportunity to make history and modestly suggested his brilliant friend John Adams. Jefferson, like everyone, considered Adams to be the driving force behind the cry for liberty, calling his friend the “Colossus of Independence.”

Not to be outdone in his humility however, Mr. Adams urged the young delegate to reconsider with this characteristically witty three-part-retort as to why Jefferson was the proper choice to author the Declaration:

“(1). You (Jefferson) are a Virginian and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. (2). I (Adams) am obnoxious, suspected and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. (3). You (Jefferson) can write ten times better than I can.” To which, Jefferson had this direct but humble reply: “Well if you are decided, I will do as well as I can.” And very well he did indeed!

While nothing could ever eclipse the significance of the composition of the Declaration of Independence, one cannot help but be taken aback at the self-deprecating and modest tone of the conversation between these two “larger than life” founding fathers. How we could use some of that good, old-fashioned humility in politics these days!

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