Thursday, February 14, 2013

Did Thomas Jefferson Write The Declaration of Independence ?

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among them are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

These are some of the most profound words from one of the world's most famous documents, a document originally issued on July 4th, 1776, supposedly authored by Thomas Jefferson over two weeks, after considerable and tireless struggle and over many revisions, all of them written in private.

The Declaration of Independence was signed by the nation's founders, most of them slaveholders like Mr. Jefferson. None of them however, including Mr. Jefferson, as a result of this document freed any of their slaves.

In fact, in Mr. Jefferson's long 83 year life, he never freed any of his slaves with the exception of those he fathered with Sally Hemings, who was one of his slaves. He never freed Ms. Hemings.

During the ratification process of the Declaration of Independence by America's founders in Philadelphia, not one black person was welcome other than those slaves there to serve their masters.

So if Mr. Jefferson, a large plantation owner who bought, sold and controlled his slaves through tough overseers, and who spoke of black people as greatly inferior did not write the Declaration of Independence, who did?

Perhaps it was James William Wilkes, a former slave, but by then a free man living in Philadelphia. He did not have Mr. Jefferson's education nor eloquence, but he was passionate about freedom in a way a vastly wealthy slave owning aristocrat like Mr. Jefferson could never be.

For Mr. Wilkes had experienced life and human nature in ways the book learned Mr. Jefferson never could.

How did the two men meet? As the 33 year old Mr. Jefferson struggled with writing the Declaration of Independence, he was a guest in an inn owned and operated by the 60 year old Mr. Wilkes.

Each day as Mr. Wilkes delivered Mr. Jefferson's meals and collected his honeypots for dumping, he listened to Mr. Jefferson lament his struggles with the document. With a knowing and humble smile, Mr. Wilkes made suggestions, for Mr. Jefferson had trouble relating to the common man, let alone one enslaved and seeking freedom and liberty.

Soon Mr. Wilkes began editing Mr. Jefferson's drafts and suggesting alternative concepts and language. Later when the work was completed and the document was hailed as a masterpiece, Mr. Jefferson became famous for authoring it and Mr. Wilkes quietly returned to operating his inn.

If Mr. Wilkes played such a crucial role in secretly writing this document, why was he not credited for having done so?

Because Mr. Jefferson like most people then and now, wanted the limelight. And it would have been particularly awkward for slave owners like Mr. Jefferson and many of the nation's other founders to give credit to any member of a people they claimed were inferior and barely human.

But receiving no credit was of no consequence to Mr. Wilkes. His objective was to create a document that would free enslaved black people and provide equal opportunity to people of any color, a concept largely unknown in his time.

In America it would take a Civil War 85 years later and then another century and a huge civil rights movement before America would begin to live up to the Declaration of Independence but eventually Mr. Wilkes' dream came true.

This is what mattered to him, not the myth of who got credit for the document. With genuine happiness and satisfaction for all, today Mr. Wilkes rests in peace.

Dick Print Friendly and PDF

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