Who Wrote the Declaration of Independence?

The Constitution

The Constitution

In school, I was taught that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. I was also taught that it was signed by all the members of the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. Now an article by Matthew Wills says that both “facts” are erroneous.

Wills says that Jefferson did actually write the first draft, aided by a committee that consisted of Jefferson himself plus John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston. In later years, Thomas Jefferson claimed that credit must go to Locke, Montesquieu, the Scottish Enlightenment, and the long struggle for English civil liberties.

Jefferson, recognized for his ability with words, reportedly wrote the first draft; then it was edited by the others, and then edited again by the whole Congress. Fifty-six members of Congress eventually signed it (one of them as late as November, not on July 4th).

Matthew Wills’s article may be found at http://daily.jstor.org/who-wrote-the-declaration-independence/.

4 Comments

An article in our local, Lancaster PA, paper! “The Scribbler: The man who really wrote the Declaration of Independence”. Interesting to us locals! Enjoy the 4th everyone!
http://lancasteronline.com/opinion/the_scribbler/the-scribbler-the-man-who-really-wrote-the-declaration-of/article_97e841f4-3c75-11e6-adde-cb17b73fb581.html

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I believe it was David McCullough’s book John Adams that reported Adams’ lifelong regret that he hadn’t written the Declaration of Independence. He was busy with so many other tasks necessary to a fledgling nation that he ceded the writing of the Declaration to Jefferson–who must have had a great many influences, whatever his role. I do believe Adams doesn’t get nearly the amount of credit he deserves for all the behind-the-scenes things he did to forge America into the nation she would become.

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Jacqueline M Reiss July 4, 2016 at 9:46 pm

One of my ancestors, Henry Wisner of Orange County, NY was a delegate to the Continental Congress and was involved in helping write the Declaration of Independence. He did not get to sign it because the New York Assembly, of which he was a member, had not voted to accept the declaration. So, his name does not appear among the signees.

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My husband was a descendant of Thomas Jefferson through his daughter Martha and that was a total surprise to me!

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