Who Really Was The First To Write Our Declaration of Independence? Answer: It Wasn't Jefferson!

By Don Vitale

As would-be students of America's Founding, we're all familiar with the Declaration of Independence, right? Even if we're just a garden variety aficionado of this country's beginning years, we have at least a basic knowledge of that great document.

I mean, that's what the Fourth of July is all about, okay? Parades, hotdogs and fireworks, you betcha!  Celebrating our independence from Great Britain.

Sorry, friends, but the document we know and love, written by Thomas Jefferson (hereafter known as TJ) is not the real story.

Fiction: Jefferson was the first patriot to write the Declaration of Independence. Fact: Another patriot wrote the declaration of independence before Jefferson. Well, you may ask....if TJ wasn't the first to write the Declaration of Independence, who was?

The first to author the declaration of independence was Richard Henry Lee. Not exactly a household name, I must admit, but a powerful politician in his time.  And the first to write a declaration of independence representing the view of the colonies. A prominent member of the Lee family of Virginia, Lee was a planter, merchant and a highly respected member of Virginia's congressional delegation. At the Second Continental Congress on June 7 of 1776, Lee presented his motion to declare independence from Britain. Discussion over Lee's motion became so highly debated that John Hancock tabled the motion, deferring any action on it until July 2.

Four weeks later, Congress took up Lee's Resolution declaring independence, with twelve of the 13 colonies voting to approve "The Richard Henry Lee Resolution". Lee's resolution passed by Congress stated:
"Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."
Congress felt it was not only important but necessary to set forth reasons why the colonies were separating from England. In the interim Congress appointed a three-man committee to issue a statement, finally deciding that Thomas Jefferson-- with his way with words-- should draft a formal declaration.

Jefferson's statement did not formally declare independence. Instead it listed all of the reasons why the colonies were separating from the Mother Country. He explained why independence was not only necessary but above all lawful. When Congress reconvened on July 2 the delegates selected Jefferson's statement that explained "why"...but also added Lee's previous resolution that stated "what."

If you carefully examine the very last paragraph of the Declaration penned by Jefferson, you can see that Lee's original resolution appears word for word declaring the colonies' separation from Britain. The same Resolution written by Lee one month earlier! Honest Injun....it's all there...check it out for yourself! In other words Jefferson gave us the reasons, Lee severed the ties.

Bottom Line: Lee's Resolution to Congress officially severed America's ties with Great Britain on July 2, 1776...two days before Jefferson's final draft of The Declaration of  Independence. Prediction Gone Wrong Dept:  John Adams, America's second president, predicted in a letter to his wife Abigail that July 2 would become a great national holiday celebrated in future years. Little did he realize that Independence Day would be observed on July 4, the date when Jefferson's statement was announced.

Sorry to shatter long-held illusions on the Declaration of Independence. Once more we find the devil's in the details. Fact over Fiction. By now you should know that on this blog fact always trumps fiction. Well...almost always. --dv