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Selected Works of
R. Carter Pittman

The Declaration of Independence
Its Antecedents and Authors

By R. Carter Pittman


ONE of the historic symptoms of the decay of a civilization is that people cease to revere the historical institutions that have preserved their freedom and dignity, and turn to worship men. A degree of man-worship has evolved in America during the past half-century, that stamps us either as immature or morally and intellectually bankrupt. We can't see the forest for two or three trees, and those are encumbered with moss and mistletoe. Thomas Jefferson, for one, bulks so large in our history and in our libraries that we can't see those intellectual giants that were his contemporaries. Aside from parasitic accretions, he has been further decorated with false wings and cheap tinsel. Ignorant adulation always creates mythological Gods. One God alone may save Jefferson from his friends—and He is not personally on the scene. His Son and Vice-Regent has been gone from here more than 19 centuries. We are willing to help all we can. In that spirit we proceed to the task.

The statement to be found in my article in the last issue of the Autograph Collector's Journal to the effect that when Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, his coat pockets were his library, in one of which was a grand jury charge by Judge William Henry Drayton of Charleston, South Carolina, of April 23, 1776, and in the other of which was George Mason's Virginia Bill of Rights, seemed to give great umbrage to some people whose God is both unitarian and mundane. Apparently some felt that the writer was attempting to use an acrid pen as a pry-pole to overturn Jefferson's Memorial into the Potomac. We did not seek to break an idol then, nor do we intend to bow to one now.

While conceding that Jefferson drew from Mason's Virginia Bill of Rights, one critic takes us to the woodshed about Drayton's influence. he says:

In the most recent issue of the Autograph Collector's Journal I have read, with considerable interest, an article by Mr. R. Carter Pittman on George Mason.

I was more than a little surprised and chagrined to see not only George Mason but also William Henry Drayton given what I consider more than their fair share of credit as co-authors of the Declaration of Independence.

Mason's claim to fame in this regard is no new innovation. Many authors and historians have referred to it. Just as Jefferson has been accused of incorporating Mason's Declaration of Rights might we also accuse Mason of using Jefferson's preamble to the Virginia Constitution of 1776. Jefferson's preamble was received by the Virginia Constitutional Convention and then amalgamated with Mason's Declaration of Rights. This literary combination then made available to Jefferson in Philadelphia could explain the similarity of Mason's Declaration of Rights and Jefferson's Declaration of Independence. Persons unfamiliar with these facts have been too prone to accuse Jefferson of plagiarizing from Mason.

And now another spectre arises to overshadow the form of Jefferson—William Henry Drayton of South Carolina. To my knowledge this is the first time Drayton has been promulgated as a co-author of the Declaration. Just what grounds this belief rests upon is not stated by the author. He states Jefferson carried a copy of Drayton's publication in his pocket. Yet, in a letter to Madison, dated August 30, 1823, Jefferson wrote, "I know only that I turned to neither book nor pamphlet while writing it." . . . and again he said that he did not copy it "from any particular and previous writing." Before we drag Drayton's ghost into Independence Hall on these memorable June and July days of 1776 I think Mr. Pittman should further enlighten us on exactly what part Drayton did play in the writing of the Declaration.

For the past 175 years we have seen Locke, Sidney, Aristotle, Cicero, Hooker, John Adams, Otis, Tom Paine all claimed as co-authors. Now we are adding two more. Isn't it about time we stopped engaging in the great American pastime of pulling down our idols and let Mr. Jefferson's great claim to fame rest where it so rightly belongs—as sole author of the Declaration of Independence.

The writer is grateful for the opportunity to answer the writer of the "Letter to the Editor," humbly thanking the Editors for such space as is given.

In the outset, let us enter upon this inquiry with impartial minds, unbiased by the libraries full of trash that has been written about the antecedents of the Declaration of Independence. Let us resolve to hold fast to facts and follow them wherever they lead. Let us resolve, as men, to treat this subject with that freedom natural to common sense. Let us assume, for the present, that our historic Gods were mere earthly men.

The best witness as to the facts bearing upon this subject is Thomas Jefferson, a mere man. The next most credible witnesses are those who sat in the Continental Congress and who participated in the debates on the Declaration of Independence. They too were men.

To determine where Jefferson gathered his ideas from, we will immediately call Jefferson to the witness stand—but not under oath. A thousand years of history and common sense has gone into the common law principle that the evidence of a party to a cause must be construed most strongly against him. No exception to that rule was ever invoked by Jefferson—the lawyer—in his own behalf. We respect him highly—too highly to believe him a false witness. We respect ourselves too much to believe him to be a disinterested witness. In his letter of August 30, 1823, to James Madison, Jefferson testified:

Richard Henry Lee charged it as copied from Locke's treatise on government. Otis' pamphlet I never saw, and whether I had gathered my ideas from reading and reflection I do not know. I know only that I turned to neither book nor pamphlet while writing it. I did not consider it as any part of my charge to invent new ideas altogether, and to offer no sentiment which had ever been expressed before.

In his letter to Henry Lee of May 8, 1825, he testified that the object of the Declaration of Independence was—

Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occassion. All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c.

Both of these letters were written as Jefferson stood in the obscuring shadows of old age. One 47 and the other 49 years after the event. Only John Adams yet lived to testify, but he had already revealed to Pickering that he had forgotten everything he knew. Whatever may have been Jefferson's ideas with respect to a life beyond the grave, he was too near that grave to tell an untruth. But nothing compelled him to tell the whole truth. He could claim Mason's constitutional privilege against self-incrimination, if he cared to. When Jefferson said that he turned to "neither book nor pamphlet" he excluded John Locke and all other political philosophers. Likewise, the "pamphlet" excluded James Otis, Tom Paine, and all other pamphleteers. Since Jefferson did not consider it as any part of his charge to "invent new ideas altogether, and to offer no sentiment which has ever been expressed before," he excluded the possibility that the ideas expressed in the Declaration of Independence were "altogether" his own.

In his letter to Lee, Jefferson made it plain that he did not attempt to state "new principles, or new arguments never before thought of," or "to say things which had never been said before." He was "neither aiming at originality of principles or sentiment." Much of it may have been copied, but it was not copied from "ANY PARTICULAR AND PREVIOUS WRITING." "Any particular and previous writing," means any one particular and previous writing. That he copied from particular and previous writings, that were "neither book nor pamphlet" was not denied by Jefferson. On the other hand, his stiff and careful phraseology is a tacit admission that he did copy from particular and previous writings. Why didn't he just say that he had not copied from "any previous writings"? The answer is plain and raw:  Jefferson was unwilling to die, under the cloud of a lie. He had copied from previous writings which embodied expressions of the "American mind"—not the Greecian, Roman, or French mind, nor the mind of Locke who had gathered his ideas from the pamphleteers of the Puritan Revolution and had projected them in the Glorious Revolution. The "harmonizing sentiments of the day," had to be the "expression of the American mind," current in 1776.

Taking Jefferson at his word, and according to him the character of honesty, integrity and veracity, he admitted that he copied and severely narrowed the search for materials of which the Declaration of Independence was made, to current writings which existed in 1776 either in manuscript form, in newspapers or in circulars. A manuscript of George Mason's Virginia Bill of Rights had been handed to Jefferson by R.H. Lee who had received it from his brother, T.L. Lee, in late May, 1776. It was printed in the Virginia Gazette of June 1st and Philadelphia newspapers of June 6th, June 8th and June 12th. Every respectable historian of the Declaration of Independence concedes that Jefferson copied from the Virginia Bill of Rights. If that was all he copied from then he copied from a "particular and previous writing" and is in consequence history's champion Ananias. To help save him, we must find some other writing or writings, "neither book nor pamphlet." We will not pause to worry about the reputations of his biographers who have been so blinded by ignorant adulation as to erect a false God.

Jefferson's first draft of the Declaration of Independence was a mere catalogue of the oppressions of George III, not drawn for a Declaration of Independence, but drawn from a preamble to a Constitution for Virginia. When Jefferson went to Philadelphia, he fully expected to be called back to Williamsburg to help write the Virginia Constitution. He had prepared himself to act in that theatre, and that alone. (Jefferson to Nelson, May 16, 1776). In doing so he had studied the South Carolina Constitution of March 26, 1776.

On that day South Carolina had adopted a provisional constitution, framed by some of the best minds in America. William Henry Drayton, who had been one of his majesty's Supreme Court Judges but who refused to be servile to his will and had hence been dismissed in 1774, was President of the Constitutional Convention. The brilliant minds of the Rutledges, the Pinckneys, the Middletons, Henry Laurens and others had turned out a work of great intrinsic worth. Drayton was not satisfied. It did not give voice to his deep resentments toward George III and his ministers for dismissing and disgracing him for writing "The American Claim of Rights" of 1774 in which he defended the integrity of American colonial judges. Drayton wrote the biting preamble which was added to the Constitution on the last day, as Jefferson's preamble was added to the Virginia Constitution on the last day.

Drayton's preamble catalogued many sins of George III but the catalogue was cut too short and the description of his majesty was too mild to satisfy a man that had been spurned and a mind that was aflame. One month later, on April 23rd, Drayton, then Chief Justice of South Carolina, charged a grand jury at Charleston at great length. In that charge, he finished the job. George III found himself in a seething cauldron with fire and brimstone. The great lawyer and scholar took the measure of George III and the minions of his power with language unexcelled by any of the Phillipics of history. His classical education in England and his bitter experiences here gave to him the weapons and the incentives. The fact that he had been marked for the halter by some of the king's ministers gave him the motive. Nothing like it was ever written in America before, and nothing since—except the Declaration of Independence which was just like it.

On motion of the Attorney General of South Carolina on May 2nd it was ordered that the Charge be printed at public expense. The order and the charge now appear in Niles, Principles of the American Revolution. They also appear in Drayton's Memoirs. Drayton's Memoirs records that they were printed in "Quarto Pamphlet." If that was the only way they were printed, then Jefferson could not have used it, because he "turned to neither book nor pamphlet" while writing the Declaration of Independence. Dr. Robert W. Gibbes, however, records it in his Documents of the American Revolution, and reveals that it was printed in a "circular."

Realizing that no one would believe that Jefferson copied from Drayton's grand jury Charge, unless it could be traced to his hands, the writer searched long and diligently for concrete evidence that Jefferson held it in his hands and appeared to read and re-read and relish it. Finally it was learned that Dr. Joseph E. Fields of Joliet, Illinois, was the owner of an original letter from Arthur Middleton to William Henry Drayton, dated July 10, 1776. Dr. Fields very kindly gave to the writer a photostat of that letter.*

We may now call Arthur Middleton, the signer, to the witness stand with his letter—

                     Philadelphia July 10th 1776       

 My dear friend

      I have written you a Sheet full of Stuff, but as
 I never like to do things by halves, must Keep it,
 endeavor to add to it, & send it by some future
    This is barely to acknowledge your favour of the
 3d May with the Charge under a Prosperous Seal; the
 plant which you have been Nursing has thriven amaz-
 ingly, it's roots have reach'd This place & sprung
 up in full vigour; I send you the Fruit plucked from
 12 of the Branches, & have the pleasure to tell you
 that the 13th is in full blossom -------- my senti-
 ments upon this subject you shall have soon, in the
 meantime enjoy the Delicacies of this forbidden fruit,
 if it has any
    30,000 men soon to be before N York — 10,000 with
 Burgoyne in Canada - & Clinton's Armanent to the
 Southward - these are alarming Considerations. - but
 'Fortes Fortuna' my friend & this Campaign will bring
 us near the goal - my anxiety for my dear Country
 whose fate may by this time be determined, has almost
 deprived me of my Senses, therefore excuse this
 Scrawl from your Affect.°

 I take the Liberty of including Two Letters for W.
 Gadsden the Gentleman to whom They are directed is
 gone hence, & as I know not how to get them to him
 not knowing the road he took, please to deliver them
 to WG. with my Comp! - remember the word is "Aut
 Cesares, Aut Nulli'.

Thus it appears that the circular containing Judge Drayton's "Charge" left Charleston for Philadelphia "under a Prosperous Seal" on May 3rd. The "plant" which Drayton had been "nursing" ever since before he was dismissed by George III thrived "amazingly" after "it's roots" reached Philadelphia. It prospered, and "sprung up in full vigour." Middleton could send him only "the Fruit plucked from 12 of the Branches" because the New York delegates had not received authority to sign until after July 10th, but New York was in "full blossom." The "fruit" from the 13th Branch would soon be ripe unto harvest. In the meantime Drayton might "enjoy the Delicacies of this forbidden fruit, if it has any."

It would have been impolite for Middleton to have said more. Drayton understood him. The irony was there. The "forbidden fruit" was a copy of the Declaration of Independence. The "forbidden fruit" had but few "Delicacies" for Drayton, except the "Delicacies" that had been plucked from the sage of Gunston Hall.(1)

To parallel and compare the "Delicacies" in the Declaration of Independence with all like "Delicacies" in Drayton's preamble to the South Carolina Constitution of March 26, 1776, and his charge to the grand jury of April 23, 1776, would require an entire issue of the Journal. The writer has counted well over 30 of Drayton's "Delicacies" that found their way into the Declaration of Independence. In some instances the language was almost identical. In others, improvisations are clearly revealed. We quote a few merely to illustrate.

Drayton's preamble says:

The English laws and a free government, to which the inhabitants of Quebec were entitled by the King's royal proclamation, are abolished and French laws are restored; the Roman Catholic religion . . . and an absolute government are established in that province, and its limits extended . . . with design of using a whole people . . . as fit instruments to overawe and subdue the colonies.

Jefferson's Declaration says:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies.

Drayton's preamble says that the ministers of George III had

excited domestic insurrections; proclaimed freedom to servants and slaves, enticed or stolen them from, and armed them against their masters; instigated and encouraged the Indian nations to war against the colonies; dispensed with the law of the land, and substituted the law martial in its stead; killed many of the colonists; burned several towns, and threatened to burn the rest, and daily endeavor by a conduct which has sullied the British arms, and would disgrace even savage nations, to effect ruin and destruction of the colonies; . . .

The Declaration says:

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destructions of all ages, sexes and conditions. -- He has . . . burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

It will be observed that Jefferson used much stronger language with regard to the "Indian Savages" than had been used in Drayton's preamble. If we copy the copyist, and turn from the preamble to the Charge, we learn that Jefferson's composition process was manual rather than mental. In the Charge Drayton said:

He made every attempt to instigate the savage nations to war upon the southern colonies, indiscriminately to massacre man, woman, and child.

We quote only a very small connected part of Judge Drayton's Charge to demonstrate the deadly similitude:

The catalogue of our oppressions, continental and local, is enormous. Of such oppressions, I will mention only some of the most weighty.

Under color of law, the king and parliament of Great Britain have made the most arbitrary attempts to enslave America:


By laying duties at their mere will and pleasure upon all the colonies;

By suspending the legislature of New York;

By rendering the American charters of no validity, having annulled the most material parts of the charter of the Massachusetts Bay;

By divesting multitudes of the colonies of their property, without legal accusation or trial;

By depriving whole colonies of the bounty of Providence on their own proper coasts, in order to coerce them by famine;

By restricting the trade and commerce of America;

By sending to, and continuing in America, in time of peace, an armed force without and against the consent of the people;

By granting impunity to a soldiery instigated to murder the American;

By declaring, that the people of Massachusetts-Bay are liable for offences, or PRETENDED offences, done in that colony, to be sent to, and tried for the same in ENGLAND; or in any COLONY where THEY CANNOT HAVE THE BENEFIT OF A JURY OF THE VICINAGE;

By establishing in Quebec, the Roman Catholic religion, and an arbitrary government; instead of the Protestant religion and a free government.

The last quoted item in Drayton's Charge was not as full and explicit as the same item in his preamble, quoted above. Thus we discover the secret of another on of Jefferson's composition processes while writing the Declaration of Independence. He pushed the charge aside and reached for the preamble, pulled "arbitrary government" out of the charge—stuck it in the preamble and presto—out came the Quebec clause of the Declaration!

By merely changing the sequence of two of Drayton's indictments, quoted above, we have this:

By suspending the legislature of New York; by claiming a right to bind the colonies 'in all cases whatsoever.'

That is exactly what Jefferson did when he came up with this:

By suspending our own legislature and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

The Virginia Bill of Rights, the South Carolina Constitution and Drayton's charge used the Biblical "hath." All used the work "unalienable." Jefferson not only adopted the substance of these three previous writings, but he made their peculiar words, spelling and capitalization a part of the Declaration. Drayton's "train of . . . dishonorable machinations," became Jefferson's "train of abuses and usurpations." According to Drayton, George III had disclosed "a direct purpose to loosen the bands of government." According to Jefferson, it then became necessary for our people "to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another."

In his charge Drayton said:

We lament the necessity which has obliged the people to resume into their hands those powers of government which were originally derived from themselves for the protection of those rights which God alone has given them, as essential to their happiness.

Jefferson broke down that statement into several fragments and used it all, but in different places. The first part of it came out last, as follows:

We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation.

Drayton appealed to the "supreme Arbiter of the affairs of men" and "the Divine Ruler of human events." Jefferson appealed to "the Supreme Judge of the world." (We wonder what God Jefferson's biographers appealed to).

The foregoing illustrations have been selected casually and at random from a mass. This should be enough to vindicate the honor and integrity of Thomas Jefferson and to establish conclusively that he was a decent, truthful man when he disclaimed originality and proclaimed that the Declaration of Independence was an American document, with its sources rooted in the sentiments, the soil and the history of an American struggle for liberty—not in the philosophy of an European struggle for equality, as our "liberal" socialistic friends would have us believe.

Jefferson told Henry Lee that he didn't know whether or not any of the ideas embodied in the preamble to the Declaration had come from "Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, etc." Of course he didn't know. He never asked George Mason. He asked Richard Henry Lee and "Richard Henry Lee charged it as copied from Locke's treatise on government,"—so Jefferson told Madison. Richard Henry Lee "charged it as copied." He didn't say: "Jefferson copied it." Richard Henry Lee charged that Mason copied it from Locke. He knew Jefferson didn't copy from Locke because he knew that Jefferson copied from Mason's Virginia Bill of Rights he himself handed to Jefferson in Philadelphia.

Richard Henry Lee was innocently wrong. He was not willfully wrong as are hundreds of American pseudo-philosophers who now seek distinction and fame upon the ruins of their country and the lost liberties of their children by mis-stating and misconstruing American history. George Mason revealed the identity of the "politician" he was willing to follow in 1775 when he said:

. . . it has been wisely observed by the deepest politician who ever put pen to paper, that no institution can be long preserved, but by frequent recurrence to those maxims on which it was formed.

Where did John Locke ever make such an observation? Montesquieu came close to saying it in his Spirit of Laws, Chapter 8, but not quite. Algernon Sidney said it in his Discourses on Government, Sections 13 and 27. We are willing to be corrected by antiquarians, but it looks from here that Sidney was "the deepest politician who ever put pen to paper."

It couldn't have been Locke for another reason. Jefferson said that Mason was "learned in the lore of our former Constitution." Indeed he was. He was "learned in the lore" of every constitution that had ever existed in America and in the world. He had read John Locke's writings, including his Fundamental Constitution for the Carolinas of 1669-70. He had also studied the Pennsylvania Frame of Government, of ten years later. Sidney had written most of it for William Penn. The latter was the work of a master, learned in the science of free government. The former was the work of a fool. It was full of platitudes but no protections. It took from man all dignity and left him the pathetic victim of unrestrained power. It was the worst constitution in the history of the Anglo-Saxon race, and died in childhood from congenital deformities. George Mason had so much sense that he knew that theoretical philosophers don't have any sense. Seek in our American Constitutions and Bills of Rights one provision that ever "sprung full bloom" from the mind of a philosopher—you will find none. Liberty-preserving provisions of Constitutions and Bills of Rights are stained with the blood, the ridicule and the suffering exacted of, or heaped upon, selfless men, all the way from the Cross to Tower Hill and Gunston Hall. They were gathered as history's bitter fruits from its gardens of Gethsemane.

Philosophers always stop short with theory and do not add the necessary considerations of the statesman and friend of practical liberty. On college campuses, they are the ones who wear overshoes in the sunshine and tennis shoes in the rain, and lay awake at night trying to rationalize unrestrained power in rulers with dignity in men. They philosophize about stretching constitutions, knowing full well that they were written on parchment, not rubber. Karl Marx is a good example. He painted a government of flesh with a pot of gold at the end of his rainbows, and one half the world fell into a search for it—to find it at last in the mines of Siberia and in potter's fields.

Algernon Sidney was not a philosopher. He was freedom's historian and her martyr. He laid bare the roots of tyranny in England and paid freedom's price on Tower Hill. Philosophers thrive 'midst tyrannies, while those who carry the torch of practical human liberty are marched to scaffolds and blocks, or are buried in unmarked graves and forgotten as was George Mason—the author and father of our Bill of Rights.

The Puritan Revolution in England settled America. Its principles helped to free American at its Revolution. The Pamphleteers of the first stated many principles of the second. Mason's bookshelves were filled with their pamphlets. In Lex, Rex (1644), Samuel Rutherford had told him "Man by nature is born free." In Observations (1642), Henry Parker had told him "Power is but secondary and derivative in Princes. The fountain and efficient cause is the people." In The Bloody Tenent of Persecution (1644), Roger Williams had told him "In a free state no magistrate hath power over the bodies, goods, lands and liberties of a free people, but by their free consent." And "all . . . magistrates are but derivatives and agents . . . serving for the good of the whole."

In The Freeman's Freedom Vindicated (1646), John Lilburne had told him how "unnatural . . . and tyrannical it is for any man . . . to appropriate and assume unto himself a power . . . to rule . . . over any sort of men in the world without their free consent."

In The Original & End of Civil Power, (1649) Anthony Ascham had told him—

The original of all just powers is in the people; . . . all particular forms of government arise from their voluntary submission, by which they set up over themselves with common consent one or more persons, for conservation of mutual rights, and avoidance of destructive mutual injuries; they are the fountain of all just powers and governments.

Algernon Sidney taught Mason much in his Discourses on Government. Every martyr to human liberty had spoken his piece to Mason. Chronic gout and organic gall bladder trouble imprisoned him in his library and gardens for most of his life. There he read, thought and—yes, he prayed. Constitutional liberty in America today is largely a child of his suffering and his solitude, and an answer to his prayers.

Jefferson was not a plagiarist—he was a patriot doing his best in a cause for his country. Who cared who copied whom in the midst of Revolution? He was big enough to use all the help he could get. He was human enough to forget, perhaps, but he was not low enough to tell an untruth, even when his pride may have urged him to do so. That distinguished him forever from most of his biographers.

The tributes that Jefferson paid to George Mason by word and deed are without parallel. Jefferson described him as the "Cato of his Country, without the avarice of the Romans." Why? Read Plutarch, as Jefferson did, and you will know. He was not ashamed to sit at the feet of the Gamaliel who not only contributed to the Declaration of Independence, but who helped him to write his celebrated bill for "The More General Diffusion of Knowledge" as well as many other bills for which Jefferson has received the sole credit and acclaim.

When Jefferson came to write his own Epitaph for his tomb, the intervening half century had erased much from his mind. He did not go back through his papers to find a copy of those bills. Had he done so, his memory would have been refreshed by Mason's capitalization of key words, his peculiar spelling, punctuation and biblical terms. The word "hath" would have been a powerful reminder. Unlike Jefferson, Mason capitalized key words for emphasis. He also spelled English words ending in "or" with "our," so that words like "honor" became "honour."

Jefferson did not know Drayton until after the Declaration of Independence was adopted. When Jefferson prepared his first draft of charges against George III, to be used as a preamble to the Virginia Constitution, he gave no thought to the courageous judges of America who had been removed from their judgships by George III because they stood erect and unafraid before their consciences and their God and refused to assist in the imposition of tyranny upon their fellow subjects. Those unsung heroes of American history had held writs of assistance unconstitutional in nearly every colony except Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and scores of them had been dismissed from their offices for their pains. After Jefferson saw Judge Drayton's charge to the grand jury, he began to learn something about him from South Carolina Delegates. Thereupon, Jefferson rendered a half-silent, though everlasting, tribute to Drayton when he inserted a brand new charge in the Declaration of Independence:

He has made our judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices and the amount and payment of their salaries.

Thomas Jefferson is entitled to his place in history but he is not entitled to George Mason's nor Judge William Henry Drayton's. John Locke is entitled to his place in philosophy but he is not entitled to the place of others in the history of constitutional liberty in America.

(A Memorandum on George Mason, Thomas Jefferson and others.)

In my efforts to reconcile much that Jefferson said in his old age that concerns George Mason's life and works, with what actually occured while Jefferson acted upon the theatre of the Revolution in Virginia, and in the Continental Congress and in connection with Virginia laws during and after the Revolution, I am thoroughly confounded and I feel a profound insecurity. In my recent article in the Autograph Collector's Journal I sought to point out how Jefferson emasculated the timeless statement of George Mason when he extracted from it his empty "pursuit of happiness" phrase. I sought to draw a mantle of charity upon it by saying:  "What of it?", and commented further that it was written for the simple-minded peasants and philosophers of Europe. That statement did not satisfy me when it was written and does not satisfy me now.

The draft of the Virginia Bill of Rights that was handed to him in manuscript form by R.H. Lee starts off like this: "All men are born equally free and independent." Jefferson's first draft, that has never been found, was like Mason's first draft, because when John Adams copied from it he copied the word "born." Both Franklin and Adams, who were on the committee with Jefferson, later prepared Bills of Rights for their respective states. Neither of them adopted Jefferson's emasculated version. Pennsylvania's Bill of Rights of September 28, 1776, says:

All men are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent and inalienable rights, amongst which are, the enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring and possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

The John Adams** Massachusetts Bill of Rights of 1780, says:

All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and inalienable rights; among which may be recconed the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.

(See these in Thorpe's Constitutions and Charters).

It will be recalled that Mason had originally written it this way:

That all Men are born equally free and independant, and have certain inherent natural Rights, of which they can not by any Compact, deprive or divest their Posterity; among which are the Enjoyment of Life and Liberty, with the Means of acquiring and possessing Property, and pursuing and obtaining Happiness and Safety.

In spite of some insupportable footnotes to be found in the Papers of Jefferson, Mr. Julian P. Boyd has, at all times, tried to be generous and fair to George Mason. When he said in his brochure on the Declaration,(2) (p. 22): "that he (meaning Jefferson) was directly influenced by the Mason Declaration is not yet proved and must in all probability remain a matter of opinion," I wonder if he had compared the two following statements, the first in the Virginia Bill of Rights and the second in the Declaration of Independence:

. . . that whenever any Government shall be found inadequate, or contrary to these Purposes, a Majority of the Community had an indubitable, inalianable and indefeasible Right to reform, alter or abolish it, in such Manner as shall be judged most conducive to the Public Weal.

. . . that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The Virginia Bill of Rights was captioned as the "basis and foundation" of government. Mason had also said in his third paragraph:

Of all the various Modes and Forms of Government, that is best, which is capable of producing the greatest Degree of Happiness and Safety, . . .

If Jefferson did not "copy" from the Virginia Bill of Rights, what word describes his actions with greater accuracy?

To Madison August 30, 1823, and to Henry Lee May 8, 1825, Jefferson carefully avoided any word or phrase that could be construed as a denial that he had "copied" from "particular and previous" writings that were "neither book nor pamphlet." He excluded John Locke, Tom Paine and others whose writings were either in books or pamphlets, but he did not exclude manuscripts and newspapers. He excluded any one "previous writing," but not a plurality.

To bring other questions into discussion, directly, we pose a bare assertion:  At the time when Jefferson drew his Virginia Constitution he had not seen George Mason's Bill of Rights and had not been converted to its principles. He began to mature as he improvised the preamble of the Declaration of Independence from the writings of George Mason. He did not fully mature until long after that Declaration had been published to the world. Why do I say that? Examine his proposed Virginia Constitution.(3) There is not a word in it that hints at a natural basis for man's freedom and independence, nor about "certain inherent rights" that men have, independent of and in spite of laws and of governments, such as "the enjoyment of life and liberty with the means of acquiring and possessing property and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety." There is not a word in it that shows that Jefferson believed that all powers are vested in the people and that officers of government are the mere "trustees and servants of the people." There is not a word in it sustaining the theory that Jefferson believed that governments are made for the people rather than for the rulers of the people.

On the other side there is much in Jefferson's Virginia Constitution that decidedly proves that his ideas of government and the rights of men were then contrary to those held by Mason and the great Jefferson of later years. For example,(4) Jefferson did not purport to confer upon the "administrator," or executive officer of Virginia, defined powers. He proceeded upon the theory that an executive officer already had inherent powers, saying:  "He shall possess the powers formerly held by kings save only that he shall be bound by acts of legislature though not named. . . . shall not have prerogative of . . ." etc. He then proceeds to catalogue kingly "prerogatives" that Virginia executives should not enjoy.

Among numerous examples of "prerogatives" that were left for the "administrator" to claim as the successor of George III were (1) Headship of the established church, (2) granting monopolies, (3) issuing writs of ne exeat, (4) granting patents and copyrights, (5) granting hunting and fishing rights, and many others. Jefferson assumed that the executive was the repository of all kingly "prerogatives" and that he should retain every residue remaining after the described prerogatives were taken from him.

George Mason's Virginia Bill of Rights and Constitution presupposed that rulers have no inherent powers and no prerogatives; that all power is vested in the people and that rulers are their trustees and have only such authority as is conferred upon them by the people. (See para 7.)(5) After someone sought to amend Mason's draft so as to make it embody Jefferson's dangerous ideas on prerogative,(6) the Convention not only rejected it at the insistence of Mason, but added that "the executive powers . . . shall not, under any pretense, exercise any prerogative by virtue of any law, statute, or custom of England." Thus were Jefferson's ideas repudiated in Virginia.

Jefferson carried his same ideas through his second and third drafts, to be found successively in Boyd, Vol. 1. The evidence against Jefferson becomes overwhelming when we examine his qualification for holding office. Jefferson forbids payment of any salaries to officers of government so that only the rich might hold office in Virginia. He might just as well have said:  "Only the rich and well born shall hold office in Virginia." (That provision is to be found in the first draft(7) and third draft(8)).

The evidence becomes even more overwhelming when we examine his voters qualifications. No one was to be permitted to vote in Virginia who was not a land holder and a comparatively wealthy person!(9)

Now contrast Jefferson's views on suffrage and office holding with the views of George Mason as set forth in his plan of government.(10) The servants of the people were to have adequate, but moderate salaries, so that the poor might be servants and trustees of the people as well as the rich and well born. Judges were to have "fixed and adequate salaries" so that a poor lawyer might be elevated to the bench in Virginia and might serve "during good behavior" without having to pray to anyone for his daily bread save his God.

At the time Jefferson drew his Virginia Constitution had the light dawned? He had barely lost the idea of the divine right of kings and had embraced the idea of the divine right of the rich and well born to rule mankind. In the short time between his work on a Constitution for Virginia and his adoption of the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, he became a convert to the maxims of the man of Gunston Hall. Jefferson did not mature until after he had edited the Declaration of Independence and embodied into it the essential elements of the Virginia Bill of Rights.

One of the unfortunate things that Jefferson did was to reveal his jealousy of George Mason in connection with the framing of the Virginia Constitution. He continued to harp on the fact that it was adopted by the representatives of the people rather than the people themselves. Jefferson died surrounded by a room full of manuscript constitutions for Virginia that his contemporaries were too wise to adopt. He never ceased trying until he died. Virginia changed its Constitution only after Jefferson had answered the roll call in the Celestial Assembly.

Mason realized the infirmities pointed out by Jefferson, but his Constitution was adopted in the midst of revolution and could not be otherwise. Many historians have echoed Jefferson to discredit George Mason. Few indeed have been those who have examined Jefferson's proposed constitutions to discover that they not only contemplated adoption by the legislature, but fixed the sole right of repeal in the same body. (See first draft.(11)) The second draft, at the end, has a provision for referring it to the people for adoption.(12) The third draft did not have that provision, but did provide that only the people might alter the constitution(13) Was the last paragraph of the second draft added to mislead someone into the belief that his words in after years were consistent with his actions in 1776? Did the "people" take on new meaning for Jefferson as a result of unearned acclaim for the preamble to the Declaration of Independence?

As another example, Jefferson provided that the legislature might not "prescribe torture in any case whatsoever." George Mason provided for an unqualified privilege against self-incrimination as against all rulers. Mason let man stand with dignity, even though mute, yet the master of his government and his rulers. Jefferson left man to grovel as the victim of the rich and the well born.

When Jefferson, in his dotage, carefully prepared an inscription for his tomb he said that he was the "author" of the Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for freedom of religion. In his brochure Mr. Boyd has proved that Jefferson was not the "author" of the Declaration of Independence, but that he was merely its "Editor-in-Chief." Irving Brant and others have proved the same thing.

Mr. Boyd has also proved that Jefferson was not the "author" of that statute for Religious Freedom in Virginia! When the revisors got together in Fredericksburg in 1777 the subject of religion was not alloted to Jefferson, Pendleton, Wythe or Lee in the "plan of the revisors." It fell within the "residuary part of the Virginia laws" (if anywhere,) which was the "fourth part" taken over by Mason, who wrote the plan.(14) Criminal laws and Land law were also alloted to Mason in the "plan." While Mason yet lived in 1779, Jefferson and Wythe wrote to Harrison that Mason had resigned, but "agreeable to that plan it was in a considerable degree carried into execution before that loss".(15) It was only after Mason had been for sometime in an unmarked and unhallowed grave that Jefferson changed his mind about Mason's part and took credit for all of it.

Look at the "Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom" in Boyd, Vol. 2, p. 545. A note on page 547 shows that Mason was on the committee ordered to bring in bill in 1779 after Jefferson had left the House to become Governor. Is it not reasonable to assume that George Mason pulled that bill out of his pocket? Beginning on page 545 look at the following words:   "burthens," "labours," "falacy." Find that spelling in any of Jefferson's writings prior to that date! Find those words spelled otherwise in any of the writings of Mason before that date! Some may say that Jefferson did the original work on the disestablishment of the church in 1776.(16) Read the footnotes, and compare that portion of the work found by Boyd to be in the handwriting of Mason, with that found to be in the handwriting of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson supported Mason, as he always did, and made a long and tedious outline of arguments in favor of the plan.(17) An argument in favor of the plan is quite a different thing from being the "author" of the plan. If Jefferson wanted to "disestablish" the church with such zeal, why did he leave the "Administrator" of Virginia with power to make and break bishops? Why did he confer the power on the Assembly, in his proposed constitution of 1783, to compel a person to contribute to religious establishments "where he shall himself have stipulated for the support" of such and establishment? He knew, as all know, that all church vows require the adherent to "stipulate" for financial support.(18)

Education fell into Mason's fourth part of the "plan." Mason drew the preamble to the bill "For the More General Diffusion of Knowlege" that waas claimed by Jefferson as his own after Mason was gone. Turn to Vol. 2, p. 526, in the 4th of that bill look at these words:   "Yet experience hath shewn." Where, in all of Jefferson's writings, did he ever use the word "hath" until he copied it into the Declaration of Independence from Mason's Declaration of Rights.(19)

Where had Jefferson ever used the word "exhibiteth" to be found in the 3rd line from the bottom of the page? Mason may have gotten the idea for his preamble from Penn's Frame of Government, prepared by William Penn and Algernon Sidney 100 years before. At any rate he must have written the preamble and Jefferson the rest. Mr. Boyd reveals that George Mason and another "brought in" that bill after Jefferson became Governor.(20) Nearly every bill or resolution prepared by George Mason throughout his life, contained a preamble stating the fundamental basis for the proposal. He told George Washington that he did that in order to "inculcate principles."

Criminal law was more than Mason wanted to take on because he was not a lawyer. Jefferson wrote all of the tedious "Bill for Proportioning Crimes and Punishments in Cases heretofore capital" except the Preamble. Note these words:  "experience of all ages hath shewn". Jefferson would have written it thus:  "experience has shown."(21)

If I seem to worry unduly about Jefferson taking spelling lessons from Mason, look at Boyd, Vol. 2, page 547, 1st column. He is worrying too!

Land laws were assigned to Mason. Mason wrote them and the clerk copied them as written. Jefferson made a few easily identifiable changes.(22) Jefferson claimed them too—and without glory.

Jefferson wrote his Autobiography in 1821. Mason had died in 1792. All witnesses were gone except John Adams, who was gone as to memory of events. Madison yet lived. Madison tried to console Jefferson's disturbed and aging mind. In answer to Jefferson's letter of August 30, 1823, Madison said, in effect:   "the cavil about the authorship of the Declaration of Independence is silly. Every man of any sense knows that you wrote nothing new into it and that its sentiments, as you state, had been expressed by others." Jefferson had not sought consolation with respect to his broad claims in his Autobiography and his tomb inscription, but Madison had told him that his inscription was wrong. He said the same thing Boyd proves—Jefferson was not the "author"! He was the editor-in-chief.

Mr. Boyd's footnotes point out scores of irreconcilable conflicts between what Jefferson said in his autobiography and what the records actually show. On June 18, 1779, as a part of the res gestae of the transaction, Jefferson joined with Wythe in the official report to the Governor of Virginia, revealing that George Mason had not resigned from the Committee of Revisors until the "plan was in a considerable degree carried into execution." In his autobiography he says:

When we proceeded to the distribution of the work, Mr. Mason excused himself, as, being no lawyer, he felt himself unqualified for the work, and he resigned soon after. Mr. Lee excused himself on the same ground, and died, indeed, in a short time. The other two gentlemen, therefore, and myself divided the work among us. The common law and statutes to the 4 James I. (When our separate legislature was established) where assigned to me; the British statutes, from that period to the present day, to Mr. Wythe; and the Virginia laws to Mr. Pendleton. As the law of Descents, and the criminal law fell of course within my portion, I wished the committee to settle the leading principles of these, as a guide for me in framing them; . . .

On the subject of the Criminal law, all were agreed, that the punishment of death should be abolished, except for treason and murder; and that, for other felonies, should be substituted hard labor in the public works, and in some cases, the Lex talionis. How this last revolting principle came to obtain our approbation I do not remember. . . . These points, however, being settled, we repaired to our respective homes for the preparation of the work.

George Mason didn't go home until the others went home. His expense account shows he was at Fredericksburg until the committee adjourned. Mason resigned long afterwards and after he had done all that he felt capable of doing after the "plan" was "in considerable degree carried into execution."

In his autobiography Jefferson had this to say:

In giving this account of the laws of which I was myself the mover and draughtsman, I, by no means, mean to claim to myself the merit of obtaining their passage. I had many occasional and strenuous coadjutors in debate, and one, most steadfast, able and zealous; who was himself a host. This was George Mason, a man of the first order of wisdom among those who acted on the theatre of the revolution, of expansive mind, profound judgment, cogent in argument, learned in the lore of our former constitution, and earnest for the republican change on democratic principles.

It was appropriate that he should have said four pages later:  "I am already tired of talking about myself." Age had stricken the "retentive mind" of Jefferson. His memory was a mere sieve. The hand of the great Jefferson of another day had been stricken from the tiller. A false image now held it loosely and the craft drifted onto the shoals of error, to leave George Mason mere flotsam on a sea of doubt.

What became of Mason's part in the "plan," and the resignation that went to Jefferson as Chairman? According to the "plan"(23) Mason's fourth part was:  "the residuary part of the Virginia Laws, not taken up in either of the three first parts; to which is added the Criminal Law, and Land-Law." In the "Alotments of the Parts" Mason was stated thus:  "G. Mason the fourth; but if He finds it too much, the other Gentlemen will take off his Hands any Part He pleases."

Mason never failed to do his "part" in any public assignment he ever assumed in all of his life. True, he refused to take a "part" when urged to do so, many, many times, but when he took a "part," it was a leading part and no statesman living in his day any other day ever did his "part" as well.

When Mason had done all of his "part" that he felt capable of doing, not being a lawyer, he must have turned it all over to Jefferson and then resigned. Unlike Washington, Madison and R.H. Lee, Jefferson or his executor disposed of most of the letters and papers held in the hand of George Mason. For some strange reason such of Mason's writings that Jefferson hoarded are usually to be found in the hand of another! Jefferson knew that George Mason kept no letter-book and that the recipient's copy was the only record. The editors of Boyd's footnotes record their amazement that Jefferson kept no manuscript copies in his hand of those very documents for which he received most acclaim! Nearly all of his insignificant productions exist in his hand.

As one example, turn to Boyd, Vol. 6, p. 656. There is a masterpiece in an "unidentified hand," found among the Jefferson Papers. From the bottom of that page to the end on page 663, it is a word for word copy of George Mason's "Extracts from Virginia Charters" copied in Rowland, Vol. 1, beginning at page 401. One sentence was added on page 662 of Boyd, beginning with "And" and ending with "1763." Bancroft procured a copy from the original of that entire Mason Paper from one of the Mason grandchildren. It is now among the Bancroft transcripts in New York Public Library. He comments on it in his work on the Constitution and says his was the only existing copy. The original was in the University of Virginia Library when it burned a century or more ago. Why all of this? Was there a burning at Monticello? It is known that Jefferson had occasion to receive more in the handwriting of George Mason than any other man of his day. Washington kept his. Madison kept his. R.H. Lee kept his. Jefferson kept the writing of all others. Where are his Mason papers? Is it possible that when these papers got away, there was a failure to dispose of the extract referred to above because it was in an "unidentified hand," as Boyd found it to be?

George Mason died as he lived—one of the most selfless men of all times. He was, indeed, "one of the most remarkable men . . . of all countries and all times" as John Esten Cooke described him long, long ago. H.B. Grigsby tried to describe him and gave up. His rat-eaten manuscript description of George Mason still lies in Richmond unpublished because he was never satisfied with its contents. The writer confesses his absolute incapacity to deal with such a character. For his stand on the slavery question many of those begotten by his own loins execrated him when that issue flamed into a conflagration. (See Comment of Mr. Cooper in Chesnut's Diary from Dixie). Daniel Webster took Mason's anti-slavery speeches and writings and rubbed Mason's grandchildren raw with them on the floor of the United States Senate. Briars and sprouts grew up the while on George Mason's unmarked grave.

How can George Mason be rescued from oblivion without somone getting hurt? He loved Jefferson. Jefferson loved him. How can Mason get justice in a book that does not shred Jefferson of his plumage in a few spots?

Washington must be shredded in a few spots too for spurning Mason after the Philadelphia Convention. What champion of Mason could overlook Washington's charge of "lack of manly candor" on the part of Mason, when Mason's only crime was that he made a painful choice between the presidential hopes of his neighbor and the liberties of his children, and battled for a Bill of Rights? Washington knew what Robert Morris was doing when he used Mount Vernon as his headquarters and canvassed Alexandria merchants to keep Mason from going to the ratifying convention in Richmond as a representative from Fairfax. Washington must have known that the only weight Morris had was the metal in his pockets and that he had no other weight to throw around either in Alexandria or in Richmond, where Mason caught his snakey eyes as Morris sat on the floor of the convention. He provoked from Mason the first and last unparliamentary attack Mason ever made on any man during his whole career.

Madison changed his Notes of Debates in many places to try to justify his insults to Mason on the floor in Richmond. His original notes clearly reveal the alterations. How can Mason be justly treated without tearing into Madison?

John Marshall took Mason lands from his grandchildren and gave the Kentucky lands as a dowery to the man that should immediately take his old maid sister from his household to wed. (Irving Brant mentions this). He helped to give the Mason Fairfax lands to his brother and his brother's father-in-law, Robert Morris, after saying in the Richmond Debates on the Constitution that nothing in the Constitution would authorize such a jurisdiction in the courts set up by that instrument. How can justice be rendered to George Mason without laying bare the raw depravity of John Marshall?

* Mr. Pittman's letter to Dr. Fields acknowledging receipt of the copy of the Middleton letter is reproduced here.

** Mr. Pittman later found that the Committee chaired by John Adams to prepare a draft constitution for Massachusetts retained George Mason's original phraseology, "That all men are born equally free and independent." (Writings of John Adams, Vol. 4, p. 220.) The change occurred after Mr. Adams had left for France, when the convention on Sept 29, 1779 substituted the phrase, "All men are born free and equal." (Journal of Massachusetts Constitutional Convention, 1779, p. 37.)



1. NOTE:  The "Sheet full of Stuff" is likely among the Middleton Papers in the South Carolina Historical Society at Charleston. Hundreds of pages of his valuable historical papers have been left untouched there for many decades. Middleton's shorthand notes of debates on the Declaration of Independence lie there undeciphered—awaiting an angel willing to finance a search for truth.

2. Boyd, Julian P., Declaration of Independence The Evolution of the Text as Shown in Facsimiles of Various Drafts by its Author, Thomas Jefferson (-ed.)

3. Boyd, Papers of Thomas Jefferson Vol. I, p. 337, et seq.

4. Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 342.

5. Ibid., Vol. 1, pp. 367, 370.

6. Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 373.

7. Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 345.

8. Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 363.

9. Ibid., Vol. 1, pp. 341, 348 and 349.

10. Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 366, et seq.

11. Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 345.

12. Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 354.

13. Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 364.

14. Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 328.

15. Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 302.

16. Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 525, et seq.

17. Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 535.

18. Ibid., Vol. 6, p. 298.

19. We acknowledge a powerful assist here—See Lewis, Joseph, Thomas Paine, Author of the Declaration of Independence, p. 194.

20. Boyd, Papers of Jefferson Vol. 2, p. 535.

21. Ibid., Vol. 2, pp. 492-493.

22. Ibid., Vol. 2, pp. 137, 155 and 250.

23. Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 325.


Part One of this presentation carried the title proper, and was written in response to an attempted rebuttal of assertions Mr. Pittman had made in his essay "George Mason of Gunston Hall." It was found in draft form among the author's papers. Part Two was written as an apparent follow-up memorandum, attached to the first and entitled "George Mason - Jefferson and others." Both were written in 1953. It is not known whether either of these writings was published, though Mr. Pittman's correspondence also indicated his intention to deliver an address bearing the main title. Mr. Pittman's handwritten insertions are incorporated into the text. Edited by Joel T. LeFevre.