A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

Browsing: Adams Family Correspondence, Volume 2

This note contained in document ADMS-04-02-02-0026
8. This remarkable paragraph raises questions to which only conjectural answers can be given. JA sent a copy of the Dunlap broadside of the Declaration of Independence to Mary Palmer on 5 July, the day it was printed (see his letter of that date, above), and he may have sent AA a copy in one of the packets of printed matter that he frequently forwarded from Philadelphia without covering letters. His earliest (surviving) reference to a text sent to her is in his first letter of 7 July (above), enclosing a Pennsylvania Evening Post of the 6th, which contained the first printing of the Declaration in a newspaper. AA had not received JA's letter of the 7th when she wrote the present letter. But printed copies of the Dunlap broadside had certainly reached Boston by 13 July from some source, and probably from several sources, for on that day Ezekiel Price visited his children, who were under inoculation in Boston, and wrote in his Diary: “The mail from New York brings the declaration of the Continental Congress for Independence” (MHS, Procs., 1st ser., 7 [1863–1864]:260). The same mail probably brought JA's letter to Mary Palmer of 5 July and Elbridge Gerry's letter to James Warren of the same date, which enclosed two broadside copies of the Declaration, one for Warren and one for Joseph Hawley (Austin, Gerry, 1:202–203).
But what of AA's regret that “some of the most Manly Sentiments in the Declaration” as submitted by the drafting committee had been “Expunged” by Congress? How could she know, from the evidence in her hands, that any such thing had happened? Possibly JA had told her so in a letter now missing (see preceding note). Possibly letters (now lost) from other delegates in Philadel• { 49 } phia made observations to that effect, and the word spread rapidly in Boston. Neither of these explanations seems at all likely to the editors. The only other explanation is that AA received, most likely on the 13th, with JA's first and secondtwo letters of the 3d, his autograph copy of Jefferson's draft of the Declaration (see below) and made a quick but perceptive comparison of it with a text of Dunlap's broadside, either a copy sent to her or one sent to a friend with whom she was in touch in Boston. (Note that farther on in the present letter she mentions the Warrens' arrival in Boston from Plymouth on the 13th; and see Warren to JA, 17 July, in Warren-Adams Letters, 1:261.) Since, so far as we know, JA had said nothing to AA about the actual authorship of the Declaration, and since the copy of the draft that he had evidently sent on is in his hand, AA would very naturally have inferred that he was the author, and would, characteristically, have resented alterations by Congress in her husband's work. The Adamses' minister in Boston, Rev. Samuel Cooper, made the same inference and a similar comment in a letter he wrote JA on 14 Aug. (Adams Papers): “That Masterly Performance cannot fail of it's deserved Weight upon the Minds of the People. I could wish, however, that some great Strokes I saw in a Manuscript Draught had not been omitted.” Cooper's letter makes clear beyond all question that JA had sent on his copy of Jefferson's “original Rough draught” during the summer of 1776, that it circulated in Boston, and that, since JA said nothing to the contrary (indeed apparently said nothing whatever about his handwritten copy when he sent it on), his friends in Boston assumed at this time that he was the author of the Declaration.
This is not the place to discuss the importance of the JA copy as a guide to the changes in the text of the Declaration while it was still in committee. It has remained ever since 1776 among the Adams Papers, except for a brief interval in 1943 when it was loaned to the Library of Congress for the purpose of making the first facsimile reproduction of it, which was published as plate 4 in Julian P. Boyd, The Declaration of Independence: The Evolution of the Text, Washington, 1943; see same, p. 6, 22–28; Jefferson, Papers, ed. Boyd, 1:416; and John H. Hazelton, The Declaration of Independence: Its History, N.Y., 1906, p. 306 ff., 348–349.
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2018.