Iteration

Posted by on Jul 4, 2012 in communication, great moments | No Comments

Pre-Ramble:  Just a scant 236 years ago, the Continental Congress adopted Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence.  As a writer, I am particularly interested in what that whole process must have been like – sans digital technology.

When I think about events from historical times, where people are referred to as “forefathers,” I always imagine an idealistic scene … elaborate colonial interiors, period costumes, starched facial expressions …

The ideal scenario around drafting the Declaration of Independence features Thomas Jefferson in Philadelphia, knee socks pulled tight, legs crossed at the ankle, sitting at his perfectly polished writing desk, gazing pensively into the distance before dipping the tip of his perfectly tufted quill into a jar of perfectly black calligrapher’s ink, channeling his perfectly patriotic thoughts onto the perfectly parched parchment …

Poof – the Declaration of Independence.

STET - According to historians, this wasn’t exactly the case. Apparently, the document was written and rewritten by a committee of guys (no women …. Arrrrgh!%$??!) … lots of quibbling, multiple passages scribbled out, entire chunks scrapped between iterations … It wasn’t pretty …

“In anticipation of a vote for independence, the Continental Congress appointed Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston as a committee to draft a declaration of independence. The committee then delegated Thomas Jefferson to undertake the task … Jefferson worked diligently in private for days to compose [the] document. Proof of the arduous nature of the work can be seen in the fragment of the first known composition draft of the declaration, which was followed by a clean or “fair” copy of the composition declaration, which became the foundation of the document, labeled by Jefferson as the “original Rough draught.” [This version of the document was] revised first by Adams, then by Franklin, and then by the full committee, a total of forty-seven alterations including the insertion of three complete paragraphs was made on the text before it was presented to Congress.

After voting for independence on July 2, the Congress then continued to refine the document, making thirty-nine additional revisions to the committee draft before its final adoption on the morning of July 4. The “original Rough draught” embodies the multiplicity of corrections, additions and deletions that were made at each step. Although most of the alterations are in Jefferson’s handwriting (Jefferson later indicated the changes he believed to have been made by Adams and Franklin), quite naturally he opposed many of the changes made to his document. To the end of his life Jefferson was furious at the significant changes made to his document—changes which he labeled “mutiliations”.

Fast forward … Oh yes – I can totally see this – TJ charged to draft The Declaration – then Adams and Franklin get their mitts on it and word-smith the heck out of it.

And it’s not like they had white-out or “track changes” … They were passing the parchment around …. scratching out passages … scrapping entire paragraphs … scribbling in the margins … I see ripping and crumpling in the artist’s rendering (shown above right) … Jefferson pouting the whole time.

The Take-Away:  It’s oddly comforting to know that, technology aside, the writing process hasn’t changed much. Also good to know that that final draft of the Declaration hasn’t changed either … My favorite part is the Preamble, after which I named the “Pre-Ramble” here in the K. blog …

“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 these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

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