Thomas Jefferson’s First Political ‘Fight’ In The Continental Congress Was Over Some Suggested Revisions To His Writing

(Portrait of Thomas Jefferson, by Mather Brown (1761–1831), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)


Thomas Jefferson, the legendary writer from the American Revolution, and the third President of the United States, was very picky about his rhetoric and wording. Jefferson was, therefore, never enthusiastic when Congress suggested editing sections of his drafts.

Though he was a politician who could write better than almost anyone in the world, Jefferson was no orator. When it came time to give a speech, Thomas Jefferson was abysmal, so he understandably spent most of his time in Congress in silence. He was not afraid, however, to speak his mind if his writing was questioned, and he did so on the floor of the Continental Congress.

When John Dickinson proposed changes to Jefferson’s draft of the “Declaration of the Causes and Necessities for Taking Up Arms,” Jefferson took the suggestion of revision as a personal insult. The Continental Congress managed to negotiate a peace between the two men. Dickinson’s suggestions were worked into the draft, but Jefferson’s style of writing remained intact. Though a compromise was reached, Jefferson continued to believe that his work was mistreated.

Jefferson’s resistance to revisions continued when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. A committee from Congress edited the Declaration, and the rest of Congress approved most of the revisions. Though the wide majority of the Declaration of Independence is Thomas Jefferson’s unaltered words, for the rest of his life, Jefferson firmly believed that the original essence of his document had been corrupted and mangled by the Continental Congress’ revisions.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.


  • American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, by Joseph J. Ellis. New York: Vintage Books, 1998.

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