Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789


Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.
enlarge image icon [Detail] Signing of the Declaration of Independence.
John Trumbull (1756-1843).
Oil on canvas, c. 1819.
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-19296.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Virginian Thomas Jefferson was one of the youngest members of the Continental Congress, but upon his arrival in 1775 he already had a reputation as a fine writer.

On June 11, 1776, Congress made Jefferson a member of the committee to prepare a formal Declaration of Independence; his fellow committee-members -- Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman -- decided that Jefferson should prepare the first draft. Years later, John Adams remembered insisting that Jefferson write: "Reason first -- You are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second -- I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third -- you can write ten times better than I can." Jefferson responded, "I will do as well as I can." With a few changes, Jefferson's work was presented to Congress on June 28, 1776, and approved after several days of revision.