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Why Franklin didn’t write for committees
And was happy to let Jefferson draft the Declaration of Independence
Benjamin Franklin was on the committee of the Continental Congress tasked with producing a declaration of the reasons for American independence. Franklin was happy to let another member do the first drafting. He explained why to Thomas Jefferson, who got the assignment, while Jefferson was watching the Congress tear his draft to shreds.
“I was sitting by Dr. Franklin, who perceived that I was not insensible to these mutilations,” Jefferson recalled later. Franklin sympathized. “I have made it a rule,” he told Jefferson, “whenever in my power, to avoid becoming the draughtsman of papers to be reviewed by a public body. I took my lesson from an incident which I will relate to you.
“When I was a journeyman printer, one of my companions, an apprentice hatter, having served out his time, was about to open shop for himself. His first concern was to have a handsome signboard, with a proper inscription. He composed it in these words ‘John Thomson, Hatter, Makes and Sells Hats for Ready Money,’ with a figure of a hat subjoined.
“But he thought he would submit it to his friends for their amendments. The first he shewed it to thought the word ‘Hatter’ tautologous, because followed by the words ‘makes hats’ which shew he was a hatter. It was struck out.
“The next observed that the word ‘makes’ might as well be omitted because his customers would not care who made the hats. If good and to their mind, they would buy, by whomsoever made. He struck it out.
“A third said he thought the words ‘for ready money,’ were useless as it was not the custom of the place to sell on credit. Everyone who purchased expected to pay. They were parted with, and the inscription now stood ‘John Thomson Sells Hats.’
“‘Sells hats’ says his next friend? Why nobody will expect you to give them away. What then is the use of that word? It was stricken out, and ‘hats’ followed it, the rather as there was one painted on the board.
“So his inscription was reduced ultimately to ‘John Thomson’ with the figure of a hat subjoined.”