"Malignity Exposed"

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This article, published in the Richmond Enquirer in 1822,[1] was cited by John H. Hazelton in his 1906 study on the Declaration of Independence, as proof that George Wythe had been sent an early draft of the Declaration by Jefferson: "At least thirteen years ago we published in this paper a copy of the original draft as it came from his own hands: This copy was in his handwriting, and was found among the papers of the late Mr. Wythe."[2]

The article is assembled from a pyramid of reprints and republications from other nineteenth-century newspapers: an extract from a letter printed in the Baltimore Federal Republican is republished, with editorial comment, in the Philadelphia Union, which was then reprinted (with comment) in the Charleston Patriot, which appears here with an introduction in the Enquirer (with indentations provided for clarity not in the original article). Appearing at the same time as a series of letters from an anonymous "Native of Virginia" were accusing President Jefferson of misusing public funds, the original letter in the Federal Republican admonishes "certain persons" for ignoring the importance of Richard Henry Lee's resolution for independence of 1776, in favor of "sickening adulation" for the "illustrious penman" of the Declaration.

At the time of his writing, Hazelton could not find the text of Jefferson's draft in the Enquirer, since it was incorrectly cited as having been published around 1809.[3] Wythe's copy of the Declaration was published just after his death in 1806, on June 20.[4]

Article text, 6 August 1822

Page 3



The subjoined article from the Charleston Patriot exposes another of the vile attempts, which have been recently made by the sleepless spirit of resentment, to strip the laurel from the brow of Jefferson.—His friends never claimed for him the merit of moving in the old Congress of the U.S. the Declaration of its Independence. That honor may belong to Richard Henry Lee, another distinguished Virginian: but his friends have claimed for him the merit of being the author of the Declaration of Independence. It is also true, and the friends of Thomas Jefferson have always said that the original draft of it was changed in some few particulars—that a few single expressions were substituted by others, and that two or three passages of two or three sentences in length were struck out by the Committee.—So far from making concealment of this fact, they have not hesitated to avow it. At least thirteen years ago we published in this paper a copy of the original draft as it came from his own hands: This copy was in his handwriting, and was found among the papers of the late Mr. Wythe, the friend and instructor of his early years. This copy was published in Niles's W. Register, & in various other newspapers of this continent. And now forsooth, we are to be amused with a new discovery of the original draft being "scored and scratched like a school-boy's exercise." This is a most miserable exaggeration—the variations, which were made, were most of them disapproved of by the author we recollect those passages well—and we repeat what we said at the time of re-publication, that the paper was altered for the worse. The two principal alterations (1st, touching our uniform protests against the slave trade, and the enlisting of this race of men against us; and 2ndly, the destinies to which this country might reach separate from G. Britain, and also in connection with her,) are among the most vivid conceptions and masterly sentences, which we recollect ever to have read. Yet these were expunged by the committee; for reasons which we cannot divine. Such is the true state of the case!—such are the memorable lengths to which the enemies of Jefferson would push their resentments. Let the storm however, rage as it may list—eternal honor will "settle upon his head:"

[From the Charleston Patriot.]

This would appear to be an age of calumny and all uncharitableness. It was but a few days since that Mr. JEFFERSON was wounded in his feelings by a charge of public fraud. The author of this piece of malice has been driven, by the indignation of the public, back into the obscurity from which he had emerged with his fund of slanders as the capital or stock on which he expected to trade in his new business of defamation. But as if malice is contagious or admits of being propagated, a coadjutor to the "Native of Virginia" has appeared in the Federal Republican, whose article will be found below, and who wishes to rob Mr. JEFFERSON of the fame of having solely written the Declaration of Independence.—RICHARD HENRY LEE is credited with the honor of having moved the Declaration, and of having corrected and amended the original report of this celebrated paper. Mr. JEFFERSON is not denied having furnished the outlines of the Declaration, but it is pretended it was the work as it now stands of abler hands. Now, the plain intent of this fresh or forgotten fragment of history just recovered and brought to light, is to deprive Mr. JEFFERSON of all credit for originality in drawing up the Declaration of Independence. The attempt is pitiful and indicates the spirit of malice in which it originated. The credit of being the author of the Declaration is nowise impaired by the subject being moved by another; but the insinuation that the original draft only was furnished by him and not the perfect copy as it now stands, is contradicted by the evidence of contemporaries. Let us see these promised documents. The spirit however which has dictated these attempts to make Mr. JEFFERSON less pure and less intellectual than the history of his country exhibits him, only prove that time has no effect in softening the animosities of some spirits or in divesting them of their malice and envy. The little passions of mortal men will re-appear on the scene of life to deform it with contention and mar its harmony in spite of those lessons of peace and charity, taught by religion and philosophy. The spirit of hatred to a great name is in some breasts never extinct, and receives a stimulus from the smallest encouragement. But whilst the "Native of Virginia" and the author of this charge will be coupled in the memories only of their contemporaries, as the slanderers of a great name, history, which has embalmed the talents, the public services and the virtues of the subject of our remarks, will exhibit him in brighter colors, as time in its flight sinks all recollection of his detractors.

[From the Philadelphia Union.]

We have long been acquainted with the facts alluded to in the following article from the Federal Republican. We have seen Mr. Jefferson's draft of the Declaration of Independence, scored and scratched like a school boy's exercise. When Mr Schæffer[5] shall comply with his promise to publish the documents relating to this subject, the jackdaw will be stript of the plumage, with which adulation has adorned him, and the crown will be placed on the head of a real patriot.

Richard Henry Lee.—It is truly remarkable that this great statesman is forgotten among all the celebrations of the Fourth of July. It is to this "illustrious" patriot, we are indebted for our Declaration of Independence, for it was he who moved it in Congress. This seems not to be known, nor thought of, by many, because it has suited particular persons to give to others the merit and the praises which are due to Richard Henry Lee. Among men of sense, candor and truth, there will be no question whether he who dared openly to propose the project, or he who had the principal agency in putting it on paper deserves the most credit; for our part, we must be allowed to say, that the unfortunate infatuation with which our country has been cursed, has induced many to forget the real heroes of '76, whilst they are singing the praises of those, who were the sworn enemies of the matchless Washington.

Persons are spoken of as the "illustrious authors of our declaration of independence." They are lauded to the skies, and by the silly and the ignorant, have been pronounced the "ornament of human nature"—but the real movers of that act are forgotten, because they sleep in the cold and icy arms of death, and cannot now influence elections, nor the the grant of offices and sinecures. The honor due to them is given to others. "Sic non vobis."[6]

Ere long, we hope to have leisure to publish some very important documents on this subject. We have the very copy of the declaration of independence, as it was originally reported and sent by the "illustrious penman," to this same Richard Henry Lee together with his remarks on it in his own hand writing.[7]

Our only motive for entering on this subject is to do justice to the truly illustrious and generous Lee—it is not from animosity to the "ornament of human nature" but an ardent desire to convince certain persons, that their truly sickening adulation is bestowed upon some who are so cheap, that they can very easily be obtained for a small amount.

[Fed. Rep.

See also


  1. Malignity Exposed," The Enquirer (Richmond, VA), August 6, 1822, 3.
  2. John H. Hazelton, The Declaration of Independence: Its History (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1906), 350.
  3. Julian P. Boyd, The Declaration of Independence: The Evolution of the Text (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1943), 8.
  4. The Enquirer(Richmond, VA), June 20, 1806, 2-3.
  5. Frederick G. Schaeffer, editor of the Federal Republican and Baltimore Telegraph.
  6. "Not for yourselves." The Roman poet Virgil wrote a poem on the walls of the imperial palace which repeated the phrase, "Sic vos non vobis": "Not for yourselves, you—".
  7. The letter's author and champion of Richard Henry Lee is likely none other than his grandson, the Reverend Richard Henry Lee, of Leesburg, Virginia, who published Memoir of the Life of Richard Henry Lee: And His Correspondence in two volumes in 1825, and donated Lee's draft of the Declaration of Independence to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia that same year.