by John Unrein
Most of us in our lifetime have received a “Dear John” letter that ended a relationship. As we look back, some of those memories may make us laugh or cry now. Either way, we are familiar with the power that words can have and the emotion felt from a breakup.
Few can command the English language with a vocabulary, message, and conciseness that leaves their reader yearning to learn more. Scholars and historians may debate who rises to the top of this short list. William Shakespeare, Ernest Hemingway, Maya Angelou, Thomas Jefferson, etc.
Jefferson was the primary author to pen the Declaration of Independence. The ability to articulate his ideas permitted Jefferson the opportunity to become the first Secretary of State in 1789. Jefferson would continue his political ascension by becoming the nation’s second Vice-President in 1797. The apex of his career would come as the United State’s third president in 1801 as Jefferson oversaw the transaction of the Louisiana Purchase.
Encyclopedia Britannica reveals that Jefferson’s grasp of the English language was aided by learning Latin and Greek as a teenager. Sixty percent of all English words have Greek or Latin roots. Britannica goes on to cite that Jefferson entered the College of William & Mary in 1760, where he was influenced by, among others, George Wythe, who was considered the leading legal scholar in Virginia at the time.
Jefferson did not let his noted shyness hinder his ability to write with beautiful expression. The 27 abuses he listed in the Declaration of Independence by King George III of England against the inhabitants of the thirteen colonies were grounds for divorce in the mind of Jefferson. A rationale for the breakup that was about occur on July 4th, 1776 between the fledging United States against the most powerful empire in the world at the time in the British crown caught the attention of the rest of the globe.
Jefferson would write in the Declaration of Independence, “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
“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.”
To be clear, Jefferson meant white male property owners when he wrote, “all men are created equal.” The statement excluded women, slaves, and Native Americans, among others. Jefferson himself was a slave owner at his Monticello plantation and other properties. There is irony in this as Jefferson forcefully advocated for human freedom and equality in the birth of our nation.
Admitting Jefferson’s flaws points out how he was a paradoxical figure in our history as a writer and leader. Nonetheless, Jefferson hoped that the American Revolution would lead to the rejection of the European idea of strong central government authority existing in an absolute monarchy.
These sentiments authored by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence likely contributed to George Washington choosing an inauguration over a possible coronation when he became the first president of the United States.
Jefferson’s 1,320 word Dear John breakup letter stirred enough passion to incite others to take immediate action towards breaking up with England. When news of the Declaration of Independence reached New York City, it started a riot on July 9, 1776.
“With hundreds of British naval ships occupying New York Harbor, revolutionary spirit and military tensions were running high. George Washington, commander of the Continental forces in New York, read the document aloud in front of City Hall. A raucous crowd cheered the inspiring words, and later that day tore down a nearby statue of King George III. The statue was subsequently melted down and shaped into more than 42,000 musket balls for the fledging American army,” History Channel historians state.
The sacredness of the Declaration of Independence has grown over our history as a nation. The document spent World War II in Fort Knox locked up for safe keeping. Noted historian Elizabeth Harrison explains how one of the hallmarks of our democracy was protected.
“On December 23, 1941, just over two weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the signed Declaration, together with the Constitution, was removed from public display and prepared for evacuation out of Washington D.C. under the supervision of armed guards,” Harrison said.
“The founding document was packed in a specially designed container, latched with padlocks, sealed with lead, and placed in a larger box. All told, 150 pounds of protective gear surrounded the parchment.”
“On December 26 and 27, accompanied by Secret Service agents, it traveled by train to Louisville, Kentucky, where a cavalry troop of the 13th Armored Division escorted it to Fort Knox. The Declaration was returned to Washington D.C. in 1944.”
Today, the rejection of the British Crown’s version of 18th century love resides in the National Archives Building in Washington D.C. It’s on display for citizens and tourists to view as the best Dear John letter ever written in history by Thomas Jefferson. Happy Birthday to the United States.