The Great Seal fiasco.

Or how Thomas Jefferson got saddled once and only once with an unwanted burden.

The Revolutionary War had it's less serious side and one of them was when Thomas Jefferson got appointed to the Great Seal design committee with Ben Franklin.

You can see the results here.

It was the fourth of July 1776 and the English troop ships had just been sighted off New York. The delegates had been debating how to 'clean it up' and what words to change in the Declaration of Independence for what seemed like forever. One man demanded that one 'the' be changed but three other thought that 'the' needed to stay.

It was looking like I was going to be climbing the gallows steps by myself for writing the Declaration of Independence while all the other delegates looked on and that I would then have my neck stretched alone for starting it. What you got was this pretty picture of a bunch of sedate and older than the were at the time painting.

You also got these quotes,

John Hancock, President of the Second Continental Congress, warned the delegates, "There must be no pulling different ways: we must all hang together."

Benjamin Franklin, Philadelphia's legendary wit, is said to have added, "We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately."

This picture is not too inaccurate except that it was the other way around. I was sitting and every two hours Ben would come by, pickup what I had written and go sit down and read it. Then I'd dread it when he came back and made a comment like a college professor but most of all when he suggested an addition in writing. Usually with something that belonged in Farmers Almanac.

Waiting for days on end to hear his throat clear to get my attention like one of my former professors just to look up and see his stern face would jolt me back to this world faster than anything else could.

I was writing the declaration like a symphony. As you read it, it builds with tension and then it breaks but the tension itself remains. Then it builds again but the tension itself picks up from where it broke off before building higher and higher. It continues this pattern and each time the tension, like steps, building until it climaxes in orgasmic crecendo of spurting pain, anguish and rage.

This was my inten but then Ben would put those witticisms in and try to ruin the whole effect that I was trying to achieve. It had the same effect on me as probably when you are making love with your girlfriend and she calls you by her previous boyfriend's name. Ben's attemped additions left me upset and unsure about 50 different things. Like if I was doing the right thing or not. Or whether I should continue or whether the addition was really important and of course I wondered for a very long time what it was really about and I didn't believe for a minute the reasons I was given..

However the room looks a lot like mine does these days as far as messiness. I don't seem to have the workers picking up after me like I used to.

However all the others are misquotes. Or lies. They were made up later. The fear that was created by the arrival of the first English troop ships prevented any such calm that would in turn allow the invention of such creative statements as Ben's immediate snappy comeback. Christ sakes at any second 20 cannon balls might come crashing through the walls and kill us all. The environment simply did not support such prose. Those lines use some words that were, in those times, used only commonly by English aristocrats. Any one who spoke like them were booted back the England. Also, those words were never used. Ben Franklin talked like that. Read Poor Richard's Almanac for examples of his speech.

What Ben Franklin said was much more direct and to the point. Ben bellowed out in his oversized voice 'Fuck it, we are all going to sign'. And then one of the northern delegates said something to the effect, 'If anyone doesn't sign the way it is then he is a Tory and a spy. He will never make it out of this room to tell the enemy our names.'

And five delegates half drew their swords and two moved to block the door so everyone immediately signed it.

(The original was signed by all but I think it was burned by the English in The War of 1812. When copies were printed on July 4, 1776 the signatures were not included so that we could literally get out of town. As soon as the evil English found out they would be looking for us and offering rewards. Once people read this declaration they would support it protect us but until read it and thought it over, which was about two months, we had to keep our names a secret. Officially it was signed in August. It's seems to be always that way with us. The unconsciously evil as well as though who know they are evil go all out to stop us protectors of all things good long before the good people realize what we have to offer and that we are indeed here to help.)

With all the changes (as seen here) and the debates there would obviously have been about four 'nays' and about five abstaining if they hadn't been forced at sword point into all voting 'yea'.

They got even with Ben and I by assigning us to the job of designing a fancy emblem for the Republic. This was preposterous and considered the height of idiocy. We considered a seal a huge waste of tax payers money for the same pomp and pageantry that we were rebelling against.

Nobody could take it too seriously. Later I found out that it was to keep us two hot heads alive. They gave us both jobs to keep us from going out and fighting the British and probably dying by leading a charge against the English.

When nothing got done Congress thought it was because nobody could draw. So congress hired a hired a popular French/Swiss portrait artist, Pierre Eugène Du Simitière. If I am not mistaken he was a friend of mine that got stuck in America at a time when the war started and there were blockades that kept ships from sailing to Europe.

One thing lead to another, then Jefferson and Franklin decided they had enough and would make certain that they never got appointed to another stupid committee again. We each designed one side of the

I started with the purpose of making a design which was certain to get rejected. I used design based on a peeping Tom observing two scantily clad women. Ben said that won't work so he made a second side to the seal.

Many of the forefathers were not very conventionally religious but they were very spiritual. They had, almost everyone of them, a certain deep reverence for God and were very upset by the excesses that were done in the lords name like the religious fervor that had caused the Salem witch hunts. They felt that cults like the Shakers and Puritans which started many of the colonies were repugnant and an embarrassment. They were frightened about ever attracting any more of that kind of embarrassment.

You can see the results here.


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2003 John Pinil