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Page 4

Thomas M'Kean

1734-1817


   On the great question of a declaration of independence. Mr. M'Kean was, from the first, decidedly in favour of the measure, lie subscribed his name to the original instrument deposited in the office of the secretary of state, but it was omitted in the copy published in the journals of congress. This omission it is now impossible satisfactorily to explain The following letter on the subject, addressed by Mr. M'Kean to Mr. Dallas of Pennsylvania, on the 26th of September, 1796, will, it is believed, be thought a valuable document:

"Sir,
 
 "Your favour of the 19th instant, respecting the Declaration of Independence, should not have remained so long unanswered, if the duties of my office of chief justice had not engrossed my whole attention, while the court was sitting.
   "For several years past, I have been taught to think less unfavourably of scepticism than formerly. So many things have been misrepresented, misstated, and erroneously printed, (with seeming authenticity,) under my own eye, as in my opinion' to render those who doubt of every thing, not altogether inexcusable: The publication of the Declaration of Independence, on the 4th of July, 1776, as printed in the second volume of the Journals of Congress, page 241; and also in the acts of most public bodies since, so far as respects the names of the delegates or deputies, who made that Declaration, has led to the above reflection. By the printed publications referred to, it would appear, as if the fifty-five gentlemen, whose names are there printed, and none other, were on that day personally present in congress, and assenting to the Declaration; whereas, the truth is otherwise. The following gentleman were not members of congress on the 4th of July, 1776; namely, Matthew Thornton, Benjamin Rush, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, and George Ross. The five last named were not chosen delegates until the 20th day of the month; the first, not until the 12th day of September following, nor did he take his seat in congress, until the 4th of November, which was four months after. The journals of Congress, (vol. ii. page 277 and 442.) as well as those of the assembly of the state of Pennsylvania, (p. 53.) and of the general assembly of New-Hampshire, establish these facts. Although the six gentleman named had been very active in the American cause, and some of them, to my own knowledge, warmly in favour of independence, previous to the day on which it was declared, yet I personally know that none of them were in congress on that day.
   "Modesty should not rob any man of his just honour, when by that honour, his modesty cannot be offended. My name is not in the printed journals of congress, as a party to the Declaration of Independence, and this, like an error in the first concoction, has vitiated most of the subsequent publications; and yet the fact is, that I was then a member of congress for the state of Delaware, was personally present in congress, and voted in favour of independence on the 4th of July, 1776, and signed the declaration after it had been engrossed on parchment, where my name, in my own hand writing, still appears. Henry Misner, of the state of New-York, was also in congress, and voted for independence. I do not know how the misstatement in the printed journal has happened. The manuscript public journal has no names annexed to the Declaration of Independence, nor has the secret journal; but it appears by the latter, that on the 19th day of July, 1776, the congress directed that it should be engrossed on parchment, and signed by every member, and that it was so produced on the 2nd of August, and signed. This is interlined in the secret journal, in the hand of Charles Thompson, the secretary. The present secretary of state of the United States, and myself, have lately inspected the journals, and seen this. The journal was first printed by Mr. John Dunlap, in 1778, and probably copes, with the names then signed to it, were printed in August, 1776, and that Mr. Dunlap printed the names from one of them.
   "I have now, sir, given you a true, though brief, history of this affair; and, as you are engaged in publishing a new edition of the Laws of Pennsylvania, I am obliged to you for affording the favourable opportunity of conveying to you this information, authorizing you to make any use of it you please.
   "I am," &c.

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Last modified September 27, 2005