We happen to know what kind of weather it was in Philadelphia on Thursday, the Fourth of July, 1776. Mr. Jefferson was in the habit, all his life, of recording the temperature three times a day, and not unfrequently four times. He made four entries in his weather record on this birthday of the nation, as if anticipating that posterity would be curious to learn every particular of an occasion so interesting.
At six that morning the mercury marked sixty-eight degrees. At nine, just before going round to the State House to attend the session of Congress, he recorded seventy-two and a half degrees. At one, while he was at home during the recess for dinner, he found the mercury at seventy-six. At nine in the evening, when the great deed had been done, the instrument indicated seventy-three and a half degrees.
From another entry of Mr. Jefferson's we learn that he paid for a new thermometer on that day. The following are the three entries in his expense-book for July fourth, 1776:
"Paid Sparhawk for a thermometer...................£3 15s.
Pd. for 7 pr. women's gloves....................... 27s.
Gave in charity.................................... 1s. 6d."
The price that he paid for his thermometer was equivalent to about twenty dollars in gold; and as Mr. Jefferson was not likely to spend his money for an elaborately decorated thermometer, we may infer that instruments of that nature were at least ten times as costly then as they are now. An excellent standard thermometer at the present time can be bought for five dollars, and the sum which Mr. Jefferson paid in 1776 was fully equal, in purchasing power, to fifty dollars in our present currency.
Mr. Jefferson lived then on the south side of Market street, not far from the corner of Seventh, in Philadelphia. As it was the only house then standing in that part of the street, he was unable in after years to designate the exact spot, though he was always under the impression that it was a corner house, either on the corner of Seventh street or very near it. The owner of the house, named Graaf, was a young man, the son of a German, and then newly married. Soon after coming to Philadelphia, Mr. Jefferson hired the whole of the second floor, ready furnished; and as the floor consisted of but two rooms--a parlor and a bed-room--we may conjecture that the house was of no great size. It was in that parlor that he wrote the Declaration of Independence.
The writing-desk upon which he wrote it exists in Boston, and is still possessed by the venerable friend and connection of Mr. Jefferson to whom he gave it. The note which the author of the Declaration wrote when he sent this writing-desk to the husband of one of his grand-daughters, has a particular interest for us at this present time. It was written in 1825, nearly fifty years after the Declaration was signed, about midway between that glorious period and the Centennial. It is as follows:
"Thomas Jefferson gives this writing-desk to Joseph Coolidge, Jr., as a memorial of affection. It was made from a drawing of his own by Benj. Randolph, cabinet-maker, at Philadelphia, with whom he first lodged on his arrival in that city, in May, 1776, and is the identical one on which he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Politics as well as religion has its superstitions. These, gaining strength with time, may one day give imaginary value to this relic for its associations with the birth of the Great charter of our Independence."
The note given above, although penned when Mr. Jefferson was eighty-two years of age, is written in a small, firm hand, and is quite as legible as the type which the reader is now perusing. There is no indication of old age in the writing; but I observe that he has spelt the most important word of the note French fashion, thus: "_Independance_." It certainly is remarkable that the author of the Declaration of Independence should have made a mistake in spelling the word. Nor can it be said that the erroneous letter was a slip of the pen, because the word occurs twice in the note, and both times the last syllable is spelt with an _a_. Mr. Jefferson was a very exact man, and yet, like most men of that day, he used capitals and omitted them with an apparent carelessness. In the above note, for example, the following words occur, "Great charter." Here he furnishes the adjective with a capital, and reduces his noun to the insignificance of a small letter.
The Declaration was written, I suppose, about the middle of June; and, while he was writing it, Philadelphia was all astir with warlike preparation. Seldom has a peaceful city, a city of Quakers and brotherly love, undergone such a transformation as Philadelphia did in a few months. As Mr. Jefferson sat at his little desk composing the Declaration, with the windows open at that warm season, he must have heard the troops drilling in Independence Square. Twice a day they were out drilling, to the number of two thousand men, and more. Perhaps he was looking out of the window on the eleventh of June, the very day after the appointment of the committee to draw up the Declaration, when the question of independence was voted upon by the whole body of Philadelphia volunteers, and they all voted for independence except twenty-nine men, four officers and twenty-five privates. One of these objectors made a scene upon the parade. He was so much opposed to the proceeding that he would not put the question to his company. This refusal, said the newspaper of that week, "Gave great umbrage to the men, one of whom replied to him in a genteel and spirited manner."
Besides this morning and afternoon drill in the public squares of the town, preparations were going forward to close the river against the ascent of a hostile fleet. Dr. Franklin, as I have related, had twenty or thirty row galleys in readiness, which were out on the river practising every day, watched by approving groups on the shore. Men were at work on the forts five miles below the city, where, also, Dr. Franklin was arranging his three rows of iron-barbed beams in the channel, which were called _chevaux de frise_. In a letter of that day, written to Captain Richard Varick, of New York, I find these French words spelt thus: "Shiver de freeses." Committees were going about Philadelphia during this spring buying lead from house to house at sixpence a pound, taking even the lead clock-weights and giving iron ones in exchange. So destitute was the army of powder and ball that Dr. Franklin seriously proposed arming some regiments with javelins and crossbows.
Mr. Jefferson was ready with his draft in time to present it to Congress on the first of July; but it was on the second, as I conjecture, that the great debate occurred upon it, when the timid men again put forward the argument that the country was not yet ripe for so decisive a measure. Mr. Dickinson, of Pennsylvania, a true patriot, but a most timorous and conservative gentleman, who had opposed Independence from the beginning, delivered a long and eloquent speech against the measure.
The author of the Declaration used to relate after dinner to his guests at Monticello, that the conclusion of the business was hastened by a ridiculous cause. Near the hall was a livery stable, from which swarms of flies came in at the open windows, and attacked the trouserless legs of members, who wore the silk stockings of the period. Lashing the flies with their handkerchiefs, they became at length unable to bear a longer delay, and the decisive vote was taken. On the Monday following, in the presence of a great crowd of people assembled in Independence Square, it was read by Captain Ezekiel Hopkins, the first commodore of the American Navy, then just home from a cruise, during which he had captured eighty cannon, a large quantity of ammunition, and stores, and two British vessels. He was selected to read the Declaration from the remarkable power of his voice. Seven weeks later, the Declaration was engrossed upon parchment, which was signed by the members, and which now hangs in the Patent Office at Washington.