Mystery man convinces Founding Fathers to sign Declaration of Independence
The myth goes that on July 4, 1776, while sequestered behind locked doors, the Continental Congress of the 13 British Colonies (our Founding Fathers) were in hot debate on whether or not to sign the Declaration of Independence and break from Great Britain. Most of the men feared for their lives and their family’s lives, for if they were to sign such a document, they would be traitors to the crown, and would almost certainly be put to death if found. As these men were debating the issue, and leaning toward NOT signing, a mysterious man arises from out of nowhere. “Citing the grievances that had brought them to this moment he said, ‘Sign that parchment. They may turn every tree into a gallows, every home into a grave and yet the words of that parchment can never die. For the mechanic in his workshop, they will be words of hope, to the slave in the mines—freedom.’ And he added, ‘If my hands were freezing in death, I would sign that parchment with my last ounce of strength. Sign, sign if the next moment the noose is around your neck, sign even if the hall is ringing with the sound of headman’s axe, for that parchment will be the textbook of freedom, the bible of the rights of man forever.’ And then it is said he fell back exhausted. But 56 delegates, swept by his eloquence, signed the Declaration of Independence, a document destined to be as immortal as any work of man can be. And according to the story, when they turned to thank him for his timely oratory, he could not be found nor were there any who knew who he was or how he had come in or gone out through the locked and guarded doors.” (CPAC. “1974 Speech by Governor Ronald Reagan (R-CA).” Available fromhttp://ww.cpac.org/pressroom/reagan/reagan1974.asp Internet; accessed 25 June 2009.)
The casual reader may not see the significance but many Latter-day Saints know exactly who the mystery man is. Of course, it’s either Moroni, John the Revalator, or one of the Three Nephites.
This story was presented by then Governor Ronald Reagan to CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) on January 25, 1974. To his credit, he prefaced the story by saying, “I confess, I never researched or made an effort to verify it. Perhaps it is only legend. (Ibid.)” However well intended, this myth is not true simply because the events described never happened. The Founding Fathers never met to discuss the option of signing the Declaration. They did meet to discuss adopting the “Lee Resolution” which called for the drafting of a Declaration of Independence. There were parties for and against the resolution, but none of these men were cowering before the document and pen before them. The Lee Resolution was presented on June 7, 1776, and adopted by 12 of the 13 colonies (New York abstaining from vote) on July 2, 1776. The Declaration itself had already been drafted by Thomas Jefferson, but had undergone edits in a committee before it was presented to the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, and the ONLY names to appear on the printed copy were John Hancock (who was the President of the Continental Congress) and Charles Thomson (John Hancock’s secretary). When the document reached King George III of England, these were the only two names he would have seen. The document we so honor and cherish and put on display in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. is actually a copy of the original engrossed copy, that is handwritten on animal skin, and was signed by various delegates over the next several months, and not all at one time.
Perhaps the perpetuation of this myth is aided by a painting by John Trumbull, entitled “Declaration of Independence.” You have seen it on the back of the $2 bill. It depicts the Founding Fathers presumably signing the document in the events described by Gov. Reagan. However, John Trumbull was a portrait painter for most of the Founding Fathers. This painting, not completed until 1821, was to be a kind of “greatest hits” where he could place all of his portraits in one place. There are noticeably not 56 men in the painting. If this event did transpire, it was merely the committee in charge of drafting the Declaration presenting it to John Hancock for approval…no mass signing ever took place, so the mystery man could not have appeared.
– This legend submitted and written by Sean Honea