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AN ANECDOTE OF DOCTOR FRANKLIN

by Thomas Jefferson

 

WHEN the Declaration of Independence was under the consideration of Congressthere were two or three unlucky expressions in it which gave offence to somemembers. The word "Scotch and other foreign auxiliaries" excited theire of a gentleman or two of that country. Severe strictures on the conduct ofthe British Kingin negotiating our repeated repeals of the law which permittedthe importation of slaveswere disapproved by some Southern gentlemenwhosereflections were not yet matured to the full abhorrence of that traffic.Although the offensive expressions were immediately yieldedthese gentlemencontinued their depredations on other parts of the instrument. I was sitting byDr. Franklinwho perceived that I was not insensible to these mutila- tions."I have made it a rule" said he"whenever in my powerto avoidbecoming the draughtsman of papers to be reviewed by a public body. I took mylesson from an incident which I will relate to you. When I was a journeymanprinterone of my companionsan apprentice hatterhaving served out his timewas about to open shop for himself. His first concern was to have a handsomesign- boardwith a proper inscription. He composed it in these words'JohnThompsonHattermakes and sells hats for ready money' with a figure of a hatsubjoined; but he thought he would submit it to his friends for their amendments.The first he showed it to thought the word 'Hatter' tautologousbecausefollowed by the words 'makes hats' which show he was a hatter. It was struckout. The next observed that the word 'makes' might as well be omittedbecausehis customers would not care who made the hats. If good and to their mindtheywould buyby whomsoever made. He struck it out. A third said he thought thewords 'for ready money' were useless as it was not the custom of the place tosell on credit. Every one who purchased expected to pay. They were parted withand the inscription now stood'John Thompson sells hats.' 'Sells hats' sayshis next friend! Why nobody will expect you to give them awaywhat then is theuse of that word? It was stricken outand 'hats' followed itthe rather asthere was one painted on the board. So the inscription was reduced ultimately to'John Thompson' with the figure of a hat subjoined."

THE END