1776 and All That
Although we associate the Declaration with Thomas Jefferson, and rightly so, Adams and Franklin were really the engines behind the effort of getting him to write it and of getting the Second Continental Congress to adopt it. It wasn’t easy, and the tragedy of the the new nation’s first compromise with enslavers is vividly portrayed. James Wilson, a delegate from Pennsylvania, is portrayed as a pivotal figure whose desire for anonymity led him to endorse independence in order to be lost in the majority of delegates who did so rather than to stand as a minority who blocked the effort, as John Dickinson, the other delegate from Pennsylvania, urged. But that was not the end of Wilson’s influence, at least according to Stanford historian Jonathan Gienapp. Gienapp says that Wilson argued at the Constitutional Convention that the Declaration established that the United States “born a nation rather than a series of independent states.” His argument refuted that of those who claimed the states had declared themselves independent separately from one another as a justification for preserving the rights of states over the power of the federal government.
We are still having that argument today.