“The mind once enlightened can not again become dark.” – Thomas Paine

It’s time for a pop quiz: who wrote the Declaration of Independence? If you went to public school you were probably told with pride that it was everyone’s favorite Founding Father — that great thinker and philosopher of the time, the gentleman farmer Thomas Jefferson. The American Sphinx, as mainstream historian Joseph Ellis called him, for he is a conundrum: how did the man who held onto every slave he owned until his own death write such a passionate diatribe against the very institution that kept the South alive? Easy: he didn’t write it.

Wait, what? It wasn’t Thomas Jefferson, that noble and timeless icon on the special issue cover of TIME in the grocery store, filled to the brim with marvelous stories about the sage of Monticello and his other super friends we collectively call the Founding Fathers? Rich, I think you’re smoking something heavy, man. Or maybe you’re one of those kids who didn’t go to public school – eww, you were hooooomeschooled – so obviously you were taught misinformation, Rich. Do you also think the earth is 2,000 years old?

Well, I did go to public school, friend. And I’ve tried to forget as much as possible about it – from my personal social experiences to the propagandistic American historical fiction they teach us. After realizing that not everything I was taught is true, I’ve begun to question everything. And now when I hear what mainstream historians call “fringe” theories, I’m willing to at least listen. And when those arguments are logical and backed up with evidence, I will ignore the mainstream historians’ ad hominem attacks and appeals to the 8th grade history book and consider the evidence. And with that, I’m pretty sure Thomas Jefferson did not write the the Declaration of Independence.

So who wrote the Declaration if it wasn’t Jefferson? Thomas Paine did. There is plenty of evidence to discredit Jefferson and to prove that Paine is the author. This information is not new, nor has it ever been refuted, from what I can tell – just blatantly ignored. (I did find one review of a book mentioned below that mostly laughs it off as speculation, but it doesn’t refute a thing. There have been some more balanced criticisms written.) Arguments making Paine the author have been appearing occasionally since at least 1906, when Walton Williams wrote an article in the Hammondsport Herald. In later years – although I cannot find the pamphlet – a Paine scholar named W.M. Van Der Weyde made similar arguments. In 1947, Joseph Lewis published a book titled Thomas Paine: Author of the Declaration of Independence, which is 300-plus pages of evidence, both convincing and not-so-convincing. This caught the attention of the libertarian lecturer Andrew Galambos, who incorporated the material into some of his courses at the Free Enterprise Institute in the 1960s. From what I can tell, other than a blip on InfoWars and a note from Robert Wenzel (which is the same text from InfoWars), no one else has talked about it. Peace Revolution, a podcast that presents history as a tool to help develop intellectual self-defense, dug out the Galambos lectures just a few years ago and I was hooked. But since then, the information seems to have been sucked back into its memory hole. So I thought I’d take a turn at trotting out this occulted information, which seems to want to stay hidden.

Why does no one want us to know that Paine is the author of the Declaration – a statement I believe, by the way, with a similar level of confidence as Andrew Galambos did in 1966: “I personally would evaluate the chances are higher than 99%.” Why must this remain a secret, not even to be questioned? I think it is because once a narrative begins to be questioned, the entire thing will eventually be thrown out. And the more questions people ask, the sooner they will come to realize that almost everything they’re told in public school and by government and media and society in general is mostly a lie in order to restrain us – as I’ve heard elsewhere, we’re easier controlled, or at least more predictable, when we’re wrapped in an ideological duct tape. Annoyingly unquestioning reverence to the Founding Fathers of Our Great and United States, the Most Free Country In The World, Hell Yeah! is a cornerstone to this entire strategy of total dumb-as-nails control of the masses. It can never be challenged. Why, don’t you know the 8th grade history books have already been written?

With that being said, let me restate my claim: Thomas Paine wrote the Declaration of Independence. I’d like to make it clear that I mean Paine wrote the original draft of the Declaration – not the final draft that was edited and released by the Continental Congress. They “mutilated” it, in other words.

Thomas Jefferson could not have written it. John Adams wrote that he, himself, could never write in such a “manly” style as Paine, and I think the observation applies to Jefferson as well. Nowhere in Jefferson’s vast writings – particularly pre-1776 – does he ever raise his voice or scathe with his pen; he always maintains the disinterested haziness of a southern gentleman, the precision and boringness of a scientist.

Jefferson never once claimed to be the author until the very end of his life – he was simply put in charge of the committee to draft the Declaration. No one even claimed outright that he wrote it. Jefferson even wrote in 1809 that he could not claim authorship of the Declaration: “I say nothing of numerous draughts of reports, resolution, declarations, etc., drawn as a member of Congress or of the Legislature of Virginia, such as The Declaration of Independence, Report on the Money Unit of the United States, the Act of Religious Freedom, etc., etc.; these having become the acts of public bodies, there can be no personal claim to them….” He wrote on his epitaph that he was the author of the Declaration, but no one knows why he decided to wait until this point to do it. It’s been argued that he was convinced he wrote it in his forgetful old age – once “history” decided that he was the author. Who knows?

While Thomas Jefferson wrote fairly tame pamphlets like Notes On the State of Virginia and A Summary View of the Rights of British America, Thomas Paine wasted no time in his lifelong quest to rid the world of kings. Paine was, in the words of Galambos, “the greatest enemy of monarchy that ever lived!” In Common Sense, the pamphlet that convinced half-a-million people to separate from Britain, Paine went out of his way to see if he could get George III to sniffle in shame: “I rejected the hardened, sullen-tempered Pharoah of England for ever, and disdain of the wretch, that with the pretended title of FATHER OF HIS PEOPLE can unfeelingly hear of their slaughter, and composedly sleep with their blood upon his soul.” Never short of nicknames for the king, Paine also called him “The Royal Brute of Great Britain,” “the Royal Wretch,” and even proclaimed “the naked and untutored Indian, is less Savage than the King of Britain.” Paine did not like kings.

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Paine wrote what he saw, and he wrote it loudly. Jefferson never did that. Adding to his amazing repertoire of patriotic penmanship, Paine had written essays (under pseudonyms, as he was the only author of the Pennsylvania Magazine in 1775) arguing for more respect of women and the immediate abolition of slavery (this makes him one of the first vocal abolitionists in American history). Later Paine would write the preamble to the Pennsylvania Constitution (which helped inspire the Federal Bill of Rights) and the Crisis papers (which inspired the troops at Valley Forge to take Trenton). “These are the times that try men’s souls” was written by Paine, few people know. And years later in France, Paine may have written the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. When Jefferson was in France during the Revolution and asked to help out, he suggested that they “buy their liberty from the king rather than bring about a revolution,” according to a French biographer. “Jefferson’s proposal does not seem revolutionary,” the historian wrote. There was “…no appeal to abstract principle and no mention of rights was made.” Yet this man supposedly wrote the Declaration of Independence.

Thomas Jefferson’s infamous “original draft” of the Declaration is clearly a copy. There are even sections where he rewrites lines and crosses them out – simple copy errors. It wasn’t known publicly until the 1940s that John Adams had also made a copy of the original draft and had mailed it to his wife Abigail (who wrote that the original was much better than the version the Congress released to the world) for safekeeping. It then hid in the family papers for a few hundred years. What’s fascinating is that the Adams copy is much more obviously a copy of an original and Jefferson’s “working draft” no longer appears to be an original, but a copy, itself — only marked up.

Joseph Lewis posited that “the reason for its concealment is so obvious when looked at from the critical point of view of the student seeking light on the origin of the Declaration of Independence that it cannot be attributed to anything other to the fact that its publication would reveal the truth concerning its authorship.”

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For example, Adams wrote the word “unalienable” – which is obviously how he saw it on the original draft – whereas Jefferson wrote “inalienable.” Why would Adams change the one word and nothing else? Paine wrote “unalienable” all the time. Jefferson typically wrote “inalienable” — it was only natural of him to auto-correct. Adams also capitalized every important noun – again, likely as he saw it (though he did do this sometimes) – which is something Paine did regularly in his writing. Jefferson typically did not. In his copy, Jefferson didn’t even capitalize the word “God.” While Adams wrote “self-evident,” Jefferson tried adding “sacred & undeniable,” then scratched it out and wrote “self-evident” over it. “Self-evident” is a term that Paine used twice in Common Sense, but Jefferson had never used before in his writing.

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Paine was a Quaker – at least, he was raised a Quaker – and he wrote like one. That’s where all the capitalized nouns came from. Also, the word “hath” appears in the original draft. Paine used the word “hath” – an old-fashioned version of “has” – many times in his writing. Jefferson never used the word “hath,” except when copying or when collaborating with others who used it. Paine also wrote “shewn” whereas Jefferson would have written “shown.” Paine also used the word “prostituted” in the Declaration, Common Sense, and The Age of Reason – a stronger word for “abuse.” Jefferson did not use such striking language. There are numerous examples similar to this all throughout the works of Paine that suggest it is his work, but I’ll let you venture into the material yourself if you still wish to learn more.

Why would Paine not claim credit for this? It’s a pretty big deal, the Declaration of Independence. It’s been argued that he chose to remain anonymous for the same reason he published Common Sense anonymously (well, as “an Englishman”). He was not a politician, not an affluent member of society — he was basically a poor immigrant whom no one respected. He was the editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine but that was a rag with only 600 subscribers that he was hired to salvage. The Declaration of Independence had to come from the Continental Congress if countries like France or Russia were to recognize the sovereignty of America. And so Paine swallowed his pride and went along with it, probably more than happy to help out.

Paine did let it slip in a letter to Nathaniel Greene: “Perhaps with me a little degree of literary pride is connected with principle; for, as I had considerable share in promoting the Declaration of Independence in this country…” It’s an obscure point, but “literary pride” – sounds like someone was tooting his own horn there.

It’s important to note that Paine was an insider and was involved during this process of drafting the Declaration. When he arrived on American shores in 1774, he had nothing to his name but a letter of recommendation from Benjamin Franklin, who took a liking to the Englishman just before he embarked for America. During the period that the committee was in session to draft the Declaration, Paine was regularly in contact with Franklin and Adams. In fact, he wrote right around the time of the committee’s formation: “Were a manifesto to be published, and despatched to foreign Courts, setting forth the miseries we have endured, and the peaceful methods, which we have ineffectually used for redress; declaring at the same time, that not being able any longer to live happily or safely under the cruel disposition of the British Court, we had been driven to the necessity of breaking off all connections with her; at the same time, assuring all such Courts of our peaceable disposition towards them, and of our desire of entering into trade with them: such a memorial would produce more good effects to this Continent, than if a ship were freighted with petitions to Britain.” This idea of separation may have been his in the first place!

It is important to remember that almost no one until Paine showed up on the scene wanted separation from Britain. George Washington wrote to “set me down” if he ever supported separation. New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Delaware, Pennsylvania – all these colonies released resolutions begging the king for reconciliation right up until Paine’s Common Sense was published. “This besides being against independence,” Galambos groaned, “is nauseating…” They were “bowing down, scraping the floor” with wimpy language and sweet-talk for the king.

Jefferson wrote as if he was awaiting instructions, and would go one way or the other depending on how the delegates in the congress voted. “Should our convention propose to establish a new form of government,” he wrote in 1776, “perhaps it might be agreeable to recall for a short time their delegates…for should a bad government be instituted for us…” …blah-blah-blah. He was saying that he was open to reconciliation if it was the better option. Galambos had to ask, how could such a “forceful document” be written by someone who was acting like a mousy secretary?

So Paine is writing people letters about this great idea to declare independence and Jefferson is writing people letters about how they might hold out and get reconciliation. Got it.

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Let’s get into the slavery thing. Jefferson owned slaves, lots of them. And he only freed three upon his death. That’s how little he cared about their “rights.” Meanwhile, someone wrote in the original draft of the Declaration: “He has waged cruel War against human Nature itself, violating its most Sacred Right of Life and Liberty in the Persons of a distant People who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into Slavery in another Hemisphere, or to incur miserable Death, in their Transportation hither. This piratical Warfare, the opprobrium of infidel Powers, is the Warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain.”

Meanwhile, Paine wrote in the first paragraph of his article about slavery for the Pennsylvania Magazine: “That some desperate wretches should be willing to steal and enslave men by violence and murder for gain, is rather lamentable than strange. But that many civilized, nay, Christianized people should approve, and be concerned in the savage practice, is surprising; and still persist, though it has been so often proved contrary to the light of nature, to every principle of Justice and Humanity, and even good policy, by a succession of eminent men, and several late publications.”

When searching through Jefferson’s writing for tirades against slavery, one can only find a few choice sections, mostly concerned with the welfare of children who are watching their slave parents get beaten by the master: “If a parent could find no motive either in his philanthropy of his self love, for restraining the intemperance of passion toward his slave, it should always be a sufficient one that his child is present.” Shudder.

It’s not surprising that the slavery section of the original draft of the Declaration was crossed out rather quickly. We can’t be having none of that abolitionist stuff in a document that is supposed to unite thirteen colonies, many of which rely on slavery to exist. What is a little shocking is that Jefferson, the supposed author of the Declaration, allowed them to kill his darlings like a sad puppy takes a newspaper to its nose. Joseph Lewis still shakes his head from his grave: “Because of the power and prestige of Jefferson and other members of the Committee – Franklin, Livingston, Adams, Sherman – no serious opposition to its retention in the Declaration of Independence would have been met. Jefferson’s failure to defend the Slavery Clause is unforgivable, particularly when you consider that neither Adams nor Franklin – nor, in fact, any of the other members of the Committee – was opposed to it.”

John Adams wrote that he never heard Jefferson “utter three sentences together” while in the Continental Congress, and Jefferson himself wrote that he “thought it a duty to be, on that occasion, a passive auditor of the opinions of others.” I think it goes to show that he clearly didn’t feel the passion of the document in question.

It’s an interesting footnote in history that Thomas Paine, in 1779, was made the clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly. On that very same day, a bill was introduced to gradually abolish slavery in Pennsylvania. It’s possible Paine had his quill in the ink once again. Just a few months later, the bill was passed and slavery in Pennsylvania began to wither away.

Paine was indeed some sort of super hero whose sole duty was to destroy tyranny. Spoofing Benjamin Franklin, he once said that “Where liberty is not, there is my home.” And into the belly of the beast he marched after the American Revolution succeeded: he went to Britain and befriended Edmund Burke and numerous noblemen, then published Rights of Man and escaped the country just six hours before being arrested for treason. Then he went to France and helped kickstart the Revolution there before being jailed for treason – like everyone else during the Reign of Terror. Paine was seen as a traitor because he wanted them to let the king live. He proposed they send Louis to America to let him learn the ways of freedom – surely he would never become king of America – but the French insisted on the guillotine. Paine himself narrowly escaped the guillotine and managed to live out his final days in relative obscurity in New York.

Perhaps Paine preferred his obscurity – surely history has chosen to leave him on the sidelines – but his contributions are the most important among all of those by the Founding Fathers. In my opinion, Thomas Paine is not a “Founding Father,” but the badass uncle who knows a bunch of cool magic tricks and rides a motorcycle. Does it matter if people know he wrote the Declaration of Independence? I think it does, but only because it proves we’ve been lied to for generations about our supposed heroes. I don’t disrespect Thomas Jefferson – though the more I read about him these days, I’m less sure he’s the man I’m told he was. And of course, removing contradictions is one of the most liberating feelings the rational mind can experience. There is something about Jefferson that leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouths of many.

Joseph Ellis attempted to navigate the choppy sea between Jeffersonian worship and seething hatred in his book American Sphinx, which explores the paradoxical existence of the man who owned slaves yet supposedly wrote the Declaration of Independence. He concluded what another historian wrote already, “The true Jeffersonian legacy is to be hostile to legacies.” Ellis continued: “If he could make a miraculous appearance among us, it would be perfectly plausible for him to denounce the entire Jeffersonian enterprise as a massive waste of time. The present generation of Americans, he might well say, needs to liberate itself from the dead hand of ancestors and predecessors and seek its own fate and future. Indeed only by doing so will we remain faithful to the core Jeffersonian convictions.”

That much I can agree with Jefferson on, if that is what he would say. With that, the lessons in the case study of this Who-Dun-It become apparent. We do not need to be told who our heroes are. We can think for ourselves and come to our own conclusions. We should cherish ideas, not men. Thomas Paine understood this, and in the introduction to Common Sense, wrote:

“Who the Author of this Production is, is wholly unnecessary to the Public, as the Object for Attention is the Doctrine itself, not the Man. Yet it may not be unnecessary to say, That he is unconnected with any Party, and under no sort of Influence public or private, but the influence of reason and principle.”

Ideas change the world, not men. And if we all thought and communicated with this in mind – under the influence of reason and principle – the world would be much more free. Immediately.

[Thanks for reading. I’m curious what your thoughts are on the Who-Dun-It: Paine or Jefferson? Leave a comment or send me a message. It’s one of those mysteries of history that will never be solved, and I find it endlessly entertaining. -Rich]