From Adults to Teens and Everything In Between

From Adults to Teens and Everything In Between

Friday, July 1, 2011

Ode to Thomas Jefferson, Patriot and Writer

This Fourth of July, I think it's important to pay homage to some of the greatest writers in American history.  They weren't novelists or poets.  They were the technical writers of their day.  There's no glory in technical writing, but as a reader trying to figure out how something works, you know immediately if the technical writing is bad.  The writers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were the ultimate technical writers, weren't they?

Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and James Madison, among others, wrote the documents that have been our nation's "user's guide" for over two centuries.   If you're like me, when you're trying to assemble some complicated toy on Christmas morning, nothing annoys me more than poorly written directions.  Think about the set of directions written by our founders:  they are general enough to leave room for interpretation, but specific enough that essential rights are identified and preserved.

The writing process for the Declaration of Independence was not unlike the publishing process of today.  We can consider Jefferson the author.  He presented his draft to John Adams and Ben Franklin, his writers' critique group.  It was a painful process for Jefferson, who had chosen every word of his draft with intention and care.  Nonetheless, Adams and Franklin suggested some changes.  The document then went forward to the Continental Congress, or the publishers, who made additional changes.

The Declaration was a proclamation of rights and a notice to the King that because he refused to recognize these rights, we were leaving the umbrella of his rule.  The Constitution, written in large part by James Madison, is the real blueprint for how our government would operate with the goal of preserving the rights enumerated in the Declaration.  Where Jefferson was artful in explaining abstract concepts, Madison was masterful in the specific implementation and protection of those concepts. 

If you're a writer or just someone who appreciates well-written instructions, I hope you spend some time re-reading these important documents and recognize the skillful craft that went into their creation.

Happy Independence Day, everyone!

1 comment:

  1. Rachel, what a thoughtful piece! I love the analogy of Jefferson to a "technical" writer of today! Nicely put!


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