Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Jefferson’

The Commercial of Independence

Posted in General, On This Day on July 3rd, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

Thomas Jefferson was the copywriter of the Declaration of Independence. Yes, alas, our country’s founding document is a masterpiece of product placement. In fairness to Jefferson, the shameless hucksterism was not his idea. Poor Tom was manipulated and bullied by the business manager of the Continental Congress.

The Congress had hired a young Scotsman, an economics major at Columbia, to get corporate discounts on quills–and maybe a few “comps” at Philiadelphia taverns. But the teenage “go-getter” took the initiative of selling advertising space on the Declaration. The income covered his salary as well as a consulting fee for John Hancock. Any money leftover would be sent to the Continental Army. So Jefferson was told that he had to insert the commercial plugs into his writing.

Some of Jefferson’s most stirring prose was actually ad copy. Consider his evocation of “Nature’s God.” That was not an expression of his deism but an endorsement of a then popular laxative. (The combination of tobacco and pork fat really is effective.) Unfortunately, many of the advertisers were infuriated by misprints in the Declaration. For example, there was to be an ad touting the inn of Aileen and Abel Wright; but no one wants to stay at an “Un.” And you can imagine the indignation of the wig manufacturer The Hirsute of Happiness. The corrections were made on the second printing of the Declaration, but no one apparently read it.

Many of the delegates at the Continental Congress resented the blatant commercialism and their exploitation as celebrity endorsers. (Only Ben Franklin was allowed to market Ben Franklin!) The Declaration was almost voted down; by and large, the delegates preferred the tyranny of George III to that of Alexander Hamilton. The American Revolution was saved when Jefferson added a codicil to the Declaration; only then, the delegates eagerly pledged “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” Surprisingly, it took 28 years before a hitman collected on the contract.