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Do you know who wrote the Declaration of Independence?

Words can be powerful, staggeringly so sometimes.

As a testament, today millions of Americans will study the words in the Bible in church services. In a few days, our nation will pause to celebrate a few words that started it all.

Our nation’s independence is rooted in the core character of our nation’s early settlers, but for most of us, a simple document, a little more than two feet by two feet, is the biggest symbol of our nation’s freedom.

The Declaration of Independence is, on some level, merely a 236-year-old piece of animal skin on which iron gall ink was applied.

But it’s the power of the words and their meaning — their powerful, gutsy meaning — that have made our country such a unique place for more than two centuries.

The declaration’s words clearly indicate the authors based their assertions on the belief in a higher power.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Critics may argue this point, but it’s always been reassuring to me to read this line and realize that people who recognized God’s existence founded our nation.

Imagine how gutsy it was for the 56 men who signed the document. They knew that by putting their names at the bottom of the sheet, their lives were in danger.

One has to wonder if put in the same circumstances that people of our generation would have the gumption to stand up and fight for our convictions.

Although future president Thomas Jefferson was the principal author, he was one of five people responsible for the words. The so-called Committee of Five also included future president John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman.

Perhaps surprisingly to many of us, who falsely believed the words on the parchment were literally penned by Jefferson’s own hand, the true scrivener has a fascinating tale of his own.

Experts tell us it is likely that Timothy Matlack, an assistant to the Secretary of Second Continental Congress, actually penned the words we see enshrined at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Matlack was an interesting fellow. He served in a number of capacities during the Revolutionary era. He’s not a household name, yet we see his handwriting all the time in both reproductions of the Declaration of Independence as well as several modern computer typefaces his penmanship likely inspired.

He was a merchant and a brewer, just like his father. But he was also a Quaker who had become separated from established Quaker groups because of his support of military action in the Revolution, as well as his belief that slavery was wrong and should be abolished quickly.

His religious beliefs were important to him, though, and eventually he helped found the Society of Free Quakers.

Matlack, like many Americans, had flaws, too. He was thrown into prison for not paying his debts once.

But just like the words he copied, Matlack believed that all people had rights — even those others had enslaved.

Although he was not an official signer, it’s interesting to think that this soulful, colorful character’s hands were all over it.

As you celebrate Independence Day this week, think of Matlack, and all of the others who were part of the bold steps that pushed our country onto a path of independence, with God as the foundation.


Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.