MCKEAN, Thomas, 1734-1817, Signer (Delaware). Autograph letter signed ("Tho M:Kean") to "His Excellency John Adams," Philadelphia, January 1814. 2¼ pages, folio, minor spotting at top corner, the original signature cut away and neatly replaced with another genuine signature.
"...I RETURNED TO PHILADELPHIA, TOOK MY SEAT IN CONGRESS, & SIGN'D MY NAME TO THE DECLARATION ON PARCHMENT...": MCKEAN'S REMARKABLE ACCOUNT OF THE HISTORIC VOTE AND THE SIGNING OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
An extremely significant Signer letter containing McKean's detailed recollections of the historic vote for Independence, his own role in assuring Delaware voted in favor of it (by summoning the absent Caesar Rodney), and correcting the record as to the signing of the engrossed Declaration. The aged Signer confirms, rather wistfully, that many, including Dr. Benjamin Rush, have asked him to set down his recollections of the American Revolution but at his advanced age "it is out of the question." But, "tho' I shall never write a history I will give you an historical fact respecting the Declaration of Independence...."
"On the 1st of July 1776, the question was taken in the Committee of the whole of Congress, when Pennsylvania, represented by seven members, then present voted against it: 4 to 3; among the majority were Robert Morris and John Dickinson. Delaware, having only two present, namely myself & Mr. Read, was divided; all the other states voted in favor of it. The report was delayed until the 4th and in the mean time, I sent an express for Caesar Rodney to Dover...in Delaware, at my private expense, whom I met at the State House door [in Philadelphia] on the 4th of July in his Boots: he resided eighty miles from the city, and just arrived as Congress met. The question was taken, Delaware voted in favor of Independence; Pennsylvania (there being only five members present, Messers. Dickinson & Morris absent) voted also for it...Then the thirteen States were unanimous in favor of Independence."
Then, McKean attempts to correct a popular misconception about the signing of the engrossed Declaration of Independence, and an inaccurate list of the Signers in the journals of Congress, which omitted his name: "...in the printed public Journal of Congress for 1776...it appears, that the Declaration of Independence was declared on the 4th of July, by the gentlemen whose names are there; whereas no persons signed it that day, & among the names there inserted, one Gentleman, namely George Read, Esquire, was not in favor of it; and seven were not in Congress on that day, namely Messrs. Morris, Rush, Clymer, Smith, Taylor & Ross, all of Pennsylvania, and Mr.Thornton of New Hampshire; nor were the six gentlemen last named members of Congress on the 4th of July. The five for Pennsylvania were appointed Delegates by the Convention...on the 2nd of July and Mr. Thornton took his seat in Congress for the first time on the 4th of November following; when the names of Henry Wisner of New York and Thomas McKean of Delaware are not permitted an Subscription, tho' both were present in Congress on the 4th of July & voted for Independence." McKean had first pointed out the inaccurate list of Signers in the Journals as early as 1796, in a letter to A.J. Dallas (Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress, 1:533-534), and reverted to the omission in several subsequent letters (one to Caesar A. Rodney, 22 August 1813 (Letters, pp. 534-535). A careful analysis of the controversy of the signing--incorporating a number of letters bearing on the question--is in Letters, pp. 528-538, although the existence of the present letter of McKean is not noted).
McKean charges that "these false colors are certainly hung out; there is culpability somewhere...." He adds that "when the Declaration was voted, it was ordered to be engrossed on parchment & then signed...But, after the 4th of July I was not in Congress for several months, having marched with a Regiment...to support Gen'l Washington, until the Spring camp [the Flying Camp]...was completed. When...discharged, I returned to Philadelphia, took my seat in Congress, & sign'd my name to the declaration on parchment. This transaction should be truly stated...." It is now known that some 50 delegates to Congress--some of whom had not been present for the momentous vote on July 4, as McKean maintains--signed the finely engrossed Declaration on 2 August 1776. Later that year, five more added their signatures, but not McKean, in spite of his recollection stated here. Available evidence suggests that he had not affixed his signature to the printed copy disseminated by Congress on 17 January 1777. It is generally assumed that he signed at some indeterminate later date.
Provenance: Philip D. Sang (sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, 26 April 1778, part lot 262).