Jacoby's Response to His Suspension

Jacoby says he was invited to resign from the Globe and he was told that if he did return, there would be a serious rethink of what he would be allowed to write.

Jeff Jacoby wrote this reponse and posted it on the Internet.

Several readers of my recent column on the signers of the Declaration of Independence have pointed out that these stories have been written about before. A few have wondered about my sources for this material. Still others have written to assure me that everything in the column has long since been debunked. Worst of all, some readers charged me with plagiarizing the column from, variously, Rush Limbaugh, Paul Harvey, and even an anonymous e-mail that has been circulating on the Internet. 

"I was suspended without pay for four months from my job at the Boston Globe and effectively invited to resign. I was put on notice that if I do choose to return in four months, there would have to be a 'serious rethink' of the kind of column I write."

Limbaugh, Harvey, and the anonymous e-mailer have indeed commented on the fates of some of the signers, as have American writers, orators, and historians for almost 200 years. Many books have been published with the title "Signers of the Declaration of Independence" or something very similar. In 1829, Rev. Charles Goodrich published "Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence" (much of which has been reproduced online). Eight years earlier, John Sanderson had produced "Lives of the Signers." In 1859, B.J. Lossing wrote "Biographical Sketches of the Signers of the Declaration of American Independence." More recently, Dorothy McGee's "Famous Signers of the Declaration" appeared in 1955; Katherine and John Bakeless's "Signers of the Declaration" was published in 1969; and Meldrim Thomson, the former governor of New Hampshire, Meldrim Thomson, wrote "100 Famous Founders" in 1992. And there are many more. I know this from consulting online inventories of booksellers, as well as from the extensive bibliography that appears at James Elbrecht's remarkable site on the myths and facts surrounding the signers - a site I wish I had learned of before doing this column: http://home.nycap.rr.com/elbrecht/signers/BIBLIOG.htm. 

In short, whatever-happened-to-the-signers is an old, old theme in American inspirational writing. It didn't start with Paul Harvey, Rush Limbaugh, or the author of that nameless e-mail. And it won't end with me. These stories have been repeated so often, and by so many people, that they have risen to the level of American legend. Which is why it didn't occur to me to take up valuable space in the column with footnotes or citations to earlier versions (many of which I didn't know about when I was writing.) 

As a columnist, I don't undertake original historical research, but I care greatly about accuracy. Knowing that previous treatments of the lives-of-the-signers theme contained mistakes and exaggerations, I tried to take pains not to repeat anything untrue. As best as I could, given the constraints of a deadline, I double-checked the biographical information I had, using encyclopedias of American history, books on the American Revolution, and relevant web sites, such as the one at www.colonialhall.com. That enabled me to eliminate several falsehoods that earlier versions of this subject had repeated, such as the myth that five signers were captured by the British and tortured to death for endorsing the Declaration. (Five signers were captured, but none was tortured or died in captivity.) I have since learned from Elbrecht's detailed research that I have unwittingly perpetuated some of the myths myself. (For instance, Thomas Nelson did not, on the evidence of his will, die a pauper, and the home occupied by the British during the Battle of Yorktown was not his but that of his uncle, who bore the same name.) 

In retrospect, I wish I had noted in the column that I am only the latest in a long line to write about the fate of signers of the Declaration after July 4, 1776. I would certainly urge anyone who is interested in knowing more about the subject to read some of the longer and more detailed works that have been written about them. Sometimes a newspaper column conveys all that needs to be said on a topic. At other times, like this one, a column can only scratch the surface. 


Jeff Jacoby