Today, the Thomas Jefferson Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin remembers the actions of Congress on April 28, 1880 as they accepted a small desk from a Massachusetts family.
First, from the Proceedings Had in the Senate and House of Representatives, April 23, 1880, a speech by Senator Dawes of Massachusetts:
This joint resolution having been read twice, is before the Senate as in Committee of the Whole.
Mr. President, I cannot think that the Senate will object to an interruption of its ordinary business to consider for a brief moment so interesting a subject as that contained in the resolutions which have just come from the House.
The message of the President and the resolutions themselves have already communicated to us so much of the history of the subject to which they allude that little more is necessary to put us in possession of the facts which impart to it an interest and value justifying these proceedings.
This small, plain, unpolished mahogany writing-desk was once the property of Thomas Jefferson.
Why it has been preserved with scrupulous care, and now arrests the attention of the nation, he himself, after keeping it for half a century, has told us in an inscription placed upon it by his own hand in the last year of his life, in these words:
Thomas Jefferson gives this writing-desk to Joseph Coolidge, Jr., as a memorial of his affection. It was made from a drawing of his own, by Ben. Randall, cabinet-maker, of Philadelphia, with whom he first lodged on his arrival in that city in May, 1776, and is the identical one on which he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Politics as well as religion has its superstitions. These, gaining strength with time, may one day give imaginary value to this relic for its association with the birth of the great charter of our independence. November 15, 1825.
Mr. Coolidge was the husband of a granddaughter of Mr. Jefferson. He was a resident of Boston, and has recently deceased. His children, Mr. J. Randolph Coolidge, Mr. Algernon Coolidge, Mr. Thomas Jefferson Coolidge, and Mrs. Ellen Dwight, through our distinguished fellow-citizen, the Hon. Robert C. Winthrop, now present this most remarkable relic to the United States.
Embellishment or enlargement can add nothing to this simple story.
It is, of itself, enough to draw to this plain memorial the homage of mankind, and will be told to listening pilgrims and votaries in all the generations that shall count the years of the Republic and the spread of free institutions in the world.
The man, the occasion, and the subject crowd in upon our thoughts and fill us with the admiration and wonder of those who look upon the place where miracles have been wrought.
The youngest and least experienced of all his associates in practical government, none of whom had shared in anything but the affairs of a dependent colony, is called upon to commit to writing, for the judgment of all mankind and for all time, the reasons for the dismemberment of an empire and the creation of a republic among the nations of the earth.
And the work thus undertaken was so accomplished, upon this writing-desk, that the test of a century of criticism and trial has only made it more clear that nothing could have been added or excluded.
Constitutions based upon it have indeed been altered and amended many times, but it has always been in the endeavor to more and more conform them to the great truths enunciated in this immortal instrument.
Mr. Jefferson termed it in the inscription upon this memorial, after fifty years of experience and growth, “the charter of our independence.”
It is more. A century of political commotion and upheaval has proven it to be the great title-deed of free institutions throughout the world.
It cannot but be that everything connected with the production of this wonderful instrument will be cherished by the American people with an almost sacred reverence, and by lovers of free institutions everywhere with the regard which draws the devout to a shrine.
Let, therefore, this writing-desk, upon which it was written, be gladly accepted by the nation and carefully preserved with the great charter itself in the archives of that mighty government thus called into being.
And there, with the sword of Washington and the staff of Franklin, which the nation has already accepted with reverent gratitude, let these muniments of our title be preserved evermore.
I should, Mr. President, fail altogether in my duty to the people of Massachusetts if I did not give expression at this time to their great gratification for the large share that Commonwealth has had from the beginning in all that makes this occasion proper or worthy of attention.
Massachusetts and Virginia had from the outset of the Revolution conspicuously joined hands in the great struggle, sharing the obloquies and perils with which it opened on their soil.
Arthur Lee, of Virginia, had, for many years before, as the agent of Massachusetts, pleaded her cause before the British throne.
Samuel Adams and Richard Henry Lee kindled together the fires of the Revolution.
It was on motion of John Adams, in a most critical period in the temper of the Colonies, that Washington himself was called to the command of the American Armies.
Mr. Adams was with Mr. Jefferson upon the committee instructed by the Continental Congress to draft a declaration of independence, and joined in imposing that duty upon one many years his junior, because of his “reputation for a matchless felicity in embodying popular ideas.”
That matchless felicity of Mr. Jefferson produced the Declaration of Independence, and the peerless eloquence of John Adams carried it through a hesitating Congress.
These distinguished patriots having each in turn enjoyed the highest honors of the Republic they had together so conspicuously helped to create, were both permitted by Providence to close their illustrious career on the fiftieth anniversary of the day they had made immortal, and to pass together to their reward amid the shouts of a people applauding their great work.
And now this precious relic, around which so many memories of the great actors of the Revolution cluster, kept by Virginia for fifty years and then committed by its illustrious owner to the care of Massachusetts for another half century, is to-day donated to the United States by those in whose veins commingle the blood of both these ancient Commonwealths.
Thus do Massachusetts and Virginia again stand side by side amid the glories which have come down to us from the Revolution.
I hope, Mr. President, that the third reading of the resolution will be unanimously ordered.
Just a few days later on April 28, 1880, the following resolution passed.
From the Statutes at Large for 1880:
[No . 26.] Joint resolution accepting the gift of the desk used by Thomas Jefferson in writing the Declaration of Independence.
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the thanks of this Congress be presented to J . Randolph Coolidge, Algernon Coolidge, Thomas Jefferson Coolidge, and Mrs Ellen Dwight, citizens of Massachusetts, for the the patriotic gift of the writing desk presented by Thomas Jefferson to their father, the late Joseph Coolidge, upon which the Declaration of Independence was written .
And be it further resolved, That this precious relic is hereby accepted in the name of the Nation, and that the same be deposited for safe keeping in the Department of State of the United States .
And be it further resolved, That a copy of these resolutions, signed by the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives be transmitted to the donors.
Approved, April 28, 1880.
The Thomas Jefferson Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin shows with an image of his plans for a writing desk, undated, from his papers at the Library of Congress.