Hinckley judge provides insight into nation’s history

Providing some eye-opening facts about the Declaration of Independence and one of its primary authors, Thomas Jefferson, Hinckley resident and former judge, Paul T. Kirner, spoke to members of the Hinckley Historical Society and guests on Nov. 12.

Though the title of his presentation was “Uncommon facts related to the Declaration of Independence and Jefferson’s involvement,” the facts he presented aren’t necessarily those found in high school history books.

Kirner, a graduate of Cleveland Marshal School of Law and 50-year attorney, magistrate and judge in Berea and Parma, also served as special counsel for five different attorney generals and served two terms as a commissioner for the Ohio Supreme Court. In 2015 he was selected as the year’s Most Interesting Person by Cleveland Magazine. While he could likely recite most of the Declaration of Independence by heart, his insight into some of the more peculiar facts surrounding the document and Jefferson’s involvement, easily captured the attention of the audience.

Here’s one for starters. Kirner said there were 86 changes to the Declaration of Independence before it was sent to the printer. The document, technically, was signed on July 2 and that date technically should be the day the country celebrates Independence Day. However, the printer received the document on July 4, said Kirner.

“It’s said that this printing error set in stone the Fourth of July as Independence Day,” said Kirner.

Kirner began his talk providing a hypothetical scenario of what Jefferson would have encountered during the days of forming one of the nation’s most important documents.

“Being one of five persons, including John Adams, on the committee selected to write the document, Adams said Jefferson should write the document since he was from Virginia which was the largest colony,” said Kirner. “Adams knew he was not well liked and was long winded and he felt Jefferson could write 10 times better than anyone.”

Kirner described Jefferson working alone in a humid room in the Pennsylvania State House for five days taking inspiration from three of his favorite philosophers: John Locke, Thomas Payne and Francis Bacon.         

“Jefferson took a page out of John Locke’s book,” Kirner noted. “He said a nation should preserve the inalienable rights of life, liberty and property. Jefferson wrote that a nation should reserve the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Thus, the right to property like slavery was not part of the Declaration of Independence but Jefferson knew one day slavery would be abolished.”

At one point, Kirner described a well-known painting by John Trumble of the committee presenting Jefferson’s original document to President John Hancock for critical Congressional review.

“It was once believed that this painting depicts Jefferson stepping on Adam’s foot to keep him from making one of his painfully long rambling speeches but it is a myth,” said Kirner. “What it actually shows is the presentation of the document Jefferson wrote believing no changes would be necessary. With 86 changes made, Jefferson felt his document ‘had been mutilated.’”

Kirner described Jefferson “as a humble, timid, soft spoken scholarly man.”

“[Jefferson] is known to have told only one joke based on a letter he received from a U.S. Congressman asking why there were 150 congressmen and yet nothing seemed to be getting done,” Kirner joked.

Featured Photo: Hinckley resident and former judge Paul Kirner presented some unknown facts about the Declaration of Independence and Thomas Jefferson to the Hinckley Historical Society members and guests.