Very little is known of the Italian who served as a secret agent for the colonies during the American Revolution. His name was Filippo Mazzei, born December 25, 1730 in the vicinity of Tuscany, Italy. He studied medicine in Florence and practiced as a medical physician until he decided to move to London, England where he entered the mercantile business.
While there, he met and befriended two gentlemen with whom he shared his interest in politics and libertarian values. Their names were Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. At their suggestion, Dr. Mazzei accompanied them to Virginia. He became both friend and neighbor to Thomas Jefferson and like a true Italian, introduced to Jefferson the cultivation of vineyards. This gesture was well received by Jefferson, whose interest and expertise in botany were widely known.
But Dr. Mazzei had other talents. John F. Kennedy, in his book, A Nation of Immigrants, referred to Filippo Mazzei as a patriot and pamphleteer. A man who believed so much in liberty and equality, that among his writings were the phrases, “Tutti Gli uomini sono per natura liberi e indipendenti. Quest’egualianza e necessaria per costruire un governo libero. Bisogno che ognuno sia uguale all’altro nel diritto naturale.” These words would later prove to be extremely significant in what was about to occur.
The words were translated from Italian to English by Thomas Jefferson as, “All men are, by nature, free and independent. Such equality is necessary in order to create a free government. All men must be equal to each other in natural law.”
|(Excerpt of 1794 letter from Mazzei to Jefferson)|
Now, it is well known that the Declaration of Independence was written by Thomas Jefferson, however it must also be said that Thomas Jefferson, in translating Dr. Mazzei’s words, paraphrased and shortened them into what has now become the five famous words known to practically every American today. These words are, “All men are created equal.” At the suggestion of the Italian patriot and immigrant, these five words, borrowed by Jefferson, from Mazzei’s phraseology, were included in the Declaration of Independence which was signed on July 4, 1776.
Filippo Mazzei later served as a secret agent for the American colonies, purchasing arms in Europe and secretly shipping them to Virginia during the American Revolution. He later traveled throughout Europe promoting republic ideals. He wrote a political history of the American Revolution and became an unofficial ambassador for American political philosophy.
Filippo Mazzei died in Pisa, Italy in 1816. After his death, the remainder of his family, at the urging of Thomas Jefferson, returned to the United States of America and settled in Massachusetts and Virginia.
Over two hundred years later, during the 103rd Session of Congress (1993-1994), the Joint Resolution Number 175 was voted upon. At that time, the United States Congress acknowledged an historical oversight in that Filippo Mazzei’s contribution to the Declaration of Independence had never been acknowledged and whereas Thomas Jefferson had essentially borrowed the phrase, “All men are created equal” from the writings of Dr. Filippo Mazzei.
[Mazzei image from New York Public Library Digital Gallery; document excerpt from the Library of Congress Digital Collection, Jefferson Papers]
Thank you for the interesting history lesson.ReplyDelete