We all have to submit our copy to someone else: a creative director, an editor, a client, legal compliance.
No one is immune when William Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence he had to submit it to Ben Franklin: “Will Doctor Franklin be so good as to peruse it and suggest such alterations as his more enlarged view of the subject will dictate?”
Franklin did, and one of the most famous sentences in the English language was born.
Jefferson wrote: “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and property.”
Franklin crossed out “sacred and undeniable”, it sounded too religious.
He replaced it with “self-evident”.
Jefferson had been a follower of the philosopher John Locke.
But Franklin was a follower of the scientist Isaac Newton and also David Hume, so he wanted the declaration to be founded in reason, not religion.
David Hume divided facts into Synthetic and Analytic.
Synthetic facts were simple and unarguable: all bachelors are unmarried.
Analytic facts could be proved by reason: the angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees.
Hume often referred to these facts as “self-evident” which meant proved by reason and so beyond question.
So Franklin replaced Jefferson’s religious-sounding “sacred”with “self-evident”.
Which became: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,”
Franklin also replaced the word “property” at the end of the sentence.
Again, Jefferson had been influenced by Locke, who felt that each man should have the right to own his own land, not merely work it for the landowner, usually the King or a Baron.
Franklin’s problem was what happened when the right to own ‘property’ was enshrined into the Declaration of Independence.
At some point in the future, the newly independent colonies would need to create their own infrastructure: army, navy, police-force, roads, government buildings, civil service.
These would have to be paid for by some form of tax.
How could they force people to pay over part of their property if the right to own it was enshrined into the Declaration of Independence?
So the words: “life, liberty, and property” were changed to “life. Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.
But sometimes you may have to resist changes, and this is where knowledge always helps.
Recently, a client’s “Compliance Department” told me I couldn’t use a certain phrase in a script as it wasn’t legally true and wouldn’t get through Clearcast (TV script approval).
Now the people in Compliance are lawyers, and they know the law.
Fair enough, but they don’t know Advertising, that’s my job.
What I knew was Clearcast’s guidelines on “advertising puffery”.
I know these because I often have to argue for my scripts.
The relevant part is section 3.4, and it goes as follows:
“Obvious exaggerations (“puffery”) and claims that the average consumer who sees the ad is unlikely to take seriously are allowed provided they do not materially mislead.”
In other words, ‘jokes’ are okay, lies are not.
I was able to send that to the lawyers who, once they’d seen it, approved the ad.
If I hadn’t known that I would have lost the ad.
That’s why Carl Ally said: “The creative person wants to be a know-it-all. He wants to know about all kinds of things: ancient history, nineteenth-century mathematics, current manufacturing techniques, hog futures. Because he never knows when these ideas might come together to form a new idea. It may happen six minutes later, or six months, or six years. But he has faith that it will happen.”
Huh, I always thought Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. Perhaps William was his under-appreciated cousin? Getting such a basic fact wrong (even if you are British) diminishes one’s claim to being a know-it-all. A little more review may have been helpful in this case.