Filippo Mazzei: Italian of the Week

Filippo Mazzei was an Italian who was a contributor to both the Declaration of Independence and American Revolution. Today, on our Independence Day, we honor Filippo’s memory and contribution to our great nation.

MazzeiFilippo Mazzei was born in 1730 in Tuscany, Italy. He studied medicine in his home country, but soon moved to London to try his hand at being a wine merchant. Thanks to his business connections, he befriended Thomas Jefferson, the two exchanged letters for several years before actually meeting. In 1773, Filippo – who had at that time adopted the name Philip – moved to Virginia. There he purchased some property and started his next phase in life as a farmer and revolutionary. During this time Filippo worked closely with Jefferson. The two would create and print various propaganda on independence and religious freedom, and he was among a select group who Jefferson asked to take a look at a draft of the Declaration of Independence. By 1778 Jefferson, Patrick Henry and others decided Filippo’s expertise would be best used abroad in an attempt to gain useful information – both politically and militarily – for the Revolutionary War. Filippo retired when he was 62 in Pisa, Italy. He continued to write to Jefferson and his friends in their newly established country: the United States of America. He also wrote various articles, essays, memoirs and books on the American Revolution until his death in 1816. Perhaps most important was Filippo Mazzei’s contribution to the Declaration of Independence. In 1774, Filippo wrote an article for The Virginia Gazette, which was translated from Italian into English by Jefferson. He wrote:Capture

Tutti gli uomini sono per natura egualmente liberi e indipendenti. Quest’eguaglianza è necessaria per costituire un governo libero. Bisogna che ognuno sia uguale all’altro nel diritto naturale. All men are by nature equally 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.

It is clear that this ideology influenced one of the most popular and well-known sentiments from the Declaration: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. In 1958, John F. Kennedy acknowledged Filippo Mazzei’s contribution to the Declaration when he wrote in his book “A Nation of Immigrants:”

The great doctrine ‘All men are created equal’ incorporated into the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson, was paraphrased from the writing of Philip Mazzei, an Italian-born patriot and pamphleteer, who was a close friend of Jefferson. A few alleged scholars try to discredit Mazzei as the creator of this statement and idea, saying that ‘there is no mention of it anywhere until after the Declaration was published’. This phrase appears in Italian in Mazzei’s own hand, written in Italian, several years prior to the writing of the Declaration of Independence. Mazzei and Jefferson often exchanged ideas about true liberty and freedom.

Sources: The New York Times, Thomas Jefferson Foundation, L’Italo-American

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4 thoughts on “Filippo Mazzei: Italian of the Week

  1. I am just reading Sisater Margherita Marchione’s text on Mazzei and I am finding it a historical delight. Might anyone know where to find a bust of Mazzei? I have been searchign for a few weeks on-line and have yet to be able to find one.

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