According to a popular story, on July 4, 1776, the delegates at the Continental Congress were finally convinced to sign the Declaration of Independence by a rousing speech made by an "unknown patriot," who exhorted the delegates,
Sign! if the next moment the gibbet's rope is round your neck! Sign! if the next moment this hall rings with the echo of the falling axe! Sign! By all your hopes in life or death, as husbands—as fathers—as men—sign your names to the Parchment or be accursed forever!
This story is a work of historical fiction. It appeared in George Lippard's Washington and His Generals; Or, Legends of the Revolution.1 According to American National Biography, Lippard "wrote many semifanciful 'legends' of American history, mythologizing the founding fathers and retelling key moments of the American Revolution so vividly that several of the legends...became part of American folklore."2
The story of the "unknown patriot" was further popularized by Manly P. Hall, a writer and mystic, who used it in a lecture published in The Secret Destiny of America.3 Ronald Reagan also later used the story of the "unknown patriot" in his commencement speech at Eureka College on June 7, 1957.4
Both Hall and Reagan claimed that the story of the "unknown patriot" is related in Thomas Jefferson's records, but no such story has ever been found in Jefferson's writings.