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Declaration, Rough Draft


A true first draft of The Declaration of Independence is not available to historians. Jefferson’s “First Rough Draft” has the same feel as the final version we are used to be familiar with. It begins:

A Declaration of[1] the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in General Congress assembled.

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for a people to advance from that subordination in which they have hitherto remained, & to assume among the powers of the earth the equal & independant station to which the laws of nature & of nature’s god entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the change.

We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable;[2] that all men are created equal & independant, that from that equal creation they derive rights[3] inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these ends, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government shall become destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, & to institute new government, laying it’s foundation on such principles & organising it’s powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety & happiness.

I notice the greater clarity on our equality at creation. We are equal only in the sense of endowed rights, not in talents nor in outcomes. This is not a Declaration of Justice.

Another bit that seems contrary to revisionist versions of the American Dream appears among the justifications for secession:

[King George] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce:[11] and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.

As much as slavery was woven into the Founding, so was abolition. It was an open question.

Also, was Jefferson indicting the King as a bad Christian, or was he impugning Christianity with George merely as an example of its profanity?

On both of these points, a wider familarity of this Rough Draft would improve current debate. Words matter.