The Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson and the Foundation of American Liberty
Drafting the Declaration• June 7, resolution put forward to declare independence from Britain. Resolution tabled until July 1. Comm. of 5 formed to put forward articles of declaration until that time. Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston. – All members of this committee overworked. Congress spending great energies dealing with the already brewing war.
Drafting the Declaration• Jefferson not a happy man in Philadelphia – Wanted to be in VA working on constitution. – Wife ill at Monticello. Wanted to be with her. – On no fewer than 34 committees. – He could not afford to skip sessions of Cong. to write- his presence was necessary for VA to have sufficient numbers to vote. – Jefferson‟s work load and distractions caused him to draw upon all available resources to get his draft together.
Drafting the Declaration• Jefferson chosen to write the draft. Why? – Known as a good writer- A Summary View of the Rights of British America. – Virginian- much of the conflict had been in the North, so some wanted to put a Southerner in the lead.
Drafting the Declaration• Jefferson chosen to write the draft. Why? – Perhaps no one else saw this as important • Lexington, Concord, Bunker Hill had already happened. • In May Congress had already directed the states to write constitutions- a clear statement of independence. • Events clearly outstripping the ability of Congress to issue “declarations” • People had too much other work to do. Could not predict the importance that subsequent generations would give to it. Would it have had that importance if other(s) had written it?
Drafting the DeclarationJefferson sits down and writes. – Writes over a period of about 2 weeks in June (11th to 28th) but had many other tasks to perform, so had much less than two weeks. – Writes in privacy of rented home. On his new lap desk.
Drafting the Declaration• Consults “no books or pamphlets” in his words. True, but… – Heavily steeped in Locke. State of nature. Life, liberty and property. Natural law. – Used his draft of Const. for VA which had most of his list of charges against the King. – Obviously remembered his Summary View • Had been very radical. • Said parliament no right at all to govern the colonies • Had challenged the King in the Summary View, now he pushed it further.
Drafting the DeclarationGeorge Mason‟s preamble to VA Const. was published in Pennsylvania Gazette. • “All men are created equally free and independent and have certain inherent and natural rights…, among which are the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”
Drafting the Declaration• Jefferson‟s draft no effort to educate- use logic and reason to persuade. – Nothing new: „place the common sense wisdom before the people‟• Also relies greatly on rhetoric.• Moral truths he did not feel compelled to explain- self-evident truths. Axioms. Influence of the Enlightenment here.
Drafting the Declaration• Focuses on King, not Parliament – Jefferson had already dealt with Parliament in Summary View. – Colonies had made appeals to King already and got nowhere, so now break last tie (assuming that tie to parliament already broken). – Greater rhetorical value if attack king.• Replaces property with pursuit of happiness- TJ more interested in freedom of conscience and person beyond mere property. Property a means to happiness.
Declaration in Congress• Declaration goes to Congress – Makes some changes. Most in charges against King. – Pained Jefferson greatly. • Franklin and Hat story. – Changes generally toned down Jefferson‟s charges. • “unsullied by falsehood” replaced • attacks on British people generally edited out. • slavery passage removed. – Document probably improved by the edits.• July 2 independence adopted.• July 4 Declaration approved