Thomas Jefferson - WRITING the DECLARATION

WRITING the DECLARATION (Illustration) American History American Revolution Awesome Radio - Narrated Stories Government Law and Politics Slaves and Slave Owners Social Studies Biographies

This image - from a postcard based on the oil-on-canvas painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863-1930) - depicts what it may have been like to watch Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson assessing, and editing, Jefferson's draft of the Declaration of Independence.  Online, courtesy Library of Congress.


As Jefferson created the document which became America's creed, how much time did he spend on his project? Where did he find words like "the pursuit of happiness?"

Widely read, Jefferson absorbed the concepts of such writers and merged what he found useful with his own thinking. All of his preliminary declaration drafts are lost to time except for one surviving fragment.

But ... why did Jefferson mix and match various phrases from various thinkers, utilizing some words and eliminating others? Fourteen months before he died, Jefferson explains what he was trying to accomplish in his May 8, 1825 letter to Henry Lee:

This was the object of the Declaration of Independence.

Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take.

Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion.

All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c.

Yet ... there was something new in Jefferson's Declaration:

  • In a culture of slavery, he declared that all men are created equal.
  • In a country ruled by a King, he declared that government is legitimate only if the governed consent.
  • In colonies which were not yet states, he declared the purpose of government is to protect the natural rights of its people.

These were heady thoughts, and it is now time for us to more closely examine the actual words.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jul 01, 2008

Updated Last Revision: Jun 29, 2019

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"WRITING the DECLARATION" AwesomeStories.com. Jul 01, 2008. Feb 23, 2020.
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