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Rough draft of the Declaration Of Independence

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Rough draft of the Declaration Of Independence

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Of all his writings, Thomas Jefferson's most famous and far-reaching was undoubtedly his draft of the Declaration of Independence.

Although the issue of slavery was widely debated -- both the chattel slavery of Africans in America and the civil slavery that fired patriot rhetoric -- it is conspicuously absent from the final version of the Declaration. Yet in his rough draft, Jefferson railed against King George III for creating and sustaining the slave trade, describing it as "a cruel war against human nature."

Although Jefferson's description of the slave trade was as much an indictment of the colonies as of Britain and the king, the issue that most distressed the patriots stemmed from Lord Dunmore's 1775 proclamation that offered freedom to slaves who joined the British cause: "...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 on whom he also obtruded them..."

When the document was presented to the Continental Congress on July 1, 1776, both northern and southern slaveholding delegates objected to its inclusion, and it was removed. The only remaining allusion to the original paragraph on slavery is the phrase "He has excited domestic Insurrections among us," included in a list of grievances against the king.

Image Credit: Courtesy Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston

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Related Entries:
Thomas Jefferson by Peale
Jefferson's reply to Banneker
David Blight on the Declaration of Independence and morality
Colin Powell on the Declaration of Independence and how it applied to black people
John Kaminski on the Declaration of Independence
John Kaminski on the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence

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