On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee introduced into Congress a resolution (adopted on July 2) which asserted that ‘these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, fee and independent States’. While this resolution was being discussed, on June 11, a committee, consisting of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger Sherman, was appointed to draft a Declaration of Independence. In his autobiography written in 1805, Adams states that the committee of five decided upon ‘which the declaration was to consist’, and it then appointed Jefferson and himself to form a subcommittee to really write them down. Now Jefferson and Adams have two completely different versions of what happened then.
Jefferson proposed to me to make the draught, I said I will not; You shall do it. Oh no! Why will you not? You ought to do it. I will not. Why? Reasons enough. What can be your reasons? Reason first. You are a Virginian and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second. I am obnoxious, suspected and unpopular; you are very much otherwise. Reason third. You can write ten times better than I can. ‘Well’, said Jefferson, ‘if you are decided I will do as well as I can’. Very well, when you have drawn it up we will have a meeting.
Jefferson's version is completely different. In a letter to Madison of 1823 he writes (excerpts only):
Mr. Adams memory has led him into unquestionable error. At the age of 88 and 47 years after the transactions….this is not wonderful. Nor should I….venture to oppose my memory to his, were it not supported by written notes, taken by myself at the moment and on the spot….The committee of 5 met…but they unanimously pressed on myself alone to undertake the draught. I consented; I drew it up; but before I reported it to the committee I communicated it separately to Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams requesting their corrections…and you have seen the original paper now in my hands, with the corrections of Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams interlined in their own handwriting. Their alternations were two or three only, and merely verbal. I then write a fair copy, reported it to the committee, and from them, unaltered to the Congress. (Here is a link to the complete letter).
I find this very interesting because most of the articles I read, said there were 86 changes made. But, I also read an article that said there were 47 changes made. If someone wants to do all the homework and
Final version of the text -
Some of the phrases are different from the first drafts - Here is a link to the original version in case you would like to compare.
The Final Text of the Declaration of Independence July 4 1776
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and 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 separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislature.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their acts of pretended Legislation:
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing taxes on us without our consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offenses:
For abolishing the free System of English laws in a neighboring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions. (In Jefferson's draft there is a part on slavery here).
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
WE, THEREFORE, the representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
JOHN HANCOCK, PresidentAttested, CHARLES THOMSON, Secretary
New Hampshire JOSIAH BARTLETT WM. WHIPPLE MATTHEW THORNTON
Massachusetts Bay SAML. ADAMS JOHN ADAMS ROBT. TREAT PAINE ELBRIDGE GERRY
Rhode Island STEPH. HOPKINS WILLIAM ELLERY
Connecticut ROGER SHERMAN SAM’EL HUNTINGTON WM WILLIAMS OLIVER WOLCOTT
New York WM FLOYD PHIL. LIVINGSTON FRANS. LEWIS LEWIS MORRIS
New Jersey RICHD. STOCKTON JNO. WITHERSPOON FRAS. HOPKINSONJOHN HART ABRA. CLARK
Pennsylvania ROBT. MORRIS BENJAMIN RUSH BENJA. FRANKLIN JOHN MORTON GEO. CLYMER JAS. SMITH GEO. TAYLOR JAMES WILSON GEO. ROSS
Delaware CAESAR RODNEY GEO. READ THO. M'KEAN
Maryland SAMUEL CHASE WM. PACA THOS. STONE CHARLES CARROLL OF Carrollton
Virginia GEORGE WYTHE RICHARD HENRY LEE TH. JEFFERSON BENJA. HARRISON THOs. NELSON, jr. FRANCIS LIGHTFOOT LEE CARTER BRAXTON
North Carolina Wm. HOOPER JOSEPH HEWES JOHN PENN
South Carolina THOMAS HEYWARD, Junr.EDWARD RUTLEDGE THOMAS LYNCH, Junr. ARTHUR MIDDLETON
Georgia BUTTON GWINNETT LYMAN HALL GEO. WALTON
NOTE.—The proof of this document, as published above, was read by Mr. Ferdinand Jefferson, the Keeper of the Rolls at the Department of State, at Washington, who compared it with the fac-simile of the original in his custody. He says: ‘‘In the facsimile, as in the original, the whole instrument runs on without a break, but dashes are mostly inserted. I have, in this copy, followed the arrangement of paragraphs adopted in the publication of the Declaration in the newspaper of John Dunlap, and as printed by him for the Congress, which printed copy is inserted in the original Journal of the old Congress. The same paragraphs are also made by the author, in the original draught preserved in the Department of State.”
NOTE.—Mr. Ferdinand Jefferson, Keeper of the Rolls in the Department of State, at Washington, says: ‘‘The names of the signers are spelt above as in the fac-simile of the original, but the punctuation of them is not always the same; neither do the names of the States appear in the fac-simile of the original. The names of the signers of each State are grouped together in the fac-simile of the original, except the name of Matthew Thornton, which follows Oliver Wolcott.”
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