Thomas Jefferson was a shy man. While disarmingly charming among people he knew, he could seem cool and distant to others. At 33 he was the youngest delegate to Continental Congress. He did not participate in the rough and tumble of Congressional debate. As John Adams later recalled (Autobiography, part 1, ms. p. 24), he
had attended his Duty in the House but a very small part of the time and when there had never spoken in public: and during the whole Time I satt [sic] with him in Congress, I never heard him utter three Sentences together.
Jefferson was a writer.
Drafting the Declaration was an assignment on deadline. He had received instructions from the Committee of Five on the tenor and the kinds of points that needed to be made. Afterwards, taking comments and criticism on his draft from members of the Committee, he edited his work.
Tradition has it that Franklin (since it looks like his handwriting) sharpened
sacred and undeniable to
self-evident. Perhaps Jefferson himself realized that the next conjunction,
equal and independent, was no longer rhetorically balanced. There is no way to know for certain, and it has also been argued that Adams emended the text. And who added
they are endowed by their creator — which has no antecedent in Mason’s Declaration of Rights?
Though Jefferson no doubt accepted revisions from members of the Committee with grace, it must have been excruciating for him to sit through three days of debate and revision by the full Congress (2 – 4 July 1776). Counter-intuitively, it improved the Declaration, elaborating or tightening and deleting large portions toward the end. Of course given the political realities and the very real attachment of the southern colonies to their
peculiar institution, the paragraph on the slave trade was expunged as well.
The famous 35 words under consideration here, however — except for the substitution of a word, a change to word form, and standardization by the printer — were left intact:
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.
Today, whether the Fourth of July or any other day, we regard these founding words as the words of Thomas Jefferson.
§ § §
1. Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights — approved 12 June 1776 by the Virginia Convention
2. Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence — changes by Jefferson and the Committee of Five
3. First printed version of the Declaration — changes by Congress and the printer, John Dunlap
We hold these truths to be
sacred and undeniable self-evident
<< unchanged >>
That all men are by nature
that all men are created
<< unchanged >>
equally free and independent
<< unchanged >>
from that equal creation they derive they are endowed by their creator
that they are endowed by their Creator
and have certain inherent rights
rights with inherent
of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity
& inalienable rights inalienable unalienable Rights
namely the enjoyment of life and liberty
which these are life, & liberty
that among these are Life, Liberty
with the means of acquiring and possessing property
and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety
& the pursuit of happiness
& and the pursuit of Happiness