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Declaration of Independence, manuscript copy by Thomas Jefferson, [1776]

Declaration of Independence, manuscript copy by Thomas Jefferson, [1776]

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  • [ This description is from the project: Witness to America's Past ]

    Thomas Jefferson's revised draft of the Declaration of Independence was subjected to considerable congressional surgery before it was authorized and printed. Some of the changes were necessary: the text of the resolution for independence, approved after the Declaration was drafted, was appended to the Declaration. Some changes were political: Jefferson's attack on the slave trade was excised in order to gain unanimous support for the Declaration in Congress, and criticism of the English was more sharply focused on the king and his ministers. Other changes were more cosmetic but often felicitous: Jefferson's "inherent & inalienable rights" that "all men are endowed with" in the second paragraph of the Declaration became "certain unalienable rights" in the authorized text.1

    Jefferson was extremely unhappy with many of the changes. He made several copies of the Declaration "as originally framed" by the Committee of Five in their presentation to Congress, and he sent them to close friends to show the travesty. As Richard Henry Lee, who originally had proposed the resolution for independence commented, Jefferson's manuscript had been "mangled." The copy displayed here was probably sent to Edmund Pendleton, a fellow lawyer and head of the Virginia Committee of Safety.2

    The strength of the Massachusetts Historical Society's manuscript collections extends far beyond the borders of Massachusetts. One collection which came to Boston through family inheritance and to the Society by generous donation is a series of the personal papers of Thomas Jefferson, which include almost 10,000 pieces of correspondence; 400 architectural drawings; manuscripts of Jefferson's writings; the catalogue of his vast personal library; as well as manuscript estate and plantation records for his home, Monticello.

    1. Julian Boyd. The Declaration of Independence: The Evolution of the Text as Shown in Facsimiles of Various Drafts by its Author. Washington, 1945, pp.31-35.

    2. Ibid., p.35.


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