July 4, 2007
On Reading the Declaration of Independence
Drafting the Declaration. On June 11, 1776, Congress appointed Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston as a committee to draft a declaration of independence. In 1823 Jefferson wrote that the other members of the committee "unanimously pressed on myself alone to undertake the draught [sic]. I consented; I drew it; but before I reported it to the committee I communicated it separately to Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams requesting their corrections. . . I then wrote a fair copy, reported it to the committee, and from them, unaltered to the Congress."
Prior to deciding on Jefferson, both Adams and Franklin turned down the offer to draft the document, citing that if they wrote it people would read it with a biased eye. Revised first by Adams, then by Franklin, and then by the full committee, a total of forty-seven alterations including the insertion of three complete paragraphs was made on the text before it was presented to Congress on June 28. After voting for independence on July 2, the Congress then continued to refine the document, making thirty-nine additional revisions to the committee draft before its final adoption on the morning of July 4.
The "original Rough draught" of the Declaration of Independence, one of the great milestones in American history, shows the evolution of the text from the initial "fair copy" draft by Thomas Jefferson with edits by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, to the final text adopted by Congress on the morning of July 4, 1776.
Reading the Declaration: Essential Resources
About Reading the Declaration
I cannot too strongly recommend Garry Wills' Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence (1978) which is noteworthy for its thorough analysis and comparison of Jefferson's "original Rough draught" of the Declaration with the final version approved by Congress. See also Carl Becker's classic, The Declaration of Independence: A Study in the History of Political Ideas (1922).
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