July 4, 2011
Documenting the Drafting Process for the Declaration of Independence
Many but probably not most folks know that the Declaration of Independence was not written by Thomas Jefferson. The drafting process may have started at Jefferson's portable writing desk in Philadelphia but it quickly moved to becoming a product of committee work. There's even a fair amount of evidence that before Jefferson's rough draft was presented to his fellow drafting committee members, Benjamin Franklin advised Jefferson to substitute "happiness" for "property." The drafting committee's official "rough" draft can be read here. The Continental Congress's draft, qualified as being approximately the text, here, and a transcript comparison of the Committee's draft, the reported draft to the Continental Congress, and the Dunlap Broadside (image below) can be read here.
Many rarely take the time to study how the Declaration of Independence went from draft to publication expect for political scientists, historians, law librarians, and members of the the bench and bar. Perhaps some non-specialists (read citizens whose family members immigrated to this country decades, centuries ago, native Americans and undocumented aliens) will take the time to do so. If they do, they might want to consider this Fourth of July how language changes in drafts evolved by way of not necessarily like-minded collaborative efforts striving to reach a majority vote as evidenced by how drafted text changes, how intent is modified. Perhaps that wil lead to asking why to searching for answers. One does not need to be a specialist to form an opinion about this foundational documentary history. Everyone has a right to form and express their opinion.
Certainly the final version of the Declaration of Independence was top-down, meaning not a bottom-up work product, by modern standards. However, Franklin was smart enough to realize that volunteer members of the Continential Congress' armed services would recognize the poor choice of wording if the War of Independence was only being waged for the colonies Old Guard. Franklin's text edit, "happiness" instead of "property," may very well be the most important clause in the Declaration of Independence. [JH}
|The Dunlap Broadside of the Declaration of Independence|