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draft of the Declaration of Independence to the full committee, communicated it separately to Franklin and Adams. They made two or three suggestions, merely verbal, and these were adopted.
The original paper in Jefferson's handwriting, with Adams's and Franklin's interlineations, is in Washington. It has been frequently published in fac simile and is a thing of common knowledge. Mr. Adams is thus mistaken in saying that he himself did not make or suggest a single alteration. He and Franklin each suggested some purely verbal changes, which Jefferson at once accepted. With regard to matters of which he had personal knowledge, Jefferson's memory was almost invariably accurate. A man hunting inconsistencies of opinion wherewith to charge him would find his labors somewhat rewarded, as he would concerning any other man possessed of a growing intellect and a progressive character.
When the draft reached Congress, those passages which censured the people of England were stricken out, and the clause which censured the King for acts enslaving inhabitants of Africa and bringing them to the shores of America was also stricken out. Jefferson says, that this was done “in complaisance to South Carolina and Georgia,” adding:“Our northern brethren also, I believe, felt a little tender under these censures; for though their people had very few slaves themselves, yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others."
Whatever may be said of the policy of Congress in striking out that part of the Declaration which censured the people of England, it cannot be said, that it made the Declaration to accord better with the facts of history. As it is, George III and Parliament alone are held up to blame. There is no doubt about the fact that, at the beginning, at any rate, and until very near the end of the struggle, the people of England were in accord with their King and Parliament.
Lord John Russell, in his “Life of Fox," Volume 1, page 134, makes this clear. Jefferson, as usual, was right, and his correctors wrong. He was right, too, with regard to that part of the draft, which referred to the slave trade. Whatever may have been the case in other colonies, in Virginia, at any rate, the utmost effort had been made to stop it; a half score or more of acts had been passed, only to be vetoed by royal governors under royal instructions.
Concerning the Declaration itself, Adams later, in a letter to Pickering, in the year 1822, says: “As you justly observe, there is not an idea in it but what had been hackneyed in Congress for two years before.” He adds: “The substance of it is contained in the declaration of rights, ... in the Journals of Congress in 1774. Indeed, the essence of it is contained in a pamphlet, voted and printed by the town of Boston, before the first Congress met, composed by James Otis, as I suppose, in one of his lucid intervals, and pruned and polished by Samuel Adams."
Mr. Jefferson, on seeing this — which had been greedily published by Pickering — with a forbearance characteristic of him, when dealing with Mr. Adams, except for a few brief months of his life, when he was provoked into retaliatory utterances — nobly and modestly said: –
obs ideas, that itross for two years. pue. Of that
“Pickering's observations, and Mr. Adams's in addition, 'that it contained no new ideas, that it is a commonplace compilation, its sentiments hackneyed in Congress for two years before, and its essence contained in Otis's pamphlet,' may all be true. Of that I am not to be the judge. Richard Henry Lee charged it, as copied from Locke's 'Treatise on Government.' ... Otis's pamphlet I never saw, and whether I had gathered my ideas from reading or reflection, I do not know. I know only that I turned to neither book nor pamphlet, while writing it. I did not consider it, as any part of my charge, to invent new ideas altogether, and to offer no sentiment which had ever been expressed before. . . . Whether, also, the sentiments of independence, and the reasons for declaring it, which made so great a portion of the instrument, had been hackneyed in Congress for two years before the 4th of July, '76, or this dictum also of Mr. Adams be another slip of memory, let history say. This, however, I will say for Mr. Adams, that he supported the Declaration with zeal and ability, fighting fearlessly for every word of it."
The curious reader may consult the pamphlet of James Otis, the Declaration of Rights and the Journals of Congress, and determine for himself how far Mr. Adams's afterthought was well founded. He will find it in no true sense justified. If any publication furnished more than another foundation for the Declaration, it was Jefferson's own “Summary View of the Rights of British America,” and his “Reply to Lord North’s Conciliatory Proposal.” Another truth is that the Committee on Rights and Grievances, whose report was drawn by John Adams, in September, 1774, contained substantially much that was in Jefferson's “Summary View.” The “Summary View” was presented to the Convention of Virginia before the Congress of 1774 met, and the Committee of Rights and Grievances had access to that paper. Thus the borrowing, if
there were any conscious borrowing, was a borrowing by Adams from Jefferson, and not the other way. There is, however, no plagiarism in either. Jefferson had neither paper, book, nor pamphlet before him when he 6 wrote the Declaration, and it is presumbably also a fact ļ that Mr. Adams had none when he wrote the Report on
Rights and Grievances, though both had in their minds many fixed and popular ideas, which had become trite, and, many of them, ideas advanced and rendered popu
lar by Jefferson in his "Summary View," so widely i disseminated not only in America but in England. $ The Declaration accomplished its end. It went to
the comprehension of the average man with overwhelming force. It was full of “keynote phrases." It was “quotable" - began at once to be quoted and has been ever since. Every American became a Dick Swiveller of its phrases. It gave unity of expression to the American people. It was received everywhere with enthusiasm; ordered to be read at the head of the armed forces; people, after hearing it, tore down statues and pictures of the king and of colonial governors. They also welcomed it in churches with prayers and sermons.
We have seen that when the Virginia Convention instructed their delegates in Congress to introduce a resolution declaring American independence, they also appointed a committee to draw up a “declaration of rights," as they called it, and a "plan of government” for Virginia. Mr. Jefferson prepared and forwarded from Philadelphia the outline of a plan. It reached Virginia too late, because the Bill of Rights and the Constitution of Virginia had been agreed to, but the lofty preamble of Mr. Jefferson's plan pleased the committee so much, that they prefaced it to the great work of George Mason — the first Constitution of Virginia, and the first in America to be written by the representatives of the people — which was passed on June 20, 1776, the day after the draft of the Declaration of Independence was reported to the Continental Congress. This preamble was drawn by Jefferson, therefore, prior to his composition of the Declaration. He says, after dwelling upon that fact: “Both having the same object, of justifying our separation from Great Britain, they used necessarily the same materials of justification, and hence their similitude.”
I mention this, because in the constant efforts of those who hated and hate democracy to write Jefferson down in his lifetime and after his death, every little thing has been taken advantage of, in the attempt to decrease his credit, and among other things, he was accused of having plagiarized parts of the Declaration from the Preamble of The Constitution of Virginia; in other words, from himself.
The opening sentences of the Declaration of Independence are frequently referred to as a part of some sort of French infection. In the first place, the French revolution had not begun, and, in the second place, there is not an idea contained in it, that is not purely Jeffersonian.
By the way, I love very much a phrase which Fiske uses as the caption of one of his chapters: “Thomas Jefferson, The Conservative Reformer.”
This quotation from it, I recommend to all readers: