July 05, 2003

A Paragraph Struck from the Declaration of Independence

Partha Mazumdar reminds us of a paragraph that is not in the Declaration of Independence:

Jumping To Conclusions: On this day, it is appropriate to also remember the great paragraph of the first draft of the Declaration of Independence which Jefferson submitted to the Congress and but was deleted. Only if it would have remained:

He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, & murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another...

Posted by DeLong at July 5, 2003 09:40 PM | TrackBack


It behooves the United States, therefore, in the interests both of scientific truth and of future social reform, carefully to study such chapters of her history as that of the suppression of the slave trade. The most obvious question which this study suggests is this: how far in a State can a recognized moral wrong be safely be compromised? And though this chapter of history can give us no definite answer, suited to the ever-varying aspects of political life, yet it would seem to warn any nation from allowing, through carelessness and moral cowardice, any social evil to grow....From the small and dying institution of their day arose the walled and castled Slave-Power...
(from W.E. DeBois, *The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade,* 1896)

Posted by: James R MacLean on July 6, 2003 01:03 AM


Thanks for the Thomas Jefferson post!
Thanks for the WEB DuBois post!

Posted by: anne on July 6, 2003 10:56 AM


Was there a record made of the relevant debate in the Congress? That would make one interesting read.

Posted by: Pooh on July 6, 2003 12:33 PM


I don't regard myself as an ignoramus with regards to U.S. history, but I did learn something new with the post and Mr. Jefferson's deleted passage. Thanks.

Posted by: andres on July 6, 2003 12:36 PM


It's easy to blame the deletion solely on the objections of South Carolina and Georgia, but it's also worth noting that it's not only a rather bloated and messy paragraph, even by the standards of eighteenth-century prose. And that's possibly because Jefferson himself was in a more ambivalent position than the statement might suggest.

I'm intrigued, at least, by this contention:


'Although this "vehement philippic against negro slavery," as John Adams called it, never made it into the final version of the Declaration, it has made it into the public mind as proof of Jefferson's opposition to slavery. But Adams's characterization of the clause is misleading. Congress deleted this clause for a variety of reasons, including the complaints of Georgia and South Carolina, still active participants in the transatlantic trade. But, even without the specific complaints of those states, "The charge," as Menill Peterson suggests, "simply did not ring true. And Jefferson's bloated rhetoric gave it away." In any case, Jefferson was attacking the African slave trade, not the institution itself. The arguments against the African trade were humanitarian, economic, and prudential. Many Virginians opposed the trade for "selfish considerations, such as protecting the value of their property in slaves and securing their communities from the eangers of an ever-increasing slave population," especially when that population was made up of recent arrivals from Africa, who tended to be more rebellious than other slaves.

'Jefferson certainly fit this class of Virginians. Throughout his life Jefferson sold slaves: the African trade undermined the value of his slaves. Similarly, Jefferson always argued for curbs on the growth of America's black population. He almost always tied any discussion of manumission or emancipation to colonization or "expatriation." Ending the African trade would slow the growth of the nation's black population. Thus, the attack
on the King dovetailed with Jefferson's negrophobia and his interests as a Virginia slaveowner and did not necessarily indicate opposition to slavery itself.



Posted by: nick sweeney on July 6, 2003 12:55 PM


A most important Jefferson post, along with important DuBois post, and fine comments.

Thanks all.

Posted by: jd on July 6, 2003 01:34 PM


Is class warfare wonderful?

Posted by: dahl on July 6, 2003 01:46 PM



The post above should have been in the nepotism dialogue. These Jefferson and DuBois posts are terrific.


Posted by: dahl on July 6, 2003 01:52 PM


Great post and thread. It's good to learn that important detail in Jefferson's complex relations with slavery. The complaint about Britain inciting American slaves is especially curious, and the paragraph certainly is messy.
Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807 (and slavery in 1832), France in 1794, though Bonaparte reinstated it in 1801, thanks they say to Josephine. There's a statue of Josephine in Martinique's capital with the head chopped off and red paint poured on it. They leave it that way.

Posted by: John IIsbell on July 7, 2003 06:11 PM


A more accurate picture of Jefferson's attitude to the slavery can be had by taking into account that, due to him, the trade was abolished in Virgina far before it was abolished by England. In addition, he (unsuccessfuly) tried to have emancipation proclaimed in Virginia in 1785.

So beware of people like Andres and his apparent Founding-Fathers-phobia.

Posted by: Bill on September 1, 2003 12:16 PM


A more accurate picture of Jefferson's attitude to slavery can be had by taking into account that, due to him, the trade was abolished in Virgina far before it was abolished by England or any other country or state. In addition, Jefferson (unsuccessfuly) tried to have emancipation proclaimed in Virginia in 1785.

Posted by: Bill on September 1, 2003 12:19 PM


I knew this from having been in a production of the musical "1776" and I have to say that if it had been removed, it most certainly would have doomed the independence of the new United States Of America. Having said that, it is also important to note that several key members of the new senate tried repeatedly during this time to abolish slavery, but were defeated by the South again and again. Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island (whom I played BTW) released all of his own slaves before 1776 and abolished the slave trade in Rhode Island, and John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams never ownde slaves choosing, instead, to farm their own land. Hopkins was opposed to slavery on religious grounds as did all Quakers at that time, I did my research when I played the part, as I tend to do every time I take on a role in any production, adn I am also a constant student of history. John Adams, when reluctantly conceding to the demands od South Carolina and the rest of the southern delegation at the Second Continental Congress, was to have said that "We will be fighting a war over this issue some 100 years from now." It was a prophetic quote to be sure.

Posted by: John Wayne Peel on November 8, 2003 08:10 AM


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