Virtually all Americans date the beginning of our Nation to the delivery of the Declaration of Independence to King George III – actually the date of its approval by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. King George was not happy about it. Thus began our Revolutionary War.
It was quite a remarkable event. Thirteen tiny colonies huddled along the eastern coast of an unexplored continent decided to take on one of the most powerful empires that had ever existed. The British Empire controlled one-fourth of the entire known world, had the most powerful navy ever to sail the seas, and had a remarkably disciplined army. We had… well, a bunch of farmers.
Most Americans know that Thomas Jefferson “authored” our Declaration of Independence. However, the Second Continental Congress actually appointed a Committee of Five to draw up the declaration. The Committee included Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston and Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was given the task of drafting the document. From June 11 to June 28, 1776, he worked on multiple rough drafts. Many revisions were made by Jefferson, the committee, and finally by Congress. Jefferson has retained his preeminent role in writing the defining document of the American Revolution. He presented the final draft of the Committee to Congress on July 1.
The delegates edited Jefferson’s draft from July 2 to July 4. On July 4, they met in the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall), in Philadelphia, and approved the Declaration.
I was particularly unaware that Jefferson was critical of changes to the document. He was especially critical of the removal of a long paragraph that attributed responsibility of the slave trade to British King George III. For those “patriots” that want to tear down Jefferson statues, perhaps they should read the paragraph (and thanks to Dick Toomey and his Fodder blog site for bringing this to my attention).
“He (King George III) has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation hither. 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 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 had deprived them, by 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.”
It would be unfair to say that this is a complete denunciation of slavery. The final sentence certainly makes that notion ambiguous. While decrying slave trading it also decries efforts of the slaves “to rise in arms among us.”
Be that as it may, this important paragraph was completely unknown to me and if it also was unknown to you it is time for us all to be aware of its existence. I should add at this point that it was the British who largely can be credited for ending the slave trade – indeed, ending slavery in most of the world. This is another tidbit of which most Americans are unaware.