In his Autobiography written in 1805, Adams states that the committee of five decided upon “which the declaration was to consist”, and it then appointed Jefferson and himself to form a subcommittee to really write them down. Now Jefferson and Adams have two completely different versions of what happened then. Adams says:
Jefferson proposed to me to make the draught, I said I will not; You shall do it. Oh no! Why will you not? You ought to do it. I will not. Why? Reasons enough. What can be your reasons? Reason 1st. You are a Virginian and a Virginian ough to appear at the head of this business. Reason 2nd. I am obnoxious, suspected and unpopular; you are very much otherwise. Reason 3rd. You can write ten times better than I can. ‘Well”, said Jefferson, ‘if you are decided I will do as well as I can’. Very well, when you have drawnit up we will have a meeting.
Jefferson’s version is completely different. In a letter to Maddison of 1823 he writes:
Mr. Adams memory has led him into unquestionable error. At the age of 88 and 47 years after the transactions, . . . this is not wonderful. Nor should I . . . venture to oppose my memory to his, were it not supported by written notes, taken by myself at the moment and on the spot. . . The Committee of 5 met, no such thing as a sub-committee was proposed, but they unanimously pressed on myself alone to undertake the draught. 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;. . . and you have seen the original paper now in my hands, with the corrections of Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams interlined in their own handwriting. Their alterations were two or three only, and merely verbal. I then wrote a fair copy, reported it to the committee, and from them, unaltered to the Congress.
The draft was presented to Congress on June 28 and adopted by Congress on July 4, after a number of changes had been made. There are no journals on the debates and the amendments. The most important of these were the excision of a passage indicting the slave trade and a number of passages were reworded in a more pious form.. A formal parchment copy of the Declaration, adopted in Congress 4 July 1776, was available for signing on August 2, and most of the 55 signatures were inscribed upon it on that date. The intention of the Declaration, Jefferson later wrote, was not saying some- thing new, but
to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent… Neither aiming at originality of principles or sentiments, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind.
Draft version of the Declaration of Independence, June 28, 1776
There is still another version of the text, the so-called Lee-version. This is the text that Jefferson sent to Lee. This may be a better version of the draft. See Carl L. Becker, The declaration of independence. A study in the history of political ideas (New York, 1922) page 174.
One of the inspirations for the American Declaration of Independence was the Plakkaat van Verlatinghe of 1581 in which the Dutch abjured the King of Spain as their sovereign.
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