What Was Edited Out of The First Draft of The Declaration of Independence?

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What Was Edited Out of The First Draft of The Declaration of Independence?

The Committee of Five and the Second Continental Congress edited out extensively the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson.

Answer In Short:

1. They Removed The Issue of Slavery From The Historical Document On July 1st, 1776.

2. They Modified The Line “Preservation of Life, & Liberty, & The Pursuit of Happiness” To “Life, Liberty And The Pursuit of Happiness”.

They made around 86 changes to the document.

Due to some problems and probabilities, they had to do it.

Let’s see some main changes and why they had to edit them out:

What Was Edited Out of The First Draft of The Declaration of Independence
What Was Edited Out of The First Draft of The Declaration of Independence

1. They Edited Out The ‘Issue of Slavery’ of The First Draft

In the first draft, Thomas Jefferson criticized the British Government and King George III for supporting and using slavery.

Especially, he blamed King George III for encouraging the slave trade through the transatlantic and called it a hideous crime against humanity. 

Jefferson stated in the document like this: 

“He 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…..”

But the Committee had to remove these controversial words from the Declaration.

Because they knew very well that the issue would provoke colonists’ slaveholders to be angry and it could lead them to withdraw their support from the revolution.

Its main reason was – 13 colonies’ economy was still dependent upon slavery. Especially, the Southern states were highly sensitive to this issue.

On the other side, Congress had very little time to discuss this matter. For them, the independence of the 13 colonies was far more important than the death of slavery.

Therefore, leaders didn’t want to take this risk at any cost. On July 1st, 1776, they removed this section from the document.

However, for this reason, many people still criticize the United States Declaration of Independence. Because where on one hand it talked a lot about human beings’ life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; similarly, on the other hand, it failed it abolish slavery.

The biggest irony was that most of the delegates of the Continental Congress themselves kept slaves at their own homes or working places; even Thomas Jefferson was one of them.

[Interesting Fact: Did you know? Thomas Jefferson not only raised the issue of slavery in the Declaration of Independence, but he also raised this issue in his home state in 1778, while writing a law to prevent more importation of slaves to Virginia. However, interestingly, Jefferson himself was a lifelong slaveholder. During the course of his entire life, he owned around 600 slaves]

What Was Edited Out of The First Draft of The Declaration of Independence, Which Statement Best Explains Why The Declaration of Independence Does Not Directly Address The Issue of Slavery
Image: Slaves Working At Cotton Field

2. They Made Changes On The ‘Preservation of Life, & Liberty, & The Pursuit of Happiness’

In the first draft, Jefferson wrote the line about human beings’ natural rights like this: “Preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness”.

Later, they removed unnecessary words from the line and edited this to a more melodious form as “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.

By the way, you should know that Jefferson borrowed it from an English philosopher John Locke’s philosophy of natural rights.

Although, Jefferson was a little unhappy with the changes that the Committee and Congress made.

[Interesting Fact: Did you know? Thomas Jefferson borrowed the “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” line in the Declaration of Independence from John Locke’s philosophy over “Life, Liberty, and Property”. Jeff modified it by removing the ‘Property’ term with ‘the pursuit of Happiness’]

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