Why Thomas Jefferson's Anti-Slavery Passage Was Removed from the Declaration of IndependenceBreaking News
tags: slavery, Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence
With its soaring rhetoric about all men being “created equal,” the Declaration of Independence gave powerful voice to the values behind the American Revolution. Critics, however, saw a glaring contradiction: Many of the colonists who sought freedom from British tyranny themselves bought and sold human beings. By underpinning America’s nascent economy with the brutal institution of chattel slavery, they deprived roughly one-fifth of the population of their own “inalienable” right to liberty.
What isn’t widely known, however, is that Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, in an early version of the Declaration, drafted a 168-word passage that condemned slavery as one of the many evils foisted upon the colonies by the British crown. The passage was cut from the final wording.
So while Jefferson is credited with infusing the Declaration with Enlightenment-derived ideals of freedom and equality, the nation’s founding document—its moral mission statement—would remain forever silent on the issue of slavery. That omission would create a legacy of exclusion for people of African descent that engendered centuries of struggle over basic human and civil rights.
In his initial draft, Jefferson blamed Britain’s King George for his role in creating and perpetuating the transatlantic slave trade—which he describes, in so many words, as a crime against humanity.
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.
Jefferson went on to call the institution of slavery “piratical warfare,” “execrable commerce” and an “assemblage of horrors.” He then criticized the crown for
“exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on 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.”