he [the King of England] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people [Africans] 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 [harsh criticism] 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 [shamefully traded away] his negative [veto] for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable [wretched, detestable] commerce [in human beings]…
Committee of Five to the Continental Congress, July 2, 1776
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
A leader can’t go where people won’t follow.
The Declaration of Independence adopted July 4, 1776, lists 27 offenses by the King of England against his colonial subjects. There could have been one more offense had Congress not deleted the entire paragraph above, a ringing denunciation of the slave trade. That paragraph was part of Jefferson’s “original rough draft” of the Declaration. Georgia and South Carolina would not vote for independence unless that paragraph was deleted, and so it was.
Jefferson receives considerable criticism today on the subject of slavery. These words are but one example of many that he wrote throughout his lifetime condemning “this execrable commerce.” He knew that America could not continue to exist as two peoples, one slave and one free, but the majority of his contemporaries were not willing to follow his lead.