he [King George III 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 [disgrace] 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 [sacrificed for financial gain] his negative [veto] for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable [disgraceful] commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die [“lacking officialness”?], he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, & 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.
Thomas Jefferson’s Draft of the Declaration of Independence,
Approved by the Committee of Five, July 2, 1776
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Principled leaders stand by unpopular but necessary positions.
Much of the Declaration of Independence is a list of the many offenses suffered at the hands of the King of England. This was one of them, a no-holds-barred condemnation of the King’s protection, promotion, and expansion of the slave trade between Africa and his colonies.
On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee introduced a resolution in Congress calling for America’s independence. Four days later, Congress appointed a “Committee of Five” to draft the reasons why this radical action might be taken. Thomas Jefferson was one of the five and delegated by the other four to draft the original document. The Committee made a few changes in Jefferson’s work but left the paragraph above intact. Congress took up debate on the draft after Lee’s resolution for independence was approved on July 2.
This language is not in the Declaration of Independence adopted by the Congress on July 4, 1776. Why not? Georgia and South Carolina would not vote for independence if that language remained. It was a political decision that favored a unanimous vote without this language, over a split vote with two colonies against independence if the language remained. Northern colonies which benefited from the slave trade were also complicit in the decision to drop the condemning words.
Jefferson was greatly distressed by this change. Benjamin Franklin, the senior and most respected member of the Committee of Five, counseled him to hold his tongue. Jefferson did so.
This document shows the differences between the Declaration approved by the Committee of Five and the one adopted by the Congress. Note this entire paragraph was deleted.