Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of a day; but a series of oppressions, begun at a distinguished period, and pursued unalterably through every change of ministers, too plainly prove a deliberate and systematical plan of reducing us to slavery.
Summary View of the Rights of British America, 1774
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
The 31 year-old Jefferson wrote Summary View for Virginia’s delegates to carry to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia. It was a much longer document than his Declaration of Independence, but its theme was much the same, outlining the abuses England’s King and Parliament had imposed on their American colonies. He categorized those abuses as tyrannies.
Jefferson wrote that one tyranny could be seen as a mistake in judgment. A series of them meant something much different and sinister, He then described the series: imposing multiple duties and taxes, suspending New York’s legislature, blockading Boston, trying American “crimes” in British courts. What turns free people into slaves? A deliberate plan to whittle away their natural rights, one by one, until there were no freedoms left.
Summary View was later printed in pamphlet form and widely circulated throughout America and Europe. It did not have the effect Jefferson hoped, a wake-up call that ended Bristish abuses. It did have an effect he had not anticipated, establishing his credentials as a gifted writer. Two years later, he would be called upon to use that skill again.
(Today, April 13, is Mr. Jefferson’s 272nd birthday.)