Who would’ve thought that removing a single passage from the Declaration of Independence could have changed the evolution of historical events? Let’s find out more.
In Thomas Jefferson’s draft, the Declaration of Independence contained an entire passage that condemned slavery. He cited slavery as one of the many evils imposed upon the colonized nations by the British crown.
What Was in the Deleted Passage?
In the initial draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson blamed Britain’s King George for his influence in creating and promoting the transatlantic slave trade. He described the trade as a crime against humanity. The passage contained the following words:
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, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain.
Determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now 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 has obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed again the Liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.
(Source: Black Past)
Why Was The Anti-Slavery Passage Removed from the 1775 Declaration of Independenct?
The exact reasons for the passage’s removal were never revealed. Historians have no idea of what transpired in the many debates that the Second Continental Congress did.
Thomas Jefferson composed the Declaration of Independence between June 11 and June 28 of 1776. He sent a rough draft of the Declaration to a pre-selected committee that included Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. The committee was in charge of editing the document before it was presented to Congress.
Congressional delegates debated on the contents of the document between July 1 and July 3. During this time, Jefferson’s anti-slavery clause was removed.
It was assumed that the removal of the clause was more political than anything else. Other colonies under the British crown were already divided upon the issue of slavery. Plantations in the south were a crucial factor in the economy. The owners of these plantations needed free labor to harvest cotton, tobacco, and other crops to export to Europe. (Source: History)
What Did Thomas Jefferson Had To Say?
A few decades later, Jefferson talked about the clause’s removal. In his autobiography, he pinned the blame on two Southern states.
The clause, reprobating the enslaving the inhabitants of Africa, was struck out in compliance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who on the contrary still wished to continue it. Our Northern brethren also I believe felt a little tender under these censures; for tho’ their people have very few slaves themselves, yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others.Thomas Jefferson