Jefferson’s “Mangled” Declaration

First page of Jefferson’s rough first draft of the Declaration with Adams adn Franklin changes.

We will hear many celebratory readings of the Declaration tomorrow, but I have always found it interesting — and somewhat comforting — that it’s principal author, Thomas Jefferson, was irked by the edits to his draft made by Adams and Franklin before its submission to the Continental Congress.

Jefferson was even more mortified by the debate over his draft, as well as the final changes passed by the Continental Congress.

In order to protect his reputation, Jefferson sent early copies of the Declaration to a few close friends and colleagues, such as Richard Henry Lee, and emphasized where deviations from his draft had been made by Congress.

An empathetic Lee replied (attached photo):

“I wish sincerely, as well for the honor of Congress, as for that of the States, that the Manuscript had not been mangled as it is. It is wonderful, and passing pitiful, that the rage of change should be so unhappily applied. However the Thing is in its nature so good, that no Cookery can spoil the Dish for the palates of Freemen.”
Richard Henry Lee to Thomas Jefferson.

The true history of the Declarations and its authors is a reminder that our Liberty and national foundations did not spring forth in pure form from inspired saints, unsullied by the hands of mere men. Instead, ours is a history of competing principles and interests, with results that appear miraculous today having been achieved through debate, compromise and even missed opportunity.

We — even Jefferson and his Declaration — are not perfect. But we are often the glorious product of our flaws. And this too should be celebrated.

Because, as declared by Mr. Lee, the nature of the Declaration remains unspoiled today. Indeed, its words and sprit remain the beacon for our unending efforts to deserve that title of Freemen.

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