Thursday, July 03, 2008 7/3/08-Independence Day

Today's encore excerpt gives us a glimpse into the editing process for the Declaration of Independence, and shows that perhaps Thomas Jefferson has received a bit more credit than due:

"What is less well known is that the words (of the Declaration) aren't entirely Jefferson's. George Mason's recently published draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights provided what might charitably be called liberal inspiration. ...

" 'All men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent natural rights, of which ... they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; among which are the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.'

" 'Pursuit of happiness' may be argued to be a succinct improvement on 'pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety,' but even that ... had been coined by John Locke almost a century before and had appeared frequently in political writings ever since. Jefferson's original version (of the sentence with 'happiness') shows considerably less grace and rather more verbosity:

" 'We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable; that all men are created equal and independent, that from equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness'

"Congress did not hesitate to alter Jefferson's painstakingly crafted words. Altogether it ordered forty changes to the original text. It deleted 630 words, about a quarter of the total, and added 146."

Bill Bryson, Made in America, Perennial, 1995, pp. 41-2.


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