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On June 11, Congress appointed a Committee of Five to draft a declaration: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Events become somewhat murky after this point because Jefferson and Adams provided different accounts in later years.An eighty-eight-year-old Adams claimed that he and Jefferson were appointed as a subcommittee to prepare a draft, after which Adams persuaded Jefferson to write the document.An eighty-year-old Jefferson disputed this account. He denied that a subcommittee had ever been formed, claiming instead that the entire committee “unanimously pressed on myself alone to undertake the draught.”A more serious discrepancy between the accounts of Adams and Jefferson pertains to how the Declaration was actually drafted.
This prompted an excited John Adams to write to his wife, Abigail: The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.
I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.
The first part of the second paragraph, as painstakingly reconstructed by Carl Becker in 1922 (We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independant, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these ends, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government shall become destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, & to institute new government, laying it’s foundation on such principles & organizing it’s powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
We have here a brilliantly concise statement of what historians call “Real” (or “Radical”) Whig ideology, a libertarian political philosophy commonly associated with John Locke.
Therefore, there can be no excuse for the violation of inalienable rights.
This is the crucial bright-line test that enables us to distinguish the incidental or well-intentioned violation of rights, which even just governments may occasionally commit, from the deliberate and inexcusable violations of a tyrannical government.
Boyd (editor of the massive Princeton edition of ) proposed a different theory: “This alteration may possibly have been made by the printer [John Dunlap] rather than at the suggestion of Congress.”Fortunately for my purpose here, this minor mystery is of no consequence.
Both “inalienable” and “unalienable” were used throughout the eighteenth century; they were merely variant spellings of the same word.
(Contrary to the later recollections of Jefferson and Adams, no signing occurred on July 4).
Carl Becker suggested that John Adams may have been responsible for the change: “Adams was one of the committee which supervised the printing of the text adopted by Congress, and it may have been at his suggestion that the change was made in printing.” Julian P.