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Jefferson's Handwritten Copy of the Declaration of Independence

Last night, just prior to our panel discussion at the NY Public Library, the panelists were given an opportunity to view an original draft of the Declaration of Independence on display at the Library. The photo shows Tina Bennett (literary agent with William Morris Agency) and me pointing out some interesting features in the document's famous second paragraph.

This was a very special version of the Declaration, one written in Thomas Jefferson's own hand, and reflecting his original version, showing just how it was before changes were made prior to its execution and publication.

In the version we were viewing, the second paragraph reads as follows (note, Jefferson wrote this in all lower case; the underlined word does not appear in the final draft of the declaration and you may notice the punctuation is different):

"we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inherent and inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."

The first thing to point out here is that the word "inherent" was later stricken. Jefferson believed that the rights he referred to are inherent in our human nature and equally inherent in all of us by virtue of every human being having the same nature. "Inalienable" (the official versions spells it, "unalienable") is a separate concept, referring to the fact that our inherent natural rights are not man-made and, therefore, cannot be taken away or voided by governments.

Among these natural rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. By using the word "happiness," Jefferson was clearly channelling Aristotle and the philosopher's conception of happiness as set forth in his Nicomachean Ethics. There's too much to say about this in a short blog post, but suffice it to say it was a wonderful date with history.

#thomasjefferson #declarationofindependence

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