(Joseph Postell, Bacon’s Rebellion) – It’s common for Americans on July 4th to read and discuss the Declaration of Independence, and to reflect on its principles and ideas. Those principles and ideas are often attributed solely — though wrongly — to Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the draft of the Declaration.
Jefferson’s draft was modified in two stages: first, by a “Committee of Five” composed of Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston; and second, by the entire Continental Congress.
The Congress discussed Jefferson’s draft for three days, and made significant changes (according to Jefferson, “depredations”) to his work.
In short, the Declaration was the work not of a single person, but of the representatives of the American people. Jefferson was the author of the draft, but it was an American Declaration.
It was, as Jefferson would later explain, “an expression of the American mind.” As Jefferson implied, the Declaration of Independence merely declared, in condensed form, the political ideas that had become consensus among the colonists over the course of many years.
Consider the document that inspired the Declaration of Independence: the Virginia Declaration of Rights, penned primarily by George Mason and adopted by Virginia’s Constitutional Convention in June of 1776, a few weeks before the…