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[34] The principles of civil and political liberty, so patiently evolved and so thoroughly commended during the long controversy which preceded the appeal to arms, were reduced to axioms, and became portions of the popular faith. When Jefferson, in drafting our immortal Declaration of Independence, embodied in its preamble a formal and emphatic assertion of the inalienable Rights of Man, he set forth propositions novel and startling to European ears, but which eloquence and patriotic fervor had already engraven deeply on the American heart. That Declaration was not merely, as Mr. Choate has termed it, “the passionate manifesto of a revolutionary war;” it was the embodiment of our forefathers' deepest and most rooted convictions; and when, in penning that Declaration, he charged the British government with upholding and promoting the African slavetrade against the protests of the colonists,1 and in violation of the dictates of humanity, he asserted truths which the jealous devotion of South Carolina and Georgia to slaveholding rendered it impolitic to send forth as an integral portion of our arraignment of British tyranny; but which were, nevertheless, widely and deeply felt to be an important and integral portion of our case.2 Even divested of this, the Declaration stands to-day an evidence that our fathers regarded the rule of Great Britain as no more destructive to their own rights than to the rights of mankind.

No other document was ever issued which so completely reflected and developed the popular convictions which underlaid and impelled it as that Declaration of Independence. The cavil that its ideas were not original with Jefferson is a striking testimonial to its worth. Originality of conception was the very last merit to which he would have chosen to lay claim, his purpose being to embody the general convictions of his countrymen — their conceptions of human, as well as colonial, rights and British wrongs, in the fewest, strongest, and clearest words. The fact that some of these words had already been employed — some of them a hundred times — to set forth the same general truths, in no manner unfitted them for his use.

The claim that his draft was a plagiarism

1 The following is the indictment of George III., as a patron and upholder of the African slavetrade, embodied by Mr. Jefferson in his original draft of the Declaration:

Determined to keep open a market where men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished dye, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he also obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.

2 Mr. Jefferson, in his Autobiography, gives the following reason for the omission of this remarkable passage from the Declaration as adopted, issued, and published:

The clause, too, reprobating the enslaving the inhabitants of Africa, was struck out in complaisance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who, on the contrary, still wished to continue it. Our Northern brethren also, I believe, felt a little tender under those censures; for, though their people had very few slaves themselves, yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others. --Jefferson's Works, vol. i., p. 170.

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