5 25% of Original Draft Removed
By the time the Declaration of Independence was signed, it had been made a full one-fourth shorter than the original draft written by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson, while a fine writer, had only about two weeks to draft the document, and was kept busy with his duties as a delegate to the Constitutional Congress during most of the hours of the day. His writing needed extensive editing and polishing before it was found suitable to a majority of delegates.
4 The Myth of the July 4th Signing
It is likely that on the Fourth of July, 1776, only one man signed the Declaration of Independence, John Hancock, who was the president of the Congress at the time. Most of the 56 signatures on the original copies of the document were likely inscribed on August 2nd, nearly a month after the accepted date of the Declaration’s signing.
3 No Mention of Slavery
Thomas Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence included language asserting that the slave system in America had been forced upon the colonies by Britain. This language was removed by other members of the Continental Congress who felt it might insult and estrange colonial sympathizers back across the ocean in England.
2 From Subjects to Citizens
Thomas Jefferson wrote the lion’s share of the Declaration of Independence, and while he did so with much input from others, it is to him that much of the credit for its final language goes. His typical attention to detail and grasp of a word’s true meaning and power were on full display when Jefferson soundly expunged the word “subjects” from one of the Declaration’s clauses, replacing it with the phrase “our fellow citizens” instead. With that edit, the colonists went from rebellious subjects of King George III to proud patriots standing up for their own rights.
1 Life, Liberty and… Not Property
The Declaration’s statement that humans are innately entitled to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” is directly lifted from the writings of John Locke, the British philosopher. In his work Two Treatises of Government, Locke wrote that humans are entitled to life, liberty and property. The omission of this last word is of critical note: the Framers made the switch to avoid putting themselves in a position of de facto assuring all who sided with the patriot cause the potential to own property, a promise they could not necessarily keep.