Slavery and the Declaration of Independence

Joan Hart

Joan Hart


One of my favorite parts of using this column to write about our history is digging out tidbits of information I’ve never known before, thereby gaining a whole new historical perspective. I did not have the advantage of going to college, but the excitement of ferreting out all these facts for myself makes the research all the more rewarding.

So much has been written about the Declaration of Independence but I wanted to find something new to share with you this year.

In the course of my research on a website by the American Intercontinental University, I found interesting information in one of John Adams’ letters to a Timothy Pickering responding to Pickering’s questions about the writing of the Declaration. That’s when I picked up on a comment made by Adams when he reflected on his critique of the Declaration when Thomas Jefferson showed him his original draft.

Adams wrote: “I was delighted with its high tone and the flights of oratory with which it abounded, especially that concerning Negro slavery, which, though I knew his Southern brethren would never suffer to pass in Congress, I certainly never would oppose.”

That passage certainly made my ears perk up because I had never before seen a reference to a passage regarding slavery in the Declaration of Independence.

My research then led me to a website called where I found the passage written by Jefferson in his original draft, but which indeed had been removed from the final document before it would be passed by the delegates gathered at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1776.

Here is that passage wherein Jefferson railed against King George III for creating and sustaining the slave trade, describing it as “a cruel war against human nature.”

“He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce.

For the complete column, see the Weekend print edition of The Daily Record, or view the e-Edition online.


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