Thomas Jefferson Papers

I. First Draft by Jefferson, [before June 1776]

I. First Draft by Jefferson

[Before 13 June 1776]

Whereas George  Guelph King of Great Britain & Ireland and Elector of Hanover, heretofore entrusted with the exercise of the kingly office in this government, hath endeavored to pervert the same into a detestable & insupportable tyranny

by <neg> putting his negative on laws the most wholesome & necessary for the public good

by denying to his governors permission to pass laws of <the most> immediate & pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation for his <con> assent &, when so suspended, neglecting <for m> to attend to them for many years:

by refusing to pass certain other laws, unless the persons to be benefited by them would relinquish the inestimable right<s> of representation in the legislature:

by dissolving legislative assemblies repeatedly & continually for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people:

when dissolved, by refusing to call others for a long space of time, thereby leaving the political system <[in a state of dissolution]> without any legislative <body> head.

by endeavoring to prevent the population of our country <by> & for that purpose obstructing the laws for the naturalization of foreigners & raising the conditions of new appropriati<ng>ons <new> of lands:

by keeping among us in times of peace standing armies & ships of war:

by affecting to render the military independant of & superior to the civil power:

by combining with others to subject us to a foreign jurisdiction giving his <con> assent to their pretended acts of legislation <for imposing taxes on us without our consent.>

for quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

for cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

for <depriving us of> imposing taxes on us without our consent:

for depriving us of the benefits of trial by jury:

for transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offences:

for suspending our own legislatures & declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever

by plundering our seas, ravaging our coasts, burning our towns, <des> & destroying the lives of our people:

by inciting insurrections of our fellow subjects with the allurements of forfeiture & confiscation

by prompting our negroes to rise in arms among us; those very negroes whom by an inhuman use of his negative he hath <from time to time> refused us permission to exclude by law:1

by endeavoring to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers the merciless Indian savages whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, & conditions <of life> of existence.

by transporting at this time a large army of foreign mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, & tyranny already begun <in a stile> with circumstances of cruelty & perfidy so unworthy <a> the head of a civilized <people> nation

by answering our repeated petitions <against this repeated> for redress with a repetition of injur<y>ies: <with an accumulation of new injury>2

and finally by abandoning the helm of government <&> & declaring us out of his allegiance & protection.3

<[and by various other acts of tyranny too often enumerated to need repetition, and too cruel for the reflection of those who have felt them.>]

<Whereby it has become absolutely necessary> by which several acts of misrule the sd. George Guelf has forfeited the kingly office, and has rendered it necessary for the preservation of the people <that the said George Guelp> <it is become absolutely necessary> that he should be immediately deposed from the <kingly office> same & divested of all it’s privileges, powers, & prerogatives

And forasmuch as the public liberty may be more <effectually> certainly secured by abolishing an office which all experience hath shewn to be inveterately inimical thereto, <in which case it> and it will thereupon become<s> further necessary to re-establish such antient principles as are friendly to the rights of the people & to declare certain others which may <fortify &> co-operate with & fortify the same in future.4

And whereas by an act of […]5 of the present parliament of Great Britain passed for the purpose of prohibiting all trade & intercourse with the colonies of New Hampshire, Massachusets bay, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, the three lower counties on Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, & Georgia it is declared that the said colonies are in a state of open Rebellion & hostility against the king & his parliament of Great Britain, that they are out of their allegiance to him & are thereby also put [out]6 of his protection: and <in one> it is further declared <in the said act> that as divers persons within the sd. colonies may have been destroyed for the publick service in withstanding or suppressing the said rebellion, it is therefore enacted ‘that all such acts shall be deemed just & legal to all intents <& purposes> constructions & purposes’ to which act the sd. George  Guelp hath given his assent & thereby put us out of his allegiance & protection; in which case it is provided by the original charter of compact granted to Sr. Walter Ralegh on behalf of himself & the settlers of this colony & bearing date the 25th day of March 1584. ‘that if the said Walter Ralegh his heirs or assigns or any of them or any other by their licence or appointment should at any time thereafter do any act of unjust or unlawful hostility, to any of the subjects of the sd. queen her heirs or successors it should be lawful to the said queen her heirs & successors to put the sd Walter Ralegh his heirs and assigns and adherents & all the inhabitants of the said places to be discovered as is therein described, or any of them out of her allegiance & protection, and that from & after such time of putting out of protection of the said Walter Ralegh his heirs assigns & adherents & others so to be put out, & the sd. places within their habitation possession & rule, should be out of her allegiance & protection & free for all princes & others to pursue with hostility as being not her subjects, nor by her any way to be avouched maintained or defended, nor to be holden as any of hers, nor to her protection or dominion or allegiance any way belonging’ so that the sd. George  Guelp having by the said act of parliament declared us in a state of Rebellion & hostility & put us out of his allegiance & protection, it follows by the sd. charter that, from & after the time of such putting out, ourselves, and the places within our habitation, possession & rule are not subject to him, & are not to be holden as any of his, nor to his dominion any way belonging.

From all which premisses it appears that the sd. George  Guelp, not only for his criminal abuses of the high duties of the kingly office, but also by his own free & voluntary act of abandoning & putting us from his allegiance subjection & dominion, may now lawfully, rightfully, & by consent of both parties be divested of the kingly powers:

Legislative Executive & Judicial Powers shall be for ever separate


1. Legislative shall be exercised by two separate houses to be called the General assembly to wit, a house of Representves <which> and a house of Senators shall be chosen <on one certain day yearly through the whole colony by> annually <fresh without bribe>, the sd. house of Representves shall have power to meet on a certain day & on their own adjournments, on call of the executive power <or of their Speaker> & to continue sitting so long as they please.

qualifications of electors shall be such as prove a fixed purpose of residence [— as ld.7 or being inhabt. payg. scot & lot.

qualification of elected, an oath to govmt., <&> that shall not have bribed & to hold no place of profit

<one representative for every>

representatives in propn. to number of qualifd. electors so as not to <exceed> be fewer than [125] nor more than [300] in the whole & in order to keep the proportion within these numbers the first in every [10] years shall be set apart for changing the number.

when met shall be free to act according to own judgmt. that business may not be delayed or obstructed

two third parts a quorum

2. the house of Senators shall <be appointed by the house of> consist of not less than [15] <nor more than [  ]> members who shall be appointed by the house of Representatives & when appointed shall be in for life, their numbers to be regulated within the limits aforsd. every [10th.] year by the house of Representatives according to the circumstances of the colony

with whom shall sit the judges of Gl. ct. & Chy. with right of deliberation but not of suffrage.

their qualification an oath <to> of fidelity to govmt. & no bribery, no place prof.

to meet with house of representatives

these houses shall each have power to originate amend & negative, except that money bills shall originate with representatives

no power of ordaining capital punmts but for  not of inflicting torture in any cause

no laws <for the continuing> <bodie> <armed men embodied, or> for the levying money shall have force for any longer term than [  ] years <nor shall> the


the Executive powers shall be exercised by an [Admr.] to be annually chosen on certain day but not to be invested with powers of Adm. till one year after by the house of representatives who after serving [one] year shall be incapable of serving again till interval of [five] years

he shall possess the powers formerly held by king save only that he

shall be bound by acts of legislature tho’ not named

shall have no negative on bills

shall not have prerogative of <his own>

Dissolving house of Representatives or prorogg. or adjg. ym. <within 30 days>

Declaring war or peace

issuing letters of marque or reprisal

raising or introducing armed forces <or> building armed vessels <without> forts or strong holds

coining monies or regulating <money> their value

regulating weights & measures

erecting courts, offices, boroughs, corporations, fairs, markets, ports, beacons, light houses, seamarks

laying embargoes or prohibiting exportn. for more than 40 days

retaining or recalling a member of state but by legal process <& for law> pro delicto vel contractu.

making denizens

pardoning crimes or remitting fines or punishmts <granting rights> creating dignities or granting rights of precedence

but these <prerogatives> powers to be exercised by legislature alone.


<Admr. elect to be apptd. one year before> <who shall have power to act> <to assist & to act as principal in case of death or absence>

a privy council to be annually appd. by  to consist of <not less than [ ] nor more than [ ]> such number as Representatives may from time to time appoint.

<Judges of Genl. Ct.> all officers civil, & military to be appd. by Admr <with advice of council, during good behavr.> subject to negative of council <except sherif>

<A Supreme court to consist of not less than [5] nor more than [  ] members to be appd. by Representatives durg. good behavior whose office to determine appeals finally & try impeachmts by Representatives.>

Sheriffs and coroners, <and County justices> to be chosen annually by persons qualified to chuse represves.

Treasurer to be appd. by H. R. but to issue no money nor removble without joint authority of <H. & Admr.> both houses <to have session, but not suffrage in the house of representatives> <shall not be member of H. of R.>


The Judicial powers shall be exercised

1st. by <General> County or borough courts <or as> or other jurisdictions inferior to these as already established or hereafter to be established by Legislature

2dly. by a General court & a court of Chancery with powers to receive appeals from inferior courts & take cognisance of such original causes as the laws have already given to the General court or may hereafter give to the same court or court of Chancery now to be separated.

3dly. by a Court of Appeals whose office shall be to hear & determine appeals from the Genl. ct. or Ct. of Chy. and to try impeachments entd. by H. of Representatives and inflict such punishmts as <the> future laws shall direct

the justices of the County or borough courts shall be appd. by admr. subject to negative of Council <and> shall not be fewer than five in number, and shall be removble for misbehavior by Ct. of Appeals

the justices of the General court and judges of Ct. of Chancery shall be appointed by the admr and council <&> shall consist of 5 members each, at the least, who shall have been of the faculty of the law & shall have actually practised the same in this colony seven years, shall hold their commissions during good behavior <and> which shall be tried by court of appeals only

the Court of Appeals shall consist of not less than [7] nor more than [ ] members to be <annually> chosen by Representatives to hold their commns. <for life> during good behavior and removeable only by act of legislature in which the judges of the Genl. ct. & Ct. of Chy. shall have session & deliberative8 voice bt. no suffrage

all facts <whether arising in the courts of> in causes whether of Chancery <or> Admiralty, Ecclesiastical or Common law shall be tried by jury upon evidence viva voce unless in those cases where the courts of Common law now permit the use of deposns or of witnesses out of the colony

all fines & amercemts shall be fixed by juries

all judicial process shall issue in the name of the court <of> from which it issues

Unappropriated or forfeited lands shall be appropriated by the Admr.

[50]9 acres of land shall be <granted> appropriated without <fee> purchase money to every person not owning nor having ever owned that quantity <of lands.> & no other person shall be capable of taking an appropriation.

Lands heretofore holden of the crown, and those hereafter to be appropriated shall be holden of none. but this shall <prejudice> extend to the rights of subinfeudation

no lands shall be appropriated until purchased of the Indian natives nor shall any purchases be made from them <within the limits of latitude but by an> but on behalf of public under acts of legislation to be specially past for that purpose.

<all lands> <shall> <held in fee simple shall descend in future>

<lands which by the laws heretofore in force would have descended to one heir at law shall now>

<Descents shall be to all the children of the decedent or to all> <the> <his brothers & sisters of the whole blood, or to all> <the> <his other cousins>

Descents, instead of being to the eldest son, brother, or other male cousin of the ancestor, <shall be to all his> as directed by the laws heretofore shall be to all the brothers & sisters of the sd. heir at law who shall be of the whole blood of the ancestor, each of whom shall have an equal portion with the heir at law, but where lands shall have been given by such ancestor to any one of the sd. co-heirs it shall be brought into hotchpot or such <heir> coheir not entitled to any further share of the inheritance.

<Residence> All persons who by their own oath, or affirmation or by other testimony shall <satisfy> give satisfactory proof to any court of record that he purposes to reside in this country for [7] years at least and who shall subscribe to the fundamental laws shall be declared by such court invested with the rights of a member natural born.

<No person>

All persons shall have full & free liberty of religious opinion, nor shall any be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious service or institution [but seditious behavior to be punble <by> by civil magistrate accdg to the laws already made or hereafter to be made.]10

No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms.

<No souldier shall be capable of continuing in>

there shall be no standing army but in time of <peace> actual war

Printing presses shall be free, except <so far as they or their managers shall be subject themselves to the private action of any individual> where by commission of private injury they shall give cause of private action

All forfeitures formerly going to king shall go to <publick> the State <Wrecks, waifs, & strays>

the Royal <right> <usurpations on> right<s> to Wrecks, waifs, strays, treasure trove, royal mines, royal fish, royal birds & such fooleries <shall be> are declared usurpations

No salaries or perquisites shall be given to any officer but by act of legislature, <nor shall any> no salaries shall be given to the Admr, principal or elect, the houses of legislature, judges of the court of appeals, justices of the peace, privy council or delegates of Congress; <their> tho their reasonable <expences> subsistence only <of> while acting in their office to be borne, but the house of Senators not to have their expences

the qualifications of all officers, Execve, judicial, <and> military & eccles: oath of fidelity & no bribery

None of these fundamental constitutions to be <alter> repealed but by unanimous consent of both legislative houses.

The laws heretofore in force in this colony shall be still in force save only so far as they may be changed by the foregoing fundamental laws or by future acts of the legislature.

Dft (DLC). This six-page document, not included in any previous edition, was first identified about 1920 by John C. Fitzpatrick and described in D. A. R. Magazine, LV (1921), 363ff., and in his Spirit of the Revolution, Boston and N.Y., 1924, p. 1–7. The first two pages were reproduced in facsimile in Boyd, Declaration of Independence, 1945, pl. II, and its relation to the Declaration of Independence is discussed at p. 12–15. The document has the following endorsement by TJ in the margin of the first page: “Constitution of Virginia first ideas of Th: J. communicated to a member of the Convention.” It bears no date, but TJ stated an obvious fact when he declared it to be “prior in composition to the Declaration” (TJ to Augustus B. Woodward, 3 Apr. 1825). It was certainly drawn up, as were the Second and Third Drafts, before 13 June 1776, when George Wythe left Philadelphia bearing the Third Draft. Internal evidence indicates that the First Draft was drawn up before 27 May, when the Virginia Resolutions of 15 May were read in Congress. For example, the important provision respecting western territories in the Second and Third Drafts was not in the First, possibly indicating that this was added after the Virginia Resolutions arrived in Philadelphia around 26–27 May. As noted above in the foreword to this series of documents, the subject of constitution-making was one of the foremost topics of discussion during the spring of 1776, and TJ, who regarded this as “the whole object” of the Revolutionary movement, may well have formulated the rough notes in the First Draft even before he arrived in Philadelphia on 14 May (TJ to Nelson, 16 May 1776). In view of the general situation and of the internal evidence in these documents, it seems unlikely that all three drafts were composed between 27 May and 13 June as Ford, description begins Paul Leicester Ford, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, “Letterpress Edition,” N.Y., 1892–1899 description ends Fitzpatrick, Marie Kimball, and others have supposed. It is even possible that the Second and Third Drafts were completed before the Virginia Resolutions arrived; evidence of this is the fact that after TJ had completed the Third Draft, he added to the list of charges against the king some that evidently were drawn from or suggested by the Virginia Resolutions (see notes on Declaration of Independence).

It is important to note that page 1 of the First Draft, although greatly altered by interlining, crossing out, &c., actually became the final form of this part of the document from which TJ copied the corresponding part of the Third Draft. Page 2, containing an elaboration of the justification “by consent of both parties,” was not employed at all in the Third Draft; and pages 3 to 6 are mere headings or outlines of a fundamental law. The Second Draft contains no preamble or justification corresponding to pages 1 and 2 of the First Draft, a fact which has led previous writers to suppose it missing. The probability is that there never was such a preamble or justification attached to the Second Draft. For, as the textual notes and a comparison of the texts amply prove, TJ used page 1 of the First Draft for copying that portion of the Third Draft, while the remainder of the Third Draft (i.e., the Constitution proper, pages 3 to 6) was copied from another text, possibly the Second Draft but more likely another copy of it not now known to be extant.

This, however, is not the end of complication in the First Draft. As noted above, after his Virginia Constitution had been sent to the Convention, TJ altered the first page of the First Draft by making interlined additions; he also numbered the charges against the king, adding some that do not appear in the Third Draft and causing the new list of charges to coincide exactly with that in the Declaration of Independence. The accompanying facsimiles of page 1 of the First Draft and page 1 of the Third Draft will show this at a glance: items 1 to 9 in this list on the First Draft coincide exactly with the corresponding unnumbered charges in the Third Draft, but between items 6 and 7 are three interlined items—

  • “refused judiciary establmts …
  • judges dependant
  • erected swarms of offices.”

These particular subjects do not occur in the Third Draft at any point; they do occur precisely at this point and in this order in the Declaration of Independence. It is obvious, then, that the text of this part of the Third Draft, since it was copied (as noted in textual notes below) from the First Draft, shows the state of the First Draft before TJ added the subject headings and numbered the paragraphs so as to put them in the order they were to follow in the Declaration of Independence. This comparison provides the means of isolating and identifying those items that were added in the course of adapting the First Draft to its second purpose. Hence the text as given here is the one that conforms to the fair copy (or Third Draft) made from it; the paragraphs thus isolated as having been added after the Third Draft was completed are discussed in the notes on the Declaration of Independence.

1This passage proves that TJ used the first page of the First Draft as the text from which he copied the Third Draft. This particular passage read in the First Draft: “those very negroes whom he hath from time to time refused us permission to exclude by law.” It was so copied in the Third Draft. TJ then made corrections and interlineations in both texts to cause the passage to read: “those very negroes whom by an inhuman use of his negative he hath refused us permission to exclude by law.” See text of this part of Third Draft for two other examples of changes made in both drafts in the process of copying the Third from the First Draft (i.e., “<con assent” and “<in which>”). However, the conclusive fact is that the text of this part of the First Draft, disregarding the scored-out portions and the subject headings interlined later, coincides wholly with the corresponding portion of the Third Draft.

2Before being changed this passage read: “by answering our repeated petitions against this repeated injury with an accumulation of new injury.”

3This passage is interlined in the First Draft, but this fact does not warrant its being included in those interlined passages which TJ added when he used the First Draft in composing the Declaration of Independence, for the passage appears in the Third Draft, not interlined. It was copied precisely at this point in the Third Draft, but later TJ gave it the number “16” on the First Draft and then inserted another “16” between “9” and “10”; in the Declaration of Independence the passage occurs precisely between the points corresponding to the paragraphs numbered 9 and 10.

4At this point, in the lower right-hand corner of the first page, TJ had written and then crossed out the words “turn over.” The verso of the first page contains the long passage consisting of the two paragraphs that follow in the present text; these were not, of course, copied in the Third Draft. It is apparent that originally page 1 of the First Draft ended with the preceding paragraph (“… divested of all it’s privileges, powers, & prerogatives”). When, however, TJ discarded the argument contained in the two paragraphs on the verso of page 1, he added, at the bottom of that page, the four lines beginning “and forasmuch as. …” It is at this point in the text of the First Draft that TJ ceased employing it as a copy for the Third Draft.

5MS torn. The citation of the act may have been omitted and a blank space left at this point.

6This word inadvertently omitted in MS.

7I.e., “–acres of land.” The words, numerals, or blank spaces in square brackets here and below were so written by TJ. In the present instance the bracket was not closed.

8MS faded; this word supplied from Second and Third Drafts.

9The numeral is blotted out in MS except “0.” The Second and Third Drafts read “50,” and this reading has been conjectured here.

10This highly interesting passage about seditious behavior was bracketed by TJ in the First Draft, indicating that he regarded it as optional or possibly open to question; he copied it in the Second Draft, then struck it out; it was omitted entirely from the Third Draft.

Index Entries