Thomas Jefferson Papers

II. Fragment of the Composition Draft of the Declaration of Independence, [before 29 July 1776]

II. Fragment of the Composition Draft of the Declaration of Independence

re-established them in po[wer …]1 <this conduct and> at this very time too, they are permitting their <sovereign> chief magistrate to send over not only soldiers of our <own> common blood but Scotch & foreign mercenaries to <destroy us> invade and deluge us in blood.2 <this is too much to be borne even by relations. enough then be it to say, we are now done with them.> these facts have given the last stab to agonizing affection, & manly spirit bids us to renounce for ever these unfeeling brethren!3 we must endeavor to forget our former love for them and to hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends. we might have been a <great> free & a <happy> great people together, but a communicat<ed>ion of <happiness> [g]randeur & of <grandeur> freedom it seems is be<neath>low their dignity. <we will climb then the roads to glory & happiness apart> be it so, since they will have it: the road to <glory &> <to> happiness & to glory4 is open to us too, we will climb it <in a separate state> apart from them5 & acquiesce in the necessity which <pro> denounces6 our <everlasting Adieu> eternal separation.7

<these facts have given the last stab to agonizing affection, & manly spirit bids us to renounce for ever these unjust> <unfeeling> <brethren>.

Dft. (DLC). This fragment appears on one of three half-leaves (TJ Papers, 4: 647–9) which embrace all or part of several documents: (1) rough draft of Resolution on the Case of General Sullivan, 29 July 1776, q.v. (recto of p. 647 and half of recto of p. 649); (2) fair copy of same (beginning on verso and concluding on recto of p. 648); (3) part of rough draft of Report of the Committee on the Cedars Cartel, 17 June 1776, q.v. (verso of p. 647); (4) Fragment of the Composition Draft of the Declaration of Independence (half of recto of p. 649); and (5) pencil notes of the dimensions and characteristics of a horse stall (verso of p. 649). The last, which will be printed in the volume containing TJ’s architectural papers and drawings, pertains to the stable of Governor John Penn (see Kimball, Jefferson, Architect, pl. 60, for a drawing and memorandum based on these pencil notes). None of these bears a date, though all were written after 11 June 1776 and all save the last were certainly penned before 29 July 1776; the last was very probably done before 29 July, since, otherwise, TJ would no doubt have written the concluding part of the Resolution on Sullivan on the verso of p. 649 instead of upside down on the recto. See Julian P. Boyd, “New Light on Jefferson and His Great Task,” New York Times Magazine, 13 Apr. 1947, p. 17+.

This recently discovered fragment, containing part of the earliest known text of the Declaration of Independence, bears internal evidence (1) that it was earlier than the copy that TJ, late in life, endorsed as the “original Rough draught”; (2) that what TJ called the “Rough draught” was in fact copied from the text of which this fragment was a part; (3) that this fragment was indeed a part of the original composition draft; and (4) that the original composition draft was not, as in all other copies of the Declaration made by TJ, a single consecutive text occupying four pages of a whole sheet folded once, but was made up of at least two and possibly more parts.

The fact that the Fragment is earlier than TJ’s so-called “original Rough draught” and that the latter was copied from its text is easily demonstrable. The Fragment contains several words and passages that are crossed out; none of these was copied in the “Rough draught” (or true fair copy). The Fragment also contains, in its undeleted 148 words that were copied in the “Rough draught,” 43 words caretted and interlined; none of these was so treated in the “Rough draught.” Such deletions and interlineations in themselves do not prove the Fragment to have been part of a composition draft, but the unusual treatment of one important deletion and interlineation does support this conclusion. After he had completed the whole passage, TJ began a new line (“these facts have given the last stab …”) in order to rephrase the awkward transitional sentence between the statement of facts justifying separation and the statement of the conclusion that “eternal separation” was the result of these facts. This new attempt to rephrase the sentence was only a slight improvement over the one it was intended to supplant, and Congress later deleted it. But, satisfied with the new phrasing, TJ then crossed out the sentence “this is too much to be borne even by relations …,” and interlined the second above it and also crossed out the “composition draft” of the new sentence at the bottom of the Fragment. To be sure, there are numerous instances in TJ’s papers of a word or passage being crossed out in a rough draft and then being transferred and interlined at some other place for the sake of clarity, rhythm, or force. But the fact that the sentence “these facts have given the last stab …” was written on a new line and at the conclusion of the whole passage, where it obviously could not follow in sequence, shows that it was a trial phrasing for something else already stated. When TJ was satisfied that this tentative phrasing was an improvement, he made the necessary interlineation at the only point where the initial words “these facts” could be appropriately applied. If he had been copying rather than composing, he would merely have struck out the awkward sentence and interlined the substitute. Other indications in the MS support the conclusion that the Fragment is part of a composition draft; for example, the sentence “we will climb the roads to glory & happiness apart” was struck out, and TJ then proceeded to rephrase the same thought not by interlineation but by continuing on the same line.

But perhaps the most conclusive evidence that the Fragment is a part of the earliest composition text derives from its position on the page. All other contemporary copies of the text of the Declaration in TJ’s hand occupy four full pages; a rough, composition draft presumably would have occupied even more space because of deletions and additions (the fragmentary text here presented occupies fully thirteen lines, and the corresponding passage in the “Rough draught” occupies slightly more than ten). Yet the text of the Fragment ends in the middle of the half-leaf, the remainder being blank until, late in July, TJ used it for the concluding part of the Sullivan Resolution. Its verso was completely blank until TJ jotted down the penciled dimensions of Governor Penn’s stable. In short, if we assume that TJ began composing the Declaration on a whole sheet folded once to make four pages, as was the case in every other known copy of the Declaration made by him in 1776, the text of the Fragment would occur on the third page and would occupy the third quarter of that page, the final quarter being blank and all of page four being blank. The question at once arises as to how this could be so, since the full text of the Declaration as copied by TJ occupies four full pages. The answer, it seems obvious, is that the long list of charges in the indictment of the crown was not present in this composition draft of which we have a fragment. There was no need for it to be included in this composition draft since TJ had employed the first page of his First Draft of a Constitution for Virginia for such a purpose. Allowing for the absence from the Fragment of the concluding paragraph of the Declaration giving effect to the Resolution of Independence of 7 June, and allowing also for the omission from this composition text of the indictment against the crown we are presented with plausible evidence for the supposition that the Fragment ends on the third quarter of the third page. This supposition that TJ omitted the list of charges against the crown from this composition draft is made all but conclusive by the fact that in both the first page of the First Draft of the Virginia Constitution and in the text of the Fragment, deletions and interlineations were made after the “Rough draught” had been copied off (see notes to Document I and textual notes below). If the list of charges had been included in the text of which the Fragment is a part, TJ would scarcely have gone back to the first page of the First Draft of the Virginia Constitution to make an alteration that had been made in the “Rough draught.” Hence, both because of its position on the page and also because of these corrections, we conclude that the text of the Fragment did not include the list of charges and that it was, therefore, an incomplete composition draft in respect to this and also in respect to its omission of the final paragraph of the Declaration. Whether this final paragraph was composed during the process of copying the “Rough draught,” or whether a tentative draft of it was written on another sheet of paper before being copied, cannot be determined.

1Half a line of text missing along the torn top edge of the MS.

2The phrase “deluge us in blood” is deleted in the “Rough draught” and the words “destroy us” are interlined in the handwriting of Benjamin Franklin. In making this correction, Franklin chose precisely the words that TJ had originally written and rejected for the more oratorical phrase.

3This sentence was interlined at this point after it was written and deleted below.

4TJ copied the phrase “to glory & happiness” in the “Rough draught” and then corrected both that and the text of the Fragment by striking out “glory &” and interlining “& to glory” in each. This change was made before John Adams copied off his text of the “Hough draught.”

5TJ copied the phrase” in a separate state” in the “Rough draught” and then, by appropriate changes, reduced it to the word “separately.” This was not satisfactory, and so he struck out “separately” in the “Rough draught” and interlined “apart from them,” doing the same in the text of the Fragment. Adams’ copy was made after the interlineation of “apart from them.” This correction is important in showing that TJ indulged in an occasional bit of composition even while copying the “Rought draught” from the text of the Fragment.

6TJ altered “pronounces” to “denounces” in the process of copying the “Rough draught,” making the alteration in both that and the text of the Fragment. This change also was made before Adams took his copy.

7TJ struck out “everlasting Adieu” in the “Rough draught” and also in the text of the Fragment and then added “eternal separation” in each. He had omitted the exclamation point after “unfeeling brethren” in the “Rough draught” and then placed one after “eternal separation,” though none occurs at this point in the text of the Fragment. This change was made before the Adams copy was taken.

Index Entries