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Thomas Jeffersons Contribution to the Constitution

The purpose of this paper is to give a brief chronological accounting of the writing of the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson. A short description of the structure of the Declaration of Independence will be included. The process was relatively fast, from the formation of the committee The committee consisted of two New England men, John Adams of Massachusetts and Roger Sherman of Connecticut; two men from the Middle Colonies, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and Robert R. Livingston of New York; and one southerner, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. In early June, the committee met as a whole and unanimously insisted that Jefferson draw up the declaration. Jefferson wrote that the other members of the committee “unanimously pressed on myself alone to undertake the draught. I consented; I drew it; but before I reported it to the committee I communicated it separately to Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams requesting their corrections. . . I then wrote a fair copy, reported it to the committee, and from them, unaltered to the Congress.

Jefferson’s account reflects three stages in the life of the Declaration: the document originally written by Jefferson; the changes to that document made by Franklin and Adams, which resulted in the version that was submitted by the Committee of Five to the Congress; and the version that was eventually adopted. On July 1, 1776, Congress reconvened. The following day, the Lee Resolution for independence was adopted by 12 of the 13 colonies, New York not voting.

Immediately afterward, the Congress began to consider the Declaration. Adams and Franklin had made only a few changes before the committee submitted the document. The discussion in Congress resulted in some alterations and deletions, but the basic document remained Jefferson’s. The process of revision continued through all of July 3 and into the late afternoon of July 4. Then, at last, church bells including Paul Revere’s bell, rang out over Philadelphia; the Declaration had been officially adopted.

The Declaration of Independence is made up of five distinct parts: the introduction; the preamble; the body, which can be divided into two sections; and a conclusion. The introduction states that this document will “declare” the “causes” that have made it necessary for the American colonies to leave the British Empire. Having stated in the introduction that independence is mandatory, the preamble sets out principles to be “self-evident”, closing with the statement that “a long train of abuses and usurpations . . evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. ” The first section of the body of the Declaration gives evidence of the “long train of abuses and usurpations” flooded upon the colonists by King George III. The second section of the body states that the colonists had appealed in vain to their “British brethren” for a redress of their grievances.

Having stated the conditions that made independence necessary and having shown that those conditions existed in British North America, the Declaration concludes that “these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved. ” Although Congress had adopted the Declaration submitted by the Committee of Five, the committee’s task was not yet completed.

Congress had also directed that the committee supervise the printing of the adopted document. The first printed copies of the Declaration of Independence were turned out from the shop of John Dunlap, official printer to the Congress. After the Declaration had been adopted, the committee brought Dunlap the manuscript document, possibly Jefferson’s “fair copy” of his rough draft. On the morning of July 5, copies were dispatched by members of Congress to various assemblies, conventions, and committees of safety as well as to the commanders of Continental troops.

Also on July 5, a copy of the printed version of the approved Declaration was inserted into the “rough journal” of the Continental Congress for July 4. The text was followed by the words “Signed by Order and in Behalf of the Congress, John Hancock, President. Attest. Charles Thomson, Secretary. ” It is not known how many copies but there are 24 copies known to exist of what is commonly referred to as “the Dunlap broadside. ” In 1784 Jefferson became, first, a commissioner to negotiate commercial treaties, and then, Benjamin Franklin’s successor as minister.

Toward the end of his mission he reported the unfolding revolution in France. Eventually he was repelled by the excesses of the French Revolution. He thoroughly disapproved France’s imperialistic phase under Napoleon Bonaparte. Because of his absence in Europe, Jefferson had no direct part in the framing or ratification of the Constitution of the United States. The most notable achievement of Jefferson’s first term as President (1800) was the purchase in 1803 of Louisiana from France for 15 million dollars. (see Lewis and Clark).

During his second term Jefferson encountered greater difficulties. One of the domestic problems was the Burr-Conspiracy, with the former vice president on trial for treason. Jefferson was succeeded as president in 1809 by James Madison. During the last 17 years of his life, Jefferson remained in Virginia. As the ‘Sage of Monticello’ he engaged in a rich correspondence with John Adams and others. Jefferson’s last great public service was the founding of the University of Virginia in 1819. He died at Monticello on July 4, 1826 on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

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