Slavery and the Declaration of Independence: The Deleted Clauses

Lecture Description

In this lecture I argue that the deleted clauses of the declaration of independence are crucial for understanding the debates about slavery during the era of the American Revolution. In Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration, three of the twenty clauses that complained about the actions of the English king related to slavery. Two of those clauses, both of which blamed the king for supporting that “execrable commerce” in people, were deleted from the final draft, after some debate and strong objections to the clauses by South Carolina’s delegates to the Continental Congress. While historians have tended to ridicule these clauses on the grounds that Jefferson owned slaves and that the colonists themselves were solely responsible for slavery, I argue that Jefferson understood both a history and a political and legal structure that we have forgotten. This lecture therefore helps to provide a history, as well as a political and legal structure, for understanding the debates over the Declaration’s principle that all men are created equal.

CATEGORIES

Revolutionary and Early National Slavery

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