Holly Brewer is the Burke Professor of American History and an associate professor at the University of Maryland. She works on debates about justice in early America and the British Empire through the revolutionary period and into the nineteenth century. She is the author of By Birth or Consent: Children, Law, and the Anglo-American Revolution in Authority (2005), which won three national prizes in legal history, as well as of the prizewinning "Entailing Aristocracy in Colonial Virginia" (The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 54, no. 2 April 1997). She is currently finishing a book on the ideological origins of slavery in early America and the British Empire for which she received a Guggenheim fellowship. She is a keen supporter of K–12 history education and has provided content lectures on the prerevolutionary period for AP U.S. history teachers.
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.