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An eighty-year-old Jefferson disputed this account. He denied that a subcommittee had ever been formed, claiming instead that the entire committee “unanimously pressed on myself alone to undertake the draught.”A more serious discrepancy between the accounts of Adams and Jefferson pertains to how the Declaration was actually drafted.In his Adams recalled that the Committee of Five held several meetings, during which an outline of the Declaration was drawn up to serve as a guide for the draftsman.
This argument from inalienable rights was important because of an ambiguity in traditional social contract theory.
The social contract was more of a theoretical construct than a historical reality, so disagreements inevitably raged over which rights had been delegated to government and which rights had not.
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.
After considering this resolution twice (June 8 and 10), Congress postponed further consideration until July 1.
A man can no more transfer his inalienable rights than he can transfer his moral agency, his ability to reason, and so forth.
This means that inalienable rights could never have been transferred to government in a social contract, so no government can properly claim jurisdiction over them.We thus see why Jefferson focused on inalienable rights in his effort to fasten the charge of tyranny on the British government.The violation of inalienable rights was a defining characteristic of a tyrannical government, and only against such a government is revolution justified.(Contrary to the later recollections of Jefferson and Adams, no signing occurred on July 4).Carl Becker suggested that John Adams may have been responsible for the change: “Adams was one of the committee which supervised the printing of the text adopted by Congress, and it may have been at his suggestion that the change was made in printing.” Julian P.Therefore, there can be no excuse for the violation of inalienable rights.This is the crucial bright-line test that enables us to distinguish the incidental or well-intentioned violation of rights, which even just governments may occasionally commit, from the deliberate and inexcusable violations of a tyrannical government.Boyd (editor of the massive Princeton edition of ) proposed a different theory: “This alteration may possibly have been made by the printer [John Dunlap] rather than at the suggestion of Congress.”Fortunately for my purpose here, this minor mystery is of no consequence.Both “inalienable” and “unalienable” were used throughout the eighteenth century; they were merely variant spellings of the same word.Jefferson gave no indication of such an outline, suggesting instead that he had written the Declaration from scratch.It was only after he had completed the “original Rough draught” that Jefferson submitted the document to Adams and Franklin separately, soliciting changes that he later described as “two or three short and verbal alterations.” But, Jefferson continued, “even this is laying more stress on mere composition than it merits, for that alone was mine.”The Rough Draft to which Jefferson refers is one of the most fascinating documents in American history. Boyd (There can scarcely be any question but that the Rough Draft is the most extraordinarily interesting document in American history….