The writing, the preparation, and the background of the American Declaration of Independence form one of the most intriguing and dramatic chapters in the world's history

Quite important is the fact that the Declaration made no criticism of the British Parliament—of representative government, that is. All the trouble was laid at the door of the King and of the King's Privy Council, one of whose functions was to act in the capacity of Supreme Court of the Empire. As I pointed out in an earlier chapter, it is abundantly established that the colonists deeply resented the power of the King's Council to set aside, hold up, or declare null and void the laws of the colonial legislature. Jefferson never changed his mind on judicial supremacy, or the usurpation of power by the Supreme Court to declare acts of Congress unconstitutional. This was shown by his numerous criticisms of Chief Justice John Marshall, and of the increasing power over the elected representatives of the people.

Although I can find no supporting evidence, I believe that omission of specific criticism and mention of the British Parliament in the final draft may be ascribed to the fact that Jefferson and his colleagues wanted no aspersions cast on representative government, and expected to establish truly representative government in the United States, wherein there would be no King, no nobility, and no high court to curtail the liberty of the people.

The great importance of the Declaration, like that of the other documents which we have already studied, has been whittled away by mechanics of the law in order to give rigidity and unique importance to the written Constitution of 1787. Once I said to a lawyer friend of mine that the Declaration was a part of our constitution, our living constitution. Of course, the answer was the usual one, and for that matter, the technically correct one: that the Declaration is not a part of the Constitution—that the Constitution is supreme over all preceding acts or actions.


But if the Declaration is not in effect, then we are still a part of the British Empire. Therefore, though strict adherence to technically correct theorizing must force us to admit that the Declaration is not a part of our written Constitution, yet it is a part of the true living constitution of the United States of America.

Thomas Jefferson was the real creator of the Declaration, though he was helped considerably by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston and Roger Sherman, all of whom served on the drafting committee with him. Jefferson was a shy fellow. To speak before large crowds was agony for him. But he could write in unusually colorful and surging phrases.

Numerous drafts of the Constitution were made. The "Lee Copy" is, I think, the most interesting because it contains the strike-outs and additions. Note that the words "British Parliament" are struck out; that some dreadfully melodramatic phrases got the blue pencil; and that the clause prohibiting the slave traffic was eliminated. The melodramatic phrases irritated some of the committeemen, and I suspect old John Adams of helping to cut Jefferson's condemnation of the slave trade; for Adams represented the slavers of New England. There is no proof except that John Adams denied it, quite gratuitously, the rest of his life. Hence I may be wrong.

A few technical historical facts are worth remembering though not significant from a constitutional viewpoint:

First, the Declaration of Independence was not signed on the Fourth of July.

Second, it was not the official Act of Independence, nor by any stretch of imagination can it be said that it produced independence.

Indeed, the official Act of Independence, generally known as the Resolution of Independence, was adopted earlier, July 2, 1776, and was an entirely different, and separate act.

By that, we officially, legally, constitutionally, quit keeping company with the British King.

The Resolution contained no windy explanations; the colonists had been explaining long enough. Here it is, every word of it:

Resolved, 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 connexion between them, and the state of Great Britain, is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

The above is all that appears in the Journals of Continental Congress as having finally passed, although these additional words were a part of the resolution which had been previously (June 6) introduced by Richard Henry Lee:

That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign alliances.

That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.

It was short and to the point. Our forefathers were now dead tired of protesting their love for the King, whom they hated like the Devil and all his works. They were tired of speeches and orations. This was final irrevocable divorce.

Further, they wanted to tell the world what had happened. Since Jefferson was the writing man of the group, they appointed him to draft the Declaration of Independence. It was to be a vindication of the colonists and an announcement, an advertisement to the world, that the United States of America was out on her own hook, and not taking orders from the old head of the family. And Jefferson sure made a good job of it.

The Declaration as originally written had punch lines and punch paragraphs, as the newspaper men say. When it came out of the legislative mill, it was, like the Magna Carta, one long dreary instrument without paragraphs. Preceding what had been paragraphs were long lines or dashes. Whoever changed it belongs to that tribe of clerks that has ever made the life of the lawmaker one of irritation.