by Joseph Postell
It’s common for Americans on July 4th to read and discuss the Declaration of Independence, and to reflect on its principles and ideas. Those principles and ideas are often attributed solely — though wrongly — to Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the draft of the Declaration.
Jefferson’s draft was modified in two stages: first, by a “Committee of Five” composed of Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston; and second, by the entire Continental Congress.
The Congress discussed Jefferson’s draft for three days, and made significant changes (according to Jefferson, “depredations”) to his work.
In short, the Declaration was the work not of a single person, but of the representatives of the American people. Jefferson was the author of the draft, but it was an American Declaration.