Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826): The Third President of the United States

Reputation: Author of the Draft of the “The Declaration of Independence”

Logical progression of ideas in “The Declaration of Independence”:

  1. The basis (reasons why)
  2. Complaints against the King of England
  3. Declaration of Independence

Reasoning upon which the “Declaration” is based:

  1. Rational Concepts. (This means the justification for the Revolution was based on sound reasoning)
  2. Social Contract Theory. (This means the relationship between government and governed).

Note: Jefferson replaced Locke’s “life, liberty, and property” with “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

  • The American as a “New Adam,” free of (and from) the burdens of European institutions and European past
  • “Self-evident” Natural/Inalienable rights
  • Civil government founded on idea of human equality (and not on monarchy and Aristocratic society in England)

In “Common Sense,” Paine advocated for immediate Declaration of independence; Jefferson wrote it.  Explain how these two men differ in style and tone, and why the language each man used is best suited to his particular purpose and audience:


In keeping with the seriousness of the themes of the Declaration, Jefferson uses a dignified, formal language belonging to the written rather than the commonly spoken language or simple style one finds in Paine’s essay.

Examples of formal words include words such as “inalienable,” “annihilation,” “usurpations,” “invariably” (instead of always), “relinquish” (instead of give up), and “consanguinity” (instead of blood ties). 

  1. Run through the Declaration and list other words/phrases you would label as formal.
  2. Explain the meaning of each word or phrase, and suggest an informal substitute for each.
  3. What effect do your substitutions have on the famous document? 
  4. Discuss the power of the use of appropriate language/diction to influence action

In his Autobiography published in 1829, Jefferson mentions some of the changes made in the draft version of the declaration before it was approved:

The clause too, reprobating the enslaving the inhabitants of Africa, was struck out in complaisance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who, on the contrary, still wished to continue it.  Our northern brethren also, I believe, felt a little tender under those censures; for though their people had very few slaves themselves, yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others.

What would have been the likely outcome if this section/clause had not been removed from the first draft? Do you agree with its removal?

“Notes on the State of Virginia”

Main ideas/themes in “Notes on the State of Virginia”:

  1. America as an Eden/asylum/place of new beginnings/regeneration
  2. The relative quality and achievements of rights and freedoms
  3. The evils of coercion
  4. Quest for emancipation

Concluding Thoughts and Questions

Is there a similarity between the logical sequence of the Declaration of Independence and the tripartite sermon form, especially “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”?

In the Declaration, Jefferson replaced Locke’s “life, liberty, and property” with “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  What is the meaning and significance of the phrase “pursuit of happiness”?

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