Making his language bolder

Thomas Jefferson, asked to write the declaration of the United States’ independence for the Continental Congress, sat down with pen and ink and went to work on a draft. The draft has been preserved, allowing a glimpse of Jefferson the writer at work. Penning the memorable words of the declaration, Jefferson did the work of all good writers – the work of editing, of returning to his language, narrowing and sharpening it. Langguth writes:

‘We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable,’ he wrote…Jefferson struck out ‘sacred and undeniable’ and wrote in ‘self-evident’. He continued through his draft, paring words away to make his language bolder. From ‘that all men are created equal and independent’ he dropped ‘and independent’. ‘Rights inherent and inalienable’ became ‘unalienable rights’. His next phrase came straight from his pen and could not be improved. Jefferson struck off those rights as ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’.


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