This video segment adapted from Africans in America explores Thomas Jefferson's assertion in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal." With this document, Jefferson announced to the world that the newly formed United States of America would be a nation that valued liberty, equality, and the right to self-determination. Yet at the same time that he wrote these words, Thomas Jefferson held title to over 200 human beings as his personal property.
In his first draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote a scathing indictment of King George III for promoting slavery in the New World, for creating and sustaining the slave trade, describing it as "a cruel war against human nature."
Although Jefferson's description of the slave trade was as much an indictment of the colonies as of Britain and the king, the issue that most distressed the patriots stemmed from Lord Dunmore's 1775 proclamation that offered freedom to slaves who joined the British cause: "...he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he also obtruded them..."
When the document was presented to the Continental Congress on July 1, 1776, both northern and southern slaveholding delegates objected to inclusion of the section on slavery, and it was removed. The only remaining allusion to the original paragraph is the phrase "He has excited domestic Insurrections among us," included in a list of grievances against the king.
The Declaration of Independence immediately became the world's foremost manifesto celebrating human rights and personal freedom, yet Jefferson owned over 200 slaves at the time he wrote it.
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