Editing the Declaration

If you had to edit the Declaration of Independence, could you? Would you search for formatting and grammatical errors or would you focus on the content? Maybe you would do both. Of course, once you edit it, you have to give it back to the writer. Are you ready to deal with an angry author?

These activities are meant to take you back to the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. This resource is inspired by the Society's handwritten draft that Thomas Jefferson gave to Richard Henry Lee. Known as a "clean copy," it is an initial draft that contains details on edits suggested and made by the Continental Congress and various publishers.  

The activities on this page provide details on how the known versions of the Declaration differ, the timelines that gave us those versions, and an exercise in editing this founding document. Research was conducted by Education staff, particularly Christine Freije, Museum Manager.

Please note (c/w racist language): We acknowledge that, as an author, politician, and Revolutionary, Jefferson was trying to build a very strong case for American Independence. At the same time, we acknowledge that his language and actions are heavy with contradictions and have caused harm to many. For example, one of the grievances that he lists reads as follows: "He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions." Jefferson's racist language here, referring to the Native peoples who live in North America, is just one example of the deep contradictions of both the Declaration of Independence and the vision the Founders established for the new nation. The document, in its many editions, asserts in the first line that "all men are created equal," but it is subject to the legacy of its authors and to the nation that was established on stolen land and through the enslavement, displacement, and disfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of human beings.

Have questions or need more information? Email us at [email protected]