The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State
Welcome Contents What's New Search this site
View Our Stats
Visitors since 7/15/1998
Links   Guest Book Contact Us
This site is eye friendly: Use your browser's view options to increase or decrease font size

Jefferson's Original Declaration of Independence Did Not Use the Word "Creator"

Many people point to the Declaration of Independence as proof of Thomas Jefferson's intentions to create a "Christian nation." In fact, there is nothing in his original draft of the Declaration of Independence to indicate such intentions.

by Jim Allison


The evolution of the text of the Declaration of Independence regarding the use of the word "Creator" began with the quill of Thomas Jefferson, was discussed with and shown or submitted to John Adams and probably Benjamin Franklin. There were two other members of the "Committee of Five" but there is no historical evidence to show what, if any input they might have had. It was then submitted to Congress. Refer to Original Rough Draught of the Declaration of Independence1

The original version as written by Jefferson no longer exists but has been reconstructed from various copies that do exist as follows with regards to the topic:

We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable, that all men are created equal and independent; that from that equal creation they derive in rights inherent and unalienables, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty and the pursuit of happiness; . . . 2

In the Adams copy, written, sometime between June 11 and June 28, in his own (J. Adams) handwriting we have the following:

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal and independent; that from that equal creation they derive in rights inherent and unalienables, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty and the pursuit of happiness; . . . 3

Sometime later, but before being submitted to Congress, the above was changed to the following:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. . . .4

Though many other changes were made in the rest of the document, Congress accepted those lines for the finished Declaration.

The mystery, if there is a mystery pertains to the change from this "We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable, that all men are created equal and independent;. . . " to this "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,. . . "

Did Jefferson have a change of mind? Did he write it in on the suggestion or advice of Adams or Franklin? Perhaps one of those two wrote it in. Perhaps one of the other two of the Committee of Five suggest it? What, if anything beyond the original phrase by Jefferson can be determined and what does it all mean?

Detailed Analysis

[The following are excerpts. It is recommended that the serious student read all the material found in the cited material to get the full picture. JA]

THE VARIOUS TEXTS OF THE DECLARATION in Jefferson's handwriting that are known to be extant are six (in 1943, now seven) in number, one (or, two of the seven) of them fragmentary. These, together with the highly important copy taken by and in the handwriting of John Adams, provide the materials for tracing the evolution of the text through its formative history.. . . Jefferson is known to have sent copies between July 4 and 10 to John Page, Edmund Pendleton, George Wythe, and Philip Mazzei, in addition to that known as the Richard Henry Lee copy-no other complete drafts have come to light. These texts in the handwriting of Jefferson are as follows: (i) the Rough Draft which was endorsed by Jefferson "original Rough draft" ;. . . (2) the copy made for Richard Henry Lee;. . . (3) the copy in the Emmet Collection of the New York Public Library, sent to an unidentified person and referred to here as the Cassius F. Lee copy ; . . . (4) the copy made by Jefferson for James Madison in 1783 from the draft in the Notes which Jefferson made in Congress during the debates on the Declaration . . . (5) the draft in the Notes from which the Madison copy was taken; . . . and (6) the incomplete copy in the Washburn Papers of the Massachusetts Historical Society; and (7), discovered in 1947, the composition document fragment. . . ,. In any study of these Jefferson drafts and copies, four other texts must be taken into consideration: the copy taken by John Adams . . . and the three official texts. The first of the official texts is the John Dunlap broadside which was probably printed the night of July 4-5 and then wafered into the Rough Journal of Congress, in which a blank space had been left for it, . . .. The second is the copy in the Corrected Journal of Congress which is written out by hand rather than printed and the third is the engrossed parchment copy which was signed by the delegates. It would be supposed that the Corrected Journal of Congress would, in all likelihood, be the most authoritative official text, but the Corrected journal omits two words that are to be found in the copy in the Rough Journal and in all other texts, including the engrossed copy . . . . .5

Inasmuch as Jefferson's Rough Draft was submitted to Adams twice and perhaps also to Franklin, there are three distinct stages that must be considered in the evolution of the Declaration: (1) as it was when Jefferson presented it to Franklin and Adams in advance of a meeting with the Committee and secured Adams' and perhaps Franklin's corrections; (2) as it was when reported by the Committee of Five to Congress; and (3) as it was when Congress had completed its additions and deletions. It would be impossible to arrive at even an approximation of these stages if it were not for the fact that the Rough Draft stands flanked by the Adams and other copies. The Adams copy gives an approximation of the text in its earlier stages and the Madison, Richard Henry Lee, and other copies indicate changes that occurred in the final phase. 6 . . . The problem is enormously complicated by the fact that changes in the text consisted of both deletions and additions, . . ., for Jefferson himself made alterations in the text, it may be assumed, at almost every stage in its progress.7

. . . For it [Declaration of Independence] embodies in its text and in its multiplicity of corrections, additions, and deletions all, or almost all, of the Declaration as it was at every stage of its journey from its origin in the parlor of Graff's home to its emergence in full glory as the authenticated and official charter of liberty of the American people. It thus contains within itself almost the whole story of the evolution of the Declaration, but that evolution became so hopelessly telescoped that even Jefferson himself was not, in later years, altogether clear as to the time at which some changes took place. "How then;" asks Mr. Becker, "can we reconstruct the text of the Declaration as it read when Jefferson first submitted it to Franklin and Adams? For example, Jefferson first wrote `We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable.' In the Rough Draft as it now reads, the words `sacred & undeniable' are crossed out, and `self-evident' is written in above the line. Was this correction made by Jefferson in process of composition? Or by the Committee of Five? Or by Congress? There is nothing in the Rough Draft itself to tell us: " Fortunately, the Adams copy was made at an early stage of the Rough Draft, for, as calculated here,"' only fifteen of an ultimate total of eighty-six alterations had been made when Adams transcribed it, and these were chiefly of a minor character. One of these had certainly been made by Adams himself, possibly one or even two by Franklin, and the remainder by Jefferson. If we take these alterations into account by a comparison of the Adams copy with the Rough Draft, it will be possible to arrive approximately at the basic text of the Rough Draft as it stood when Jefferson presented it to what Adams called a subcommittee and what Jefferson, cleaving a fine hair, called a preliminary consultation. If the Rough Draft as reproduced here could be imagined with not more than fifteen short alterations, it would seem clear that, as will be suggested later, it was a fair copy of an earlier draft or notes for a draft. 8

The changes that had been made in the text of the Rough Draft as it was when Adams copied it are as follows:

Page One of the Rough Draft: (2) line 7," "sacred & undeniable" changed to "self-evident." This famous and altogether felicitous change has been attributed both to Adams and to Jefferson. Such feeling as it exhibits for precisely the right word is quite Franklinian in character, but the handwriting in the phrase "self-evident" bears the appearance of being equally Jeffersonian. I find it difficult to believe that the characteristically Jeffersonian "s" here-another example appears immediately above it-and the even more distinctive final "t" with its peculiar "A"-like quality, were not made by Jefferson. The matter, however, must rest at present upon the amateur's feeling for distinctions, rather than upon any scientific analyses. Fitzpatrick thought that Franklin unquestionably wrote "self-evident"; Mr. Becker was undecided but thought the handwriting resembled Franklin's, as perhaps it does.. . . 9

[There is additional discourse on this in the lines that follow but ultimately it is shown that the author of some of these words in this section are unknown for certain. JA]

Yet all this leaves several questions unanswered, the most important of which has been raised before: was this Rough Draft, incorporating only a few brief alterations, the first state of the document? Were there others that preceded it? If not, then the manuscript that Jefferson handed to Adams had presented far less difficulty in composition than his "first ideas" on the Virginia Constitution or his Declaration of Causes for Taking up Arms. When Jefferson wrote to Madison in 1823 saying "you have seen the original paper now in my hands, with the corrections of Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams interlined in their own handwriting;" he was undoubtedly referring to the Rough Draft.

But did he intend to imply by the words "original paper" that there were no other drafts preceding it? If there were such copies drawn up in the process of composition, why, it may be asked, are they not also in the Jefferson papers along with the Rough Draft? A fair question, but in view of the history of the Jefferson manuscripts, the absence of any other "original" draft or notes does not prove that such were not made: until recent years the three manuscript copies of Jefferson's drafts of a constitution for Virginia were to be found in three different places. It is not very likely that even Jefferson could have produced at the first attempt such a state paper as the Declaration with so few corrections, additions, and interlineations as the Rough Draft had when he showed it to Adams. On this point we do not have to rely altogether upon assumptions. There is evidence in the Rough Draft itself, the significance of which apparently has been hitherto overlooked, pointing to the fact that the Rough Draft was copied by Jefferson from another and earlier document or documents . . . 10.

Before proceeding to the next stage of evolution of the Declaration, one other question pertinent to the Rough Draft in all of its phases should be raised. How can we be certain that Adams and Franklin did not suggest some of the corrections that appeared in Jefferson's handwriting? How can we be certain whether some of these corrections and changes that took place between the time Jefferson drafted it and June 28 were not suggested by Adams or Franklinor even by Roger Sherman, a very wise man, or by Robert R. Livingston, an intelligent youngster? Is it not likely that Jefferson took down in his own handwriting the corrections and changes as suggested by others and entered them in the Rough Draft, just as he did in Congress when his work was altered by that body? The correct answer to these questions may be the one that Jefferson himself gave to Madison in 1823 that, after obtaining the "two or three" verbal alterations from Franklin and Adams, he then "wrote a fair copy, reported it to the committee, and from them unaltered to the Congress." Mr. Becker thinks that Jefferson "was probably right in the assertion that no changes were made in the Committee." There appears to be no known documentary evidence to prove Jefferson wrong in the statement made to Madison. It is reasonable to assume that, having a majority of the Committee in consultation and in agreement with him, Jefferson would feel that he could make a fair copy with some hope of having it passed by Sherman and Livingston without drastic alterations' It is probable too that Jefferson consulted Adams and Franklin more than once and perhaps several times; we know that he submitted the Rough Draft to Adams at least twice. We know, too, that subsequent to the making of the Adams copy a large number of changes took place in the Rough Draft. These were not merely verbal changes in every instance, for Jefferson added three whole paragraphs in his own hand. If Jefferson was in reality the author of all, or almost all, of the changes made in his handwriting and if Adams and Franklin added their changes before a fair copy was made for the formal approval of the Committee, then Jefferson could have been technically correct in his assertion that the fair copy passed the Committee without alteration. But this must remain, plausible though it may be, merely an assumption, somewhat shaken by the point made by Mr. Becker that one of the three paragraphs added in Jefferson's hand (the one embodied on the slip of paper pasted by Jefferson on page two of the Rough Draft) bears evidence of being the sort of change that Adams very likely might have suggested.11

BUT, TO PROCEED TO THE SECOND STAGE, how can it be ascertained what changes were made before the Committee approved the Declaration and reported it to Congress? These numerous changes that appear in the Rough Draft, made singly or collectively by the Committee of Five-how do we know which were made by the Committee and which were made by Congress in the spirited debates on July 2 to 4? The fair copy asserted by Jefferson to have passed the Committee unaltered would have answered this question, but that fair copy is not known to be in existence. The Rough copy, in itself, cannot tell us, for it is a maze of corrections made at all stages of the evolution of the text. Fortunately, we have workable substitutes for the missing fair copy in the Madison copy, in the Richard Henry Lee copy, in the copy in the Notes compiled by Jefferson between July 4,1776, and June 1,1783, from which the Madison copy was made, and in the Cassius F. Lee copy. By using these copies in comparison with the Rough Draft as it stood after Adams had made his copy, it is possible to arrive at the number of changes made before the Declaration went to Congress. . . .12

The following are approximately the changes thus made in the second stage:


Page One of the Rough Draft: (i) line i, "a" changed to "one"; (2) line 2, "advance from that subordination in which they have hitherto remained, & to" struck out and changed to "dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to"; (3) line 3, "equal & independent" changed to "separate and equal"; (4) line 6, "the change" changed to "the separation" (5) line 8, "& independant" deleted; (6) lines 8-9, "from that equal creation they derive rights" changed to "they are endowed by their creator with ["equal rights some of which are" struck out here in the process of making the correction]" and "rights; that" interlined after "inalienable"; . . .13

These, in substance, are the changes made in the draft of the Declaration before it was submitted to Congress. For the most part they were verbal changes, the three new paragraphs added by Jefferson-unless Adams or Franklin suggested one or more of them-being the most significant alterations, and these paragraphs may very well have been inserted by Jefferson after he received the Rough Draft back from Adams and Franklin. It will be seen that what the members of the Committee did to the draft was trifling compared to the emasculation it suffered at the hands of Congress. The change attributed by Jefferson to Adams in this phase of the draft is that detailed above in item (13); those accredited to Franklin by Jefferson's marginalia in the Rough Draft are items (12), (17), (22), (25) and (29). 14


To sum what is known:

There are several possibilities

  1. Jefferson changed his mind and reworded it to what we know today
  2. The change was suggested by Adams.
  3. The change was suggested by Franklin.
  4. The change was suggested by both Adams and Franklin.
  5. The change was suggested by one or both of the other two members of the committee of five or all four of them that was given the task of producing this document.

Jefferson wrote most of the text even some of the changes which scholars are pretty sure was suggested by either Adams or Franklin. There are places in the handwriting of Jefferson yet the wording and style sounds more Franklin or Adams than Jefferson

In other places it appears that Adams made some changes in his own hand and perhaps Franklin did as well.

Thus, bottom line, Jefferson's original draft did not contain the word creator. Sometime between writing that original draft and submission to Congress that wording was changed to the wording we know today

The events that took place between the original draft and submission to Congress were

At least two maybe three revisions to various sections of the Declaration of Independence including this creator section in which the original language was deleted and the current language was inserted in its place, took place before the submission to Congress. Input or ideas from both Adams and Franklin, for certain and maybe the other two were incorporated.

Handwriting is not a reliable barometer since scholars feel that Jefferson probably wrote most of text including some sections that are known to be ideas of one of the others and others wrote sections that might be ideas or suggestions by Jefferson or the others. In addition there are a few places that appear to be in the hand of Adams and perhaps Franklin yet still other sections that scholars just plain have no idea whose hand wrote it for certain. Maybe Jefferson, maybe Adams, maybe Franklin, maybe one of the other two, they just don't know

The only absolute is Jefferson's original draft did not include the word creator. No one can say with complete certainty who was responsible for the change and the addition of "Creator."

In an interview on the History Channel (around July 4th 1999) Dr. Stephen Lucas professor of communication arts, University of Wisconsin, Madison, who has spent the last 15 years studying the origins of the Declaration of Independence made the following points:

  1. The men who wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence would be totally amazed by all the things people have since invented about what it was about, what it meant etc..
  2. That all these religious connections and meanings etc have been added by others later it was never there as written or as understood at the time by it authors, that they were not part of what was originally important, the original understandings, meanings, intentions. etc.
  3. One of the points made over and over again was that the sole purpose of the Declaration of Independence was to justify the separation of the colonies from England.
  4. It also points out that much of Jefferson's writings (Declaration of Independence writings) were borrowed from himself (his proposed constitution for Virginia) The Virginia Declaration of Rights, and other sources. That such practices were quite common practice at that time period.

It is interesting that the following phrases from the Declaration of Independence:

are cited, referred to, quoted, argued over, while the entire rest of the document is forgotten, known by few, seldom quoted. That which seemed of little importance to those who authored and or debated that document has taken on a huge life of its own since then--while that which they felt was important has been forgotten.


1 Original Rough Draught of the Declaration of Independence

2 Jefferson's "original Rough draught [sic]" of the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independant, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness; . . .

Source of Information:

This is Professor Julian Boyd's reconstruction of Thomas Jefferson's "original Rough draught" of the Declaration of Independence before it was revised by the other members of the Committee of Five and by Congress. From: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Vol. 1, 1760-1776. Ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950, pp 243-247.]

3 The Declaration of Independence, The Evolution of the Text, By Julian P. Boyd, Edited by Gerald W. Gawalt. Revised Edition, The Library of Congress in association with the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, Inc., University Press of New England (1999) p. 60

4 Op. Cit., p. 74

5 Op. Cit., p. 25

6 Op. Cit., p.26

7 Op. Cit., p.26

8 Op. Cit., pp. 26-27

9 Op. Cit., p. 27

10 Op. Cit., p. 29

11 Op. Cit., p. 30

12 Op. Cit., p. 31

13 Op. Cit., p. 31

14 Op. Cit., p. 32

Nedstat Counter