The Committee of Five - the group that was charged with drafting the Declaration
Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence was improved by Congress’ attention.
Congress made the Declaration of Independence a leaner document, one that was more forceful and, in its brevity, more likely to be read. Altogether, Congress pruned the draft by nearly a third. Even with the additions made by Congress, the Declaration of Independence runs just over 1,400 words, not much longer than an op-ed piece in a modern daily newspaper.
Only one congressman was anguished by what Congress did to Jefferson’s draft, and that was Jefferson himself. Like any writer, he suffered silently in acute distress as his colleagues critiqued his composition, adding words, tinkering with a phrase here and there, and expunging entire sentences. Seeing his colleague’s anguish, Franklin tried to comfort Jefferson by explaining – as has many an editor to many a despairing author – that brevity can be more compelling.
About the author: John Ferling is a leading authority on late 18th and early 19th century American history. He is the author of many books, including Independence, The Ascent of George Washington, Almost a Miracle, Setting the World Ablaze, and A Leap in the Dark. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
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