Thomas Jefferson's Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence

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NBC Today Show
Matt Lauer
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NBCUniversal Media, LLC.
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Thomas Jefferson's original rough draft of the Declaration of Independence is put on display at the Library of Congress in honor of Independence Day. There were 86 edits made to the rough draft, mostly made by Benjamin Franklin.



"Thomas Jefferson's Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence." Matt Lauer, correspondent. NBC Today Show. NBCUniversal Media. 3 July 1998. NBC Learn. Web. 11 January 2020.


Lauer, M. (Reporter). (1998, July 3). Thomas Jefferson's Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence. [Television series episode]. NBC Today Show. Retrieved from


"Thomas Jefferson's Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence" NBC Today Show, New York, NY: NBC Universal, 07/03/1998. Accessed Sat Jan 11 2020 from NBC Learn:


Thomas Jefferson's Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence

MATT LAUER, anchor:

In honor of Independence Day and as part of its American Treasures Exhibit the Library of Congress has put the original rough draft of the Declaration of Independence on display.  Written in Thomas Jefferson’s own hand 222 years ago, the four page document had 86 edits which offer a unique insight into the birth of this nation.  Gerard Gawalt is with the Library of Congress.  Mr. Gewalt good morning to you.

GERARD GAWALT (Library of Congress):  Good morning Matt, how are you today?

LAUER:  I’m fine thank you very much.  What can we learn from this rough draft that we can’t learn

from the signed final version of this document?

GAWALT:  Well the rough draft shows the progression of the document through the pen of Thomas Jefferson, through Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, the committee that was appointed to write the Declaration of Independence, and the Congress itself to the final product.  It shows how hard that the Americans worked to produce this revolutionary statement of man’s rights.

LAUER:  You mention the committee that was given the job of drafting this document.  You mention Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, but also Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman.  There was some jealousy within that group wasn’t there?

GAWALT:  Well there was some competition I think between who should actually write the Declaration of Independence.  John Adams thought that Thomas Jefferson should write it because he was considered a moderate and from a southern state. Other people thought that Benjamin Franklin should write it because he was of course considered the most irradiative American at the time.  Its interesting that Thomas Jefferson almost was not on the committee because Richard Henry Lee, the senior delegate from Virginia introduced the motion for independence and had he not wanted to go back to Virginia to help write the Virginian constitution, it would have been Richard Henry Lee on the committee and not Thomas Jefferson.

LAUER:  One of the most dramatic changes from the rough draft to the final document is the deletion of the paragraph that called for an end of slavery.  Why was that taken out?

GAWALT:  Well the paragraph dealing with the end of the slave trade was taken out as Jefferson said because the delegates from South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and even some of those from Virginia would not have voted for the Declaration of Independence had it been left in.

LAUER:  Couple of quick points:  When the final version of the Declaration of Independence was drafted and signed, the signatures were kept secret, why was that?

GAWALT:  Well they were kept secret because from our point of view it was a very patriotic document, from the British point of view it was a treasonous document and all those who signed it were certainly liable to be hung.  And when the declaration was written it was a document of defiance.  The Americans were actually surrounded by British armies at Charleston, New York, Canada, and Native American armies pressing on both the northern and southern frontiers.

LAUER:  Well Gerard Gawalt we thank you very much, interesting stuff.

GAWALT:  Thank you.