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"Our fellow subjects"
July 2, 2010 12:18 PM   Subscribe

On the day that John Adams thought would be celebrated as the birth of the United States of America, the Library of Congress reveals that in an original draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson referred to "Our fellow subjects," not "Our fellow citizens."
posted by TrarNoir (65 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Independencefail.
posted by Think_Long at 12:21 PM on July 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Old habits die hard.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:22 PM on July 2, 2010 [8 favorites]


This subject of the Queen smiles
posted by A189Nut at 12:25 PM on July 2, 2010


THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING!

(Sings God Save the Queen, trades dollars in for Canadian money, lets teeth rot out.)
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:28 PM on July 2, 2010 [9 favorites]


This is why we need a three-minute edit window.
posted by Aizkolari at 12:29 PM on July 2, 2010 [50 favorites]


Save it for the blooper reel on the Declaration of Independence deluxe DVD.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 12:31 PM on July 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Given that the document was to declare independence based on the King's recited abuses, it wasn't so sloppy for Jefferson to address it to his fellow (then) subjects.

I was kinda hoping for more of a National Treasure moment.
posted by bearwife at 12:31 PM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Aizkolari wins, but nevertheless, this is what third, fourth and fifth drafts are for.
posted by notyou at 12:31 PM on July 2, 2010


TJ was historically-minded, certainly understood that folks would be looking at his documents for years to come. Wouldn't surprise me if he was very deliberate in writing "Subject" so that he could perform the act of crossing it out. OTOH, and that's admittedly a stretch, for a certain period of time (I'm not sure how long), the Founding Fathers bandied about the idea of making George Washington KING! Who knows but that this draft wasn't scratched then?
posted by njbradburn at 12:32 PM on July 2, 2010


Could have been worse - we could have been prepositions.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 12:32 PM on July 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


And to think, when I watched my son play the part of Thomas Jefferson in his daycare's 4th of July production today, I actually felt a momentary gush of pride. If only I had known about this sooner, I might have been able to spare him the disgrace.

For shame, Mr. Jefferson! First you edited the miracles out of the New Testament, and now this?
posted by saulgoodman at 12:32 PM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Does this mean we get the NHS now?
posted by enn at 12:32 PM on July 2, 2010 [11 favorites]


So, anybody want to start an over/under on how long it'll be before this joins flag-fringe as a talking point about why the Federal Government is secretly illegitimate?
posted by COBRA! at 12:33 PM on July 2, 2010 [10 favorites]


You may remember that George Washington's supporters offered to acclaim him king, rather than hold elections, and it was only because Washington declined the offer that the US wound up a democracy, so the description of Americans as subjects might have turned out to be correct. It hinged on one man's decision.
posted by grizzled at 12:34 PM on July 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


They did a reading of the whole Declaration on NPR this morning. It was a bit hokey but I listened through the whole thing, and hit a part that I'd never noticed before:
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 undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
Of course a lot of the words in the Declaration weren't followed through for hundreds of year ("all men are created equal"), but I didn't realize there was such raw racism in there. A bit more info here and here.
posted by kmz at 12:37 PM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


liberty is so less cool now that I know it was edited

liked it better when the words sprang, fully formed, from TJ's head thanks to an axeblow from GeeDub. (same one he used on the cherry tree. Forreals)
posted by Eideteker at 12:41 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I listened to the Declaration reading on NPR too, and while passing in and out of sleep, I thought to myself, man, what a bunch of whiners.
posted by elder18 at 12:45 PM on July 2, 2010


Not his most substantive revision. The first draft's punchline "here's all the ways the King of England done us wrong" was in part:

he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it's most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce


I like the random OUTRAGED capitalization TJ. You would have done great on the internet.
posted by ND¢ at 12:49 PM on July 2, 2010 [8 favorites]


You may remember that George Washington's supporters offered to acclaim him king, rather than hold elections, and it was only because Washington declined the offer that the US wound up a democracy, so the description of Americans as subjects might have turned out to be correct. It hinged on one man's decision.

Given the tenor of the discussion of democracy and rights and whatnot, I think this proposition is a tad overblown and inaccurate.
posted by grubi at 12:52 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


You may remember that George Washington's supporters offered to acclaim him king, rather than hold elections, and it was only because Washington declined the offer that the US wound up a democracy, so the description of Americans as subjects might have turned out to be correct. It hinged on one man's decision.

Funny, I thought the use of subjects was because they were still, you know, British subjects.

Also, the "George Washington was offered a monarchy" thing is a myth. Granted, a myth that elementary-school teachers sometimes still include in lesson plans, along with "Christopher Columbus proving that the world is round"
posted by muddgirl at 12:58 PM on July 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


kmz: but I didn't realize there was such raw racism in there.

Well, we didn't invent it all by ourselves.
posted by hanoixan at 1:03 PM on July 2, 2010


The Library of Congress ruins all our holidays!



On that note, Britain, save yourself millions of pounds a year and overthrow the queen! (I recommend putting a Starbucks in Buckingham Palace).
posted by Atreides at 1:05 PM on July 2, 2010


It's interesting that we regard revolutionary fervour of most any period as near-universal, when in reality opinion, activity and political alignment are deeply divided. Historical studies of Williamsburg show that the free population in 1775 were equally divided between Loyalists, Independents, and those neutral or ambivalent regarding the revolution, and there is little reason to believe that these proportions were substantially different from one colony to the other. Even within the Independent camp there were significant numbers of men who believed that conflict was necessary to gain a redress of rights, and that this could be achieved without becoming a completely separate nation. It was part of the motivation of Benedict Arnold to swap sides: he felt that the political independents had been taken over by radicals, and that the stated aims of the war he had joined and served bravely in had been subverted.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 1:06 PM on July 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


And I have to say, as flawed as the Founding Fathers were, it has always been incredible to me that they actually did form a democracy (however limited) after a successful rebellion. History is full of popular uprisings that end with the installation of another king/emperor/czar.

I remember reading Outlaws of the Marsh when I was a kid (and could still read some Chinese). I talked with my dad about how different history could have been if the outlaws had been able to win against Gao Qiu. He told me they would have just installed Song Jiang as an emperor and the dynasties would have shifted a little but it wouldn't be so different. No, I thought, it would have been different! Song Jiang was an asshole but the rest of them were good people! But as I grew older, I realized my dad was right. As pTerry says:
Royalty was like dandelions. No matter how many heads you chopped off, the roots were still there underground, waiting to spring up again.

It seemed to be a chronic disease. It was as if even the most intelligent person had this little blank spot in their heads where someone had written: "Kings. What a good idea." Whoever had created humanity had left in a major design flaw. It was its tendency to bend at the knees.
posted by kmz at 1:10 PM on July 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


And, an interesting tidbit is that both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on the 50th. Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence -- July 4, 1826.
posted by ericb at 1:18 PM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


It was a while ago, but I recall I was taught in school in England that the War of Independence was significantly about the settler's desire to move West in an uncontrolled fashion, so as to better steal land from the indigenous peoples. The Proclamation of 1763 and all that.
posted by A189Nut at 1:19 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


My favorite just-read-it-in-the-Declaration-of-Independence-today-but-my-isn't-it-relevant-to-today's-world passage is this:
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
Wonder how the anti-immigration folks feel about that.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:19 PM on July 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


OK, I retract the claim that Washington had been offered a crown, however, he still could probably have gotten away with proclaiming himself to be king, had he wanted to do so, much as Napoleon Bonaparte used to anti-monarchist French Revolution to become Emperor of France. Admittedly, this has nothing to do with Jefferson's phrasing of the Declaration of Independence. When it was written, no one knew how important Washington's leadership would prove to be in the coming war.
posted by grizzled at 1:22 PM on July 2, 2010


Yeah, first drafts are always wince worthy. I bet there are all sorts of scribbled notes, and a coffee ring somewhere in the middle.

I wouldn't be surprised to find out that he did a little stick-figure doodle fight in margin, while he was thinking.
posted by quin at 1:25 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


a myth that elementary-school teachers sometimes still include in lesson plans...

'Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong' and 'Teaching What Really Happened' by James Loewen.
posted by ericb at 1:26 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]




The humility of the Presidential position for the head of state was, well, unprecedented, and there were some slipups. I understand that Martha was referred to as "Lady Washington," as no one quite knew what the First Lady's position was, and gave her an honorific appropriate to a peer's wife.

I wish that had caught on, if only because it would have been lovely to hear the President's wife addressed as Lady Obama. I like a little bit of harmless feudal cruft, such as the use of "Your Honor" for judges and mayors.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:35 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


This isn't new or shocking. One of the interesting scenes in the HBO "John Adams" mini-series was watching John Adams, a very successful lawyer and Ben Franklin, a man of no small subtlety in turning a phrase, sit down and script-doctor the Declaration into its final draft while Jefferson sulks.
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:36 PM on July 2, 2010


...he still could probably have gotten away with proclaiming himself to be king, had he wanted to do so...

When it was written, no one knew how important Washington's leadership would prove to be in the coming war.


Coming war? We had been fighting the British for nearly a year by July 4th 1776. Washington was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the entire Colonial militia in June of 1775, based on his innovative and successful defense of Boston while commander of the Massachusetts milita.

We didn't elect him President until 1789, and there was near-universal anti-monarchal fervor among the delegates at the time. If Washington had, quite against his character, declared himself to be king and invalidated the Constitution, he quite probably would have been hung.
posted by muddgirl at 1:38 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wish that had caught on, if only because it would have been lovely to hear the President's wife addressed as Lady Obama. I like a little bit of harmless feudal cruft

We know that about you, Countess Elena.

How do you feel about Lady Lady Bird? Lady Bush? Lady Reagan?
posted by bearwife at 1:38 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Next week, the LoC plans to announce that they found the first draft to Melville's Moby Dick, which begins "Call me Steve..."
posted by briank at 1:39 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


How do you feel about Lady Lady Bird? Lady Bush? Lady Reagan?

I hear that Lady Bush is becoming more popular nowadays...

Wakka wakka wakka.
posted by SNWidget at 1:41 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


uhhh, this doesn't seem like news. Didn't the Founding Fathers still considered themselves British Citizens who disagreed with various policies (like moving west) and it almost seemed like the Revolution got legs of it's own and suddenly people are dying and what was an argument over takes and land rights turned into blood! and guns! and Constitutions! Or am i totally mis-remembering History class?
posted by The Whelk at 1:47 PM on July 2, 2010


On that note, Britain, save yourself millions of pounds a year and overthrow the queen!

Can you imagine the consultancy fees?
posted by vbfg at 1:48 PM on July 2, 2010


The first draft of the "Star Spangled Banner" has been found as well.
posted by NoMich at 1:50 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


muddgirl, you are just speculating. The anti-monarchial fervor of the American revolutionaries was not as great as that of the French revolutionaries, who slaughtered virtually all of the French nobility, but who nonetheless wound up with Emperor Napoleon. A strong mililtary leader who commands the loyalty of his troops is in a good position to take over, should he wish to do so. It has happened many times throughout history. Of course it is true as you say that this would have been against Washington's character, and I never said that there was any likelihood that Washington would have done such a thing, merely that it would probably have been possible to do if he had wanted to do it. Would he then have been hung? I doubt it. Today we would think that the creation of an American monarchy is a betrayal of the American principles of democracy, but at that period of history, democracy was just an experiment that some people wanted to try (also remember how limited that original democracy was, based on race and gender - the majority of the population did not get to vote). It was not an established and venerated tradition. I also have recently had reason to wonder how much Americans really believe in democracy, even today, when I see the bizarre spectacle of all those who are looking for reasons to deny that Barack Obama is actually President, despite having won the 2008 election.
posted by grizzled at 1:51 PM on July 2, 2010


in an original draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson referred to "Our fellow subjects"...

Not coincidentally, this phrase occurs repeatedly in Cheney's secret oil industry meeting notes, as well.
posted by darkstar at 1:54 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


muddgirl, you are just speculating. The anti-monarchial fervor of the American revolutionaries was not as great as that of the French revolutionaries, who slaughtered virtually all of the French nobility, but who nonetheless wound up with Emperor Napoleon.

Well, you know, after all the French Revolutionaries were themselves slaughtered. You remember the Reign of Terrror? Yeah, not a particularly stabilizing moment in the history of French democracy.

The American congress already had a foundation of Constitutional democracy, based on the strong and successful constitutions of Massachusetts and Virginia. France, on the other hand, had like 1000 years of various kings and Emperors.

A strong mililtary leader who commands the loyalty of his troops is in a good position to take over, should he wish to do so.

The US had no standing army, unlike France. The continental army was disbanded in 1783. The farmers went home.
posted by muddgirl at 2:05 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


"independAnce" word.
posted by yesster at 2:05 PM on July 2, 2010


I don't see the big deal. The whole argument made in the Declaration was that since the King failed in his duty to his subjects in America, his subjects owed no loyalty to him. Changing the word to citizen modifies the flavor of the argument slightly, but not its bones.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:06 PM on July 2, 2010


I once read -- hold on, Google says it comes from Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs -- that some enslaved black people in the 19th century believed that the President of the United States was subordinate to a queen, not a British monarch but the "queen of 'Merica." It moved me.

. . . We know that about you, Countess Elena.

Hee! Actually, the name is for a very unfortunate young lady in Florida named Elena Hoyos who didn't want to be a countess, and who . . . well, check Google if you like.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:06 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


(aurachsburger)
posted by yesster at 2:06 PM on July 2, 2010


I don't think "racism" is a useful construct or offers anything to the analysis of the relationship between Indians and White Man in that period.

If the Indians had been fair skinned, I have no reason to believe it would have affected westward expansion one iota. The only thing that would have changed that particular story would have been massive and sudden technological advancement by the natives.
posted by discountfortunecookie at 2:20 PM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


grizzled, this:

muddgirl, you are just speculating. The anti-monarchial fervor of the American revolutionaries was not as great as that of the French revolutionaries, who ...

is an interesting accusation from the same guy who wrote:

OK, I retract the claim that Washington had been offered a crown, however, he still could probably have gotten away with proclaiming himself to be king, had he wanted to do so, ...
posted by IAmBroom at 2:20 PM on July 2, 2010


Oops, hit post too fast. Point is: you are just speculating, too. But it's already been shown your grasp of the history of the time is biased by false facts. Be careful what you claim.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:21 PM on July 2, 2010


,small> Hee! Actually, the name is for a very unfortunate young lady in Florida named Elena Hoyos who didn't want to be a countess, and who . . . well, check Google if you like.

I did. Eee--ew!
posted by bearwife at 2:29 PM on July 2, 2010


Ben Franklin was such a prankster.
posted by Skygazer at 2:35 PM on July 2, 2010


The Whelk - there were some delegates like Adams whose families had been living on the American continent since the 1600s, and who did not consider themselves to be British subjects any longer. Perhaps that is why Jefferson made the change :)

I am personally fascinated by the delegates who voted against the Declaration or abstained. Particularly George Read, who voted against on July 2 but went on to sign it on August 2!
posted by muddgirl at 2:38 PM on July 2, 2010


Yep, that sounds like Jefferson. It's surprising how fond I am of him, considering what I've read of him doesn't make him seem like that likeable of a person in real life.
posted by frobozz at 2:42 PM on July 2, 2010


It was a while ago, but I recall I was taught in school in England that the War of Independence was significantly about the settler's desire to move West in an uncontrolled fashion, so as to better steal land from the indigenous peoples.

Great Britain defeated France in the French and Indian War, which ended in 1763, and took over Canada.1 This was the last in a series of four wars between Great Britain and France in 75 years for control of North America. (We didn't start calling wars world wars until the 20th century, but these wars all spanned Europe and North America and several were global.)

Since the British had bankrolled the colonial wars they felt that the colonists should pay for the continuing expense of maintaining British troops in North America. They imposed a series of taxes on the colonies from the mid-1760s to the mid-1770s that caused increasing tension between the colonists and the British. Some colonial merchants turned to smuggling instead of trading with Great Britain. Ironically, the colonies2 were Britain's major trading partner, and they made much more through trade then they would have through taxation. The colonists started out wanting to assert their rights as British citizens, but Great Britain harassed them into wanting independence. See Don Cook's The Long Fuse: How England Lost the American Colonies 1760-1785 and Chapter Four of Barbara Tuchman's The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam

1 During the war the British expelled the French citizens from the Canadian Maritime provinces, known as Acadia. Many of them settled in then-Spanish controlled Louisiana, where the Acadians became known as Cajuns.

2 Americans usually only think of the Thirteen Colonies that founded the United States, but Great Britain had more colonies throughout North American and the Caribbean. The First Continental Congress voted to invite Quebec, Saint John's Island (now Prince Edward Island), Nova Scotia, Georgia, East Florida, and West Florida to the Second Continental Congress, but only actually sent invitations to Quebec.

posted by kirkaracha at 3:17 PM on July 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


I wish I'd known that about George Read. When I visited his house in Delaware I was the only person on the tour and I was sort of stumped for intelligent questions to ask.
posted by interplanetjanet at 3:21 PM on July 2, 2010


This reminds me of a Far Side cartoon I once saw where the Framers are gathered around the Constitution, and one of them asks, "So, should that be 'we the people' or 'us the people'?"

As has been said, it's a draft. "Subjects" didn't make the cut for a reason.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:22 PM on July 2, 2010


there were some delegates like Adams whose families had been living on the American continent since the 1600s, and who did not consider themselves to be British subjects any longer

Adams defended the British soldiers who killed civilians in the Boston Massacre in 1770, and in 1773 he described his defense as "one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country." Benjamin Franklin appeared before Parliament in 1766 to defend the colonists' rights as British citizens.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:29 PM on July 2, 2010


Yes, I know that history Kirkaracha. Not convinced by the extent of the taxes or the harassment incidentally. But I find the Proclamation of 1763 more interesting in terms of history ignored by most American schools.
posted by A189Nut at 3:29 PM on July 2, 2010




*Another brilliant defense by John Adams...*
posted by ericb at 4:53 PM on July 2, 2010


Another brilliant defense of John Adams -- The Amistad Case.

Err ... that would be by John Adams's son, John Quincy Adams!
posted by ericb at 4:55 PM on July 2, 2010


While the idea of Washington as king was never seriously considered, there was a brief moment where some members of the pre-1787 US government considered the younger brother of Frederick the Great of Prussia as King or "Regent" of the US.

The mythology of the American revolutionaries who avoided the temptations of absolute power was established early on, though, with references to the classical Cincinnatuswho relinquished his power after stabilizing the Roman Republic. Indeed, a city was even named after the "Cincinnati" who supposedly founded the American republic.
posted by dhens at 8:07 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Does anyone else remember that episode of Family Ties where Alex gets hopped up on cold medicine and imagines Thomas Jefferson is writing the Declaration of Independence in the Keatons' living room?

"We hold these truths to be.... (Alex in the background, mouthing "SELF-EVIDENT!")... pretty darn clear...."
posted by Lucinda at 6:27 AM on July 3, 2010


heh, AstroZombie went for the Canadian money that gets printed for just this scenario. This may be a plan by America, lain forth and emerging from since the time of Thomas Jefferson however. Someone could make a book about it.

You see, the slightly flabby reporter, and the slim, but surprisingly lean office worker, and nighttime hacker came to discover truths that some would seek a lifetime for, while most Canadians, and their neighbours, have already invested in the Naismith-BallBasket Pro-League (NBBPL), traded in their "money" at banks for loonies (actually gold lined, Uranium Plated, ready to be assembled, and formed into the megazord nuke, and then to be compensated by zombiestalin with the one true Canadian dollar... Canadian Tire Currency.
This is invisible right? I used the right secret code spellings right? We may be metric 'in the
states by the morning. And listening to metric also. Is Metric slowly coming to envelop everything?

Nt' Beckist.

I have to agree, I like the originals way better, in the original version King George shot first... and the shot was only heard around a small authentic cantina setting, not the whole world, and I can't even believe how many signatures are on the new edition... the original is just the one, and then they go and add 55 more!
That coupled with all the new CGI extras in the Harbour scenes! The special editions changed everything! I am convinced, we should be British!
I am so hoping no one tries claim it is our duty to rewrite America, while claiming that this is the True original original intent.) Thinking of you Your Honour.
Justice Clarence Thomas seems bored. Why doesn't he run for president in 2012? (Does the Washington post do Horror Fantasy Fiction on weekends ordinarily?and since when is "four years in which Justice Clarence Thomas hasn't spoken during oral arguments. That's more than 250 cases heard, and not one word from Thomas, the longest silence of his nearly 19 years on the bench." a stat that suggests one ought to run for president? )

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare,
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.

Concord Hymn.
posted by infinite intimation at 1:02 AM on July 4, 2010


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