Wednesday, September 10, 2008

“We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable": Jefferson and his Editors

Having Thomas Jefferson's first draft of the Declaration of Independence edited, first by a committee of five, and then by Congress, surely improved the final text. Pauline Maier has called it “an act of group editing that has to be one of the great marvels of history,” but for Jefferson, its author, it was “one of the more painful ordeals" of his career.

Douglas E. Abrams, University of Missouri School of Law, takes up this story in a short essay, America's Founding Editors. It appeared in Precedent (Summer 2008). Here's the abstract:

This article treats the editing that the Second Continental Congress did on Thomas Jefferson's draft of the Declaration of Independence. The superb editing helped make Jefferson an American icon, but Jefferson resented the editing for the rest of his life.

Professor Abrams authors a column, Writing it Right, in Precedent, The Missouri Bar's quarterly magazine. In a variety of contexts, the column stresses the fundamentals of quality legal writing - precision, conciseness, simplicity and clarity.