Jefferson changed ‘subjects’ to ‘citizens’ in Declaration of Independence

July 2nd, 2010

This story is just too cool to process:


That’s what Thomas Jefferson first wrote in an early draft of the Declaration of Independence to describe the people of the 13 colonies.

But in a moment when history took a sharp turn, Jefferson sought quite methodically to expunge the word, to wipe it out of existence and write over it. Many words were crossed out and replaced in the draft, but only one was obliterated.

Over the smudge, Jefferson then wrote the word “citizens.”

No longer subjects to the crown, the colonists became something different: a people whose allegiance was to one another, not to a faraway monarch.

Scholars of the revolution have long speculated about the “citizens” smear — wondering whether the erased word was “patriots” or “residents” — but now the Library of Congress has determined that the change was far more dramatic.

So, does this drafting history mean anything? Should we even look at legislative history? Would Justice Scalia denounce it as irrelevant indicia of legislative intent? I don’t know. But this is pretty cool.