“We Might Have Been a Free and Great People Together”

July 4, 2010

Today we observe an anniversary that, among other things, celebrates a great piece of writing.

Thomas Jefferson, whose mother was born in London, and whose ties with England were strong, nevertheless wrote these later-excised words of both recrimination and longing with respect to the British people in his draft of the Declaration of Independence:

… and when occasions have been given them, by the regular course of their laws, of removing from their councils the disturbers of our harmony, they have by their free election re-established them in power. At this very time too they are permitting their chief magistrate to send over not only soldiers of our common blood, but Scotch and foreign mercenaries to invade and deluge us in blood. These facts have given the last stab to agonizing affection, and manly spirit bids us to renounce forever these unfeeling brethren. We must endeavor to forget our former love for them, and to hold them as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends. We might have been a free and great people together; but a communication of grandeur and of freedom it seems is below their dignity. Be it so, since they will have it; the road to glory and happiness is open to us too; we will climb it in a separate state, and acquiesce in the necessity which pronounces our everlasting Adieu!

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