Autobiography by Thomas Jefferson


We therefore the representatives of the United States
America in General Congress assembled do in the name &
by authority of the good people of these states reject
& renounce all allegiance & subjection to the kings of
Great Britain & all others who may hereafter claim by,
through or under them: we utterly dissolve all
political connection which may heretofore have
subsisted between us & the people or parliament of
Great Britain: & finally we do assert & declare these
colonies to be free & independent states, & that as
free & independent states, they have full power to levy
war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish
commerce, & to do all other acts & things which
independent states may of right do. And for the support
of this declaration we mutually pledge to each other
our lives, our fortunes, & our sacred honor.

We therefore the representatives of of the United
States of America in General Congress assembled,
appealing to the supreme judge of the world for the
rectitude of our intentions, do in the name, & by the
authority of the good people of these colonies,
solemnly publish & declare that these united colonies
are & of right ought to be free & independent states;
that they are absolved from all allegiance to the
British crown, and that all political connection
between them & the state of Great Britain is, & ought
to be, totally dissolved; & that as free & independent
states they have full power to levy war, conclude
peace, contract alliances, establish commerce & to do
all other acts & things which independent states may of
right do. And for the support of this declaration, with
a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence
we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our
fortunes, & our sacred honor.

The Declaration thus signed on the 4th, on paper was engrossed on
parchment, & signed again on the 2d. of August.

Some erroneous statements of the proceedings on the declaration of
independence having got before the public in latter times, Mr. Samuel A.
Wells asked explanations of me, which are given in my letter to him of May
12. 19. before and now again referred to. I took notes in my place while
these things were going on, and at their close wrote them out in form and
with correctness and from 1 to 7 of the two preceding sheets are the
originals then written; as the two following are of the earlier debates on
the Confederation, which I took in like manner.

On Friday July 12. the Committee appointed to draw the articles of
confederation reported them, and on the 22d. the house resolved themselves
into a committee to take them into consideration. On the 30th. & 31st. of
that month & 1st. of the ensuing, those articles were debated which
determined the proportion or quota of money which each state should furnish
to the common treasury, and the manner of voting in Congress. The first of
these articles was expressed in the original draught in these words. "Art.
XI. All charges of war & all other expenses that shall be incurred for the
common defence, or general welfare, and allowed by the United States
assembled, shall be defrayed out of a common treasury, which shall be
supplied by the several colonies in proportion to the number of inhabitants
of every age, sex & quality, except Indians not paying taxes, in each
colony, a true account of which, distinguishing the white inhabitants,
shall be triennially taken & transmitted to the Assembly of the United

Mr. [Samuel] Chase moved that the quotas should be fixed, not by the number
of inhabitants of every condition, but by that of the "white inhabitants."
He admitted that taxation should be alwais in proportion to property, that
this was in theory the true rule, but that from a variety of difficulties,
it was a rule which could never be adopted in practice. The value of the
property in every State could never be estimated justly & equally. Some
other measure for the wealth of the State must therefore be devised, some
standard referred to which would be more simple. He considered the number
of inhabitants as a tolerably good criterion of property, and that this
might alwais be obtained. He therefore thought it the best mode which we
could adopt, with one exception only. He observed that negroes are
property, and as such cannot be distinguished from the lands or
personalities held in those States where there are few slaves, that the
surplus of profit which a Northern farmer is able to lay by, he invests in
cattle, horses, &c. whereas a Southern farmer lays out that same surplus in
slaves. There is no more reason therefore for taxing the Southern states on
the farmer's head, & on his slave's head, than the Northern ones on their
farmer's heads & the heads of their cattle, that the method proposed would
therefore tax the Southern states according to their numbers & their wealth
conjunctly, while the Northern would be taxed on numbers only: that negroes
in fact should not be considered as members of the state more than cattle &
that they have no more interest in it.

Mr. John Adams observed that the numbers of people were taken by this
article as an index of the wealth of the state, & not as subjects of
taxation, that as to this matter it was of no consequence by what name you
called your people, whether by that of freemen or of slaves. That in some
countries the labouring poor were called freemen, in others they were
called slaves; but that the difference as to the state was imaginary only.
What matters it whether a landlord employing ten labourers in his farm,
gives them annually as much money as will buy them the necessaries of life,
or gives them those necessaries at short hand. The ten labourers add as
much wealth annually to the state, increase it's exports as much in the one
case as the other. Certainly 500 freemen produce no more profits, no
greater surplus for the paiment of taxes than 500 slaves. Therefore the
state in which are the labourers called freemen should be taxed no more
than that in which are those called slaves. Suppose by any extraordinary
operation of nature or of law one half the labourers of a state could in
the course of one night be transformed into slaves: would the state be made
the poorer or the less able to pay taxes? That the condition of the
laboring poor in most countries, that of the fishermen particularly of the
Northern states, is as abject as that of slaves. It is the number of
labourers which produce the surplus for taxation, and numbers therefore
indiscriminately, are the fair index of wealth. That it is the use of the
word "property" here, & it's application to some of the people of the
state, which produces the fallacy. How does the Southern farmer procure
slaves? Either by importation or by purchase from his neighbor. If he
imports a slave, he adds one to the number of labourers in his country, and
proportionably to it's profits & abilities to pay taxes. If he buys from
his neighbor it is only a transfer of a labourer from one farm to another,
which does not change the annual produce of the state, & therefore should
not change it's tax. That if a Northern farmer works ten labourers on his
farm, he can, it is true, invest the surplus of ten men's labour in cattle:
but so may the Southern farmer working ten slaves. That a state of one
hundred thousand freemen can maintain no more cattle than one of one
hundred thousand slaves. Therefore they have no more of that kind of
property. That a slave may indeed from the custom of speech be more
properly called the wealth of his master, than the free labourer might be
called the wealth of his employer: but as to the state, both were equally
it's wealth, and should therefore equally add to the quota of it's tax.

Mr. [Benjamin] Harrison proposed as a compromise, that two slaves should be
counted as one freeman. He affirmed that slaves did not do so much work as
freemen, and doubted if two effected more than one. That this was proved by
the price of labor. The hire of a labourer in the Southern colonies being
from 8 to pound 12. while in the Northern it was generally pound 24.

Mr. [James] Wilson said that if this amendment should take place the
Southern colonies would have all the benefit of slaves, whilst the Northern
ones would bear the burthen. That slaves increase the profits of a state,
which the Southern states mean to take to themselves; that they also
increase the burthen of defence, which would of course fall so much the
heavier on the Northern. That slaves occupy the places of freemen and eat
their food. Dismiss your slaves & freemen will take their places. It is our
duty to lay every discouragement on the importation of slaves; but this
amendment would give the jus trium liberorum to him who would import
slaves. That other kinds of property were pretty equally distributed thro'
all the colonies: there were as many cattle, horses, & sheep, in the North
as the South, & South as the North; but not so as to slaves. That
experience has shown that those colonies have been alwais able to pay most
which have the most inhabitants, whether they be black or white, and the
practice of the Southern colonies has alwais been to make every farmer pay
poll taxes upon all his labourers whether they be black or white. He
acknowledges indeed that freemen work the most; but they consume the most
also. They do not produce a greater surplus for taxation. The slave is
neither fed nor clothed so expensively as a freeman. Again white women are
exempted from labor generally, but negro women are not. In this then the
Southern states have an advantage as the article now stands. It has
sometimes been said that slavery is necessary because the commodities they
raise would be too dear for market if cultivated by freemen; but now it is
said that the labor of the slave is the dearest.

Mr. Payne urged the original resolution of Congress, to proportion the
quotas of the states to the number of souls.

Dr. [John] Witherspoon was of opinion that the value of lands & houses was
the best estimate of the wealth of a nation, and that it was practicable to
obtain such a valuation. This is the true barometer of wealth. The one now
proposed is imperfect in itself, and unequal between the States. It has
been objected that negroes eat the food of freemen & therefore should be
taxed. Horses also eat the food of freemen; therefore they also should be
taxed. It has been said too that in carrying slaves into the estimate of
the taxes the state is to pay, we do no more than those states themselves
do, who alwais take slaves into the estimate of the taxes the individual is
to pay. But the cases are not parallel. In the Southern colonies slaves
pervade the whole colony; but they do not pervade the whole continent. That
as to the original resolution of Congress to proportion the quotas
according to the souls, it was temporary only, & related to the monies
heretofore emitted: whereas we are now entering into a new compact, and
therefore stand on original ground.

Aug 1. The question being put the amendment proposed was rejected by the
votes of N. Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode island, Connecticut, N. York,
N. Jersey, & Pennsylvania, against those of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia,
North & South Carolina. Georgia was divided.

The other article was in these words. "Art. XVII. In determining questions
each colony shall have one vote."

July 30. 31. Aug 1. Present 41. members. Mr. Chase observed that this
article was the most likely to divide us of any one proposed in the draught
then under consideration. That the larger colonies had threatened they
would not confederate at all if their weight in congress should not be
equal to the numbers of people they added to the confederacy; while the
smaller ones declared against a union if they did not retain an equal vote
for the protection of their rights. That it was of the utmost consequence
to bring the parties together, as should we sever from each other, either
no foreign power will ally with us at all, or the different states will
form different alliances, and thus increase the horrors of those scenes of
civil war and bloodshed which in such a state of separation & independance
would render us a miserable people. That our importance, our interests, our
peace required that we should confederate, and that mutual sacrifices
should be made to effect a compromise of this difficult question. He was of
opinion the smaller colonies would lose their rights, if they were not in
some instances allowed an equal vote; and therefore that a discrimination
should take place among the questions which would come before Congress.
That the smaller states should be secured in all questions concerning life
or liberty & the greater ones in all respecting property. He therefore
proposed that in votes relating to money, the voice of each colony should
be proportioned to the number of its inhabitants.

Dr. Franklin thought that the votes should be so proportioned in all cases.
He took notice that the Delaware counties had bound up their Delegates to
disagree to this article. He thought it a very extraordinary language to be
held by any state, that they would not confederate with us unless we would
let them dispose of our money. Certainly if we vote equally we ought to pay
equally; but the smaller states will hardly purchase the privilege at this
price. That had he lived in a state where the representation, originally
equal, had become unequal by time & accident he might have submitted rather
than disturb government; but that we should be very wrong to set out in
this practice when it is in our power to establish what is right. That at
the time of the Union between England and Scotland the latter had made the
objection which the smaller states now do. But experience had proved that
no unfairness had ever been shown them. That their advocates had
prognosticated that it would again happen as in times of old, that the
whale would swallow Jonas, but he thought the prediction reversed in event
and that Jonas had swallowed the whale, for the Scotch had in fact got
possession of the government and gave laws to the English. He reprobated
the original agreement of Congress to vote by colonies and therefore was
for their voting in all cases according to the number of taxables.

Dr. Witherspoon opposed every alteration of the article. All men admit that
a confederacy is necessary. Should the idea get abroad that there is likely
to be no union among us, it will damp the minds of the people, diminish the
glory of our struggle, & lessen it's importance; because it will open to
our view future prospects of war & dissension among ourselves. If an equal
vote be refused, the smaller states will become vassals to the larger; &
all experience has shown that the vassals & subjects of free states are the
most enslaved. He instanced the Helots of Sparta & the provinces of Rome.
He observed that foreign powers discovering this blemish would make it a
handle for disengaging the smaller states from so unequal a confederacy.
That the colonies should in fact be considered as individuals; and that as
such, in all disputes they should have an equal vote; that they are now
collected as individuals making a bargain with each other, & of course had
a right to vote as individuals. That in the East India company they voted
by persons, & not by their proportion of stock. That the Belgic confederacy
voted by provinces. That in questions of war the smaller states were as
much interested as the larger, & therefore should vote equally; and indeed
that the larger states were more likely to bring war on the confederacy in
proportion as their frontier was more extensive. He admitted that equality
of representation was an excellent principle, but then it must be of things
which are coordinate; that is, of things similar & of the same nature: that
nothing relating to individuals could ever come before Congress; nothing
but what would respect colonies. He distinguished between an incorporating
& a federal union. The union of England was an incorporating one; yet
Scotland had suffered by that union: for that it's inhabitants were drawn
from it by the hopes of places & employments. Nor was it an instance of
equality of representation; because while Scotland was allowed nearly a
thirteenth of representation they were to pay only one fortieth of the land
tax. He expressed his hopes that in the present enlightened state of men's
minds we might expect a lasting confederacy, if it was founded on fair

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