A thunderous sub-tropical rainstorm had me up early yesterday, The Glorious Fourth, standing on our front porch, soaking up the pretty sight of our new little trees in the front yard drinking it all down. Retiring to the sofa, I woke up Anne-Marie’s iPad and downloaded Wikipedia’s page about the Declaration of Independence. This passage in particular got my patriotic, writerly dander up:
During the writing process, Jefferson showed the rough draft to Adams and Franklin, and perhaps other members of the drafting committee, who made a few more changes. Franklin, for example, may have been responsible for changing Jefferson’s original phrase “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable” to “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”
What a glorious edit, by one of America’s most famous minds!
Here’s all of that famous second sentence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
“Sacred and undeniable” would have been flabby, wordy, pretentious, somewhat defensive; “self-evident” is simple, straightforward, boldly confident, in-your-face. It says: “These truths are obvious to any decent, thoughtful human being. Get used to them! No further justification is necessary!” I like to imagine that more than any other word in that sentence–maybe even in the whole Declaration–it sunk in deeper or bounced off harder when it was read or heard by King George III and his minions in England a few weeks later…