Last month, David Barton delivered a presentation at Calvary Chapel in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he falsely claimed that the Founding Fathers denounced slavery in the Declaration of Independence.
“Great Britain would not allow us to end slavery,” Barton said. “A number of the states passed anti-slavery laws and King George III struck them all down, said, ‘No, no, no, you’re part of the British Empire, as long as you’re part of the British Empire you’re going to have slavery,’ which is why a number of Founding Fathers got involved because they did not want slavery. That’s why the Declaration of Independence had two clauses condemning slavery as a reason we were leaving Great Britain. Now, we always hear about taxation without representation, that’s one clause, but twice as often in there you’ll hear about slavery being an issue. We don’t cover that.”
Jefferson’s draft constitution for the state of Virginia forbade the importation of slaves, and his draft of the Declaration of Independence — written at a time when he himself had inherited about 200 slaves — included a paragraph condemning the British king for introducing slavery into the colonies and continuing the slave trade:
He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of INFIDEL powers, is the warfare of a CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce.
These words were especially offensive to delegates from Georgia and South Carolina, who were unwilling to acknowledge that slavery went so far as to violate the “most sacred rights of life and liberty.” So, like some of Jefferson’s more expressive phrases attacking the king, these lines were dropped in the editing process.