Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence contained a critique of King George III’s involvement in the slave trade. Although not approved by the entire Second Continental Congress, it indicates that the leading Founders understood the slavery issue in moral terms.
…He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and 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 the Christian king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties o fone people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another….
- Thomas Jefferson, “Original Rough Draught,” in Julian P. Boyd, ed., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson,Vol. 1 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1950-1992), 426.
Reprinted from The U.S. Constitution, A Reader, Published by Hillsdale College