Guest Essayist: William C. Duncan, Director of the Marriage Law Foundation

Letter to Henry Lee (May 8, 1825)

In his 1825 letter to Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson lays out the “object” of the Declaration, the origins of the “self-evident” principles it outlines, and the nature of its authority.

The “object of the Declaration of Independence,” he explains, was to “appeal to the tribunal of the world” with a justification of the decision “to resort to arms for redress” in response to “the acts of the British government contravening” the rights of Americans. This purpose is clear in the vast bulk of the Declaration that carefully lists these abuses and explains the means, short of war, Americans took to gain redress. Read more

In his later years, Jefferson answered hundreds of letters, including, in this instance, a query about the Declaration of Independence, explaining that it drew upon a long political and philosophical tradition and reflected principles widely understood by Americans of the founding era.

May 8, 1825

Dear Sir:

…That George Mason was the author of the bill of rights, and of the constitution founded on it, the evidence of the day established fully in my mind. Of the paper you mention, purporting to be instructions to the Virginia delegation in Congress, I have no recollection. Read more