In his first draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson condemned the Crown in more forceful language, asserting that the king had “waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty” by perpetuating the African slave trade. Calling it “piratical warfare,” Jefferson asserted that “a CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain” was so “Determined to keep open a market where MEN” were bought and sold that he used his “negative” to suppress “every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce.”
The Continental Congress removed Jefferson’s tirade from the Declaration, in part because it simply did not ring true. The colonists, for the most part, had been willing and eager purchasers of slaves. Nor is there any evidence that either Jefferson or any of the other leaders of Virginia had any interest in actually ending slavery. Virginia’s attempt to ban the trade was purely economic, and not based on any moral opposition to slavery. Similarly, the Crown’s refusal to allow them to limit or end the trade was economic.
The Abolition of the Slave Trade