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Professor Abrams Writes Journal of the Missouri Bar Article About the Declaration of Independence

July 3rd, 2019

Doug Abrams

In June 1776, the Second Continental Congress appointed 33-year-old delegate Thomas Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence. The Virginian presented his draft two weeks later, and the full 65-delegate Congress spent two days editing it line-by-line, making about 80 changes. The consensus of historians and political scientists is that Congress’ meticulous, skillful editing bolstered the document’s elegance and assured Jefferson’s place as a national icon. The embittered Jefferson, however, considered the editing a “mutilation” of his work. He remained bitter until his death on July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after Congress announced the Declaration.

Professor Douglas E. Abrams tells the story in “America’s Founding Editors: Writing the Declaration of Independence,” his latest article in the Journal of the Missouri Bar.

Since 2006, Professor Abrams has written more than 50 feature articles about legal writing in Precedent (the Missouri Bar’s former quarterly magazine) and in the Journal. Other states’ bar journals have republished several of the articles. The articles led to his latest book, “Effective Legal Writing: A Guide for Students and Practitioners” (West Academic 2016).

Each article presents lessons about writing for today’s lawyers. The lesson of “America’s Founding Editors”?: “The irony of lawyer Jefferson’s enduring bitterness and ingratitude can stimulate today’s lawyers to sharpen their own drafts by respecting cooperative editors as valuable allies, not as troublesome adversaries.”

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