The whole column is worth a read. The heart of it:
Jefferson had, in his bill of particulars against the king, taken a moment to incriminate the English people themselves — "our British brethren" — for allowing their king and Parliament to send over to America not only "soldiers of our own blood" but "foreign Mercenaries to invade and destroy us." This, he said, was at the heart of the tragedy of separation. "These facts have given the last stab to agonizing affection, and manly spirit bids us renounce forever" our old friends and brothers. "We must endeavor to forget our former love for them."
Well. Talk of love was a little much for the delegates. Love was not on their mind. The entire section was removed.
And so were the words that came next. But they should not have been, for they are the tenderest words.
Poignantly, with a plaintive sound, Jefferson addresses and gives voice to the human pain of parting: "We might have been a free and great people together."
What loss there is in those words, what humanity, and what realism, too.
"To write is to think, and to write well is to think well," David McCullough once said in conversation. Jefferson was thinking of the abrupt end of old ties, of self-defining ties, and, I suspect, that the pain of this had to be acknowledged. It is one thing to declare the case for freedom, and to make a fiery denunciation of abusive, autocratic and high-handed governance. But it is another thing, and an equally important one, to acknowledge the human implications of the break. These were our friends, our old relations; we were leaving them, ending the particular facts of our long relationship forever. We would feel it. Seventeen seventy-six was the beginning of a dream. But it was the end of one too. "We might have been a free and great people together."