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On Friday July 2nd the Library of Congress announced the discovery of a word that was erased from an early draft of the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson originally wrote the word “subjects” and then replaced it with the word “citizens.” The smear had been investigated many times, but until recently there was no technology available that would allow preservation scientists to bring the covered word to light. Jefferson’s penmanship made the task even more challenging. Evidently, he tried to conceal the underlying word by matching it stroke for stroke with the word citizens.
With the use of spectral imaging technology, research scientists were able to make the hidden word visible by passing the document through varying wavelengths of light. Preservation director Dianne van der Reyden said in an interview about this new discovery (Washington Post, July 3, 2010), "It's quite amazing how [Jefferson] morphed 'subjects' into 'citizens,' we did the reverse morphing back to 'subjects.' "
Have you ever really thought of the difference between citizens and subjects? Or why Jefferson felt the need to make the change? Did the idea even originate with Jefferson? The difference may be more theological in its origin than you think. Keep in mind that even King George III referred to the Revolution as “a Presbyterian Rebellion.” (Paul Johnson, A History of the American People, [New York: Harper Perennial, 1999], 173).
Under Old Testament Law, individuals were subject to a priest who acted as a liaison between God and man. However, in the New Testament era, the veil was torn (Matthew 27:51) making it possible for every believer to confidently approach the throne of God (Hebrews 4:16). We were liberated from the bondage of sin by our God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who conquered death by purchasing for us a new citizenship which is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).
Of all people, Christians truly understand what it means to be citizens because the idea was revealed and made possible through Christ. How did this idea influence our Founding Fathers? Revolutionary America was predominantly Protestant. Protestants do not submit to a priest. They believed, as individuals, that they had full authority to approach God directly on religious terms and came to understand that they had the same freedom to approach God directly on political terms.
Therefore, the idea of subjecting oneself to an earthly king became obsolete when the King of Kings provided an opportunity for all men to govern themselves by shining His personal light into their hearts and minds. It was only a matter of time before human reasoning working together with divine revelation would come to realize this remarkable step forward and establish representative government.
No, Jefferson did not morph subjects into citizens, God did. Jefferson was simply the instrument that God chose to use at a specific point in time to publish an idea that prevailed throughout the land. Unfortunately, if we as a nation continue to reject God’s hand, we too will soon find ourselves “morphing back to subjects.”