July 5, 2008
New York Public Library Displaying a Draft of Jefferson’s Vision for the U.S. By VINCENT M. MALLOZZI
One of early America’s most important documents — written in an angry frame of mind — is on display at the New York Public Library.
A draft of the Declaration of Independence, written in Thomas Jefferson’s own hand, suggests that the man who became the third president of the United States was unhappy with Congress in the days after July 4, 1776, when the Declaration was ratified.
On June 11, 1776, Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration, was one of five men asked by the Second Continental Congress to create a draft of the document that would shape the future of the young nation.
As the sounds of musket and cannon fire filled the Philadelphia air, Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston worked on the draft, which they forwarded to Congress on July 1 of that year.
Before the text was ratified, Congress made a number of changes, many of which upset Jefferson, particularly the deletion of his lengthy condemnation of slavery, an editing decision made to appease the delegates from Georgia and South Carolina.
In the days that followed, Jefferson hand-wrote several copies of the Declaration as he had originally written it, underlining areas of the text that had been changed, and sent them to friends.
One of those copies remains remarkably intact in the Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Gallery at the library, where thousands of people have been flocking to see the yellowing piece of history, slightly torn in places and more than a bit stained and frayed at the edges, but in otherwise fine and legible shape.
For the first time, the library, which owns the document, put it on display for public viewing on the Fourth of July. It was the only part of the library open on Friday.
“We wanted to give the public a chance to touch history on the day America celebrates its freedom,” said Evelyn Frangakis, the library’s chief of preservation. “This document is one of our real treasures.”
Robert M. S. McDonald, associate professor of history at the United States Military Academy, said: “Jefferson clearly felt this authorial pride where this document is concerned. When he wrote it, he thought it was a great Declaration, and when it was changed, of course he flinched. He was upset about it, but it was Congress’s Declaration, not Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration.”
The exhibit, which opened June 27 and will run through Aug. 7, is complete with framed articles of the earliest newspaper printings of the Declaration, like The Pennsylvania Evening Post, which published it on July 6, 1776, two days before it was read in public for the first time in the yard of the State House in Philadelphia, to cheering crowds and the pealing of bells.
A library plaque beneath the original article reads, “Almost immediately after the release of the broadside version of the Declaration of Independence, word spread late on Saturday via this newspaper to the inhabitants of the wider region beyond Philadelphia, who thereby learned of the decision to separate from dominion to the British Crown.”
On Wednesday afternoon, droves of curious people, many on vacation, streamed into the library to read Jefferson’s true and uncensored words, and to get a glimpse of a Founding Father’s plan to raise a nation still in its infancy.
“There’s something incredible about being in the presence of history this way,” said Steve Cohen of St. Paul, who was appreciating the exhibit along with his wife, Lisa, and their daughters, Margaret, 10, and Zipporah, 7.
“It’s pretty cool,” Margaret said.
The four-page document — Jefferson’s words are written on both sides of two sheets of paper — is encased in two matted leaves. Each leaf is preserved between two pieces of ultraviolet filtering plexiglass and displayed in separate glass cases, where motion sensors set off the tiny, fiberoptic lights that illuminate Mr. Jefferson’s handiwork.
The library acquired the Jefferson handwritten copy of the Declaration in 1896 from the collection of Dr. Thomas Addis Emmet, a New York gynecologist who was also a collector of American revolutionary manuscripts and an impassioned critic of English rule in Ireland.
In 1984 the library had it shipped to the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts in Philadelphia, where it was washed in calcinated, deionized water to remove impurities and reduce discoloration and staining. It has been on public display every year since.
Ms. Frangakis said that to ensure the well-being of the document, it was kept at a room temperature of 67 degrees, with 47 percent relative humidity.
Myriam de Arteni, an exhibition conservator at the library, recalled a trip that she and the document took to Paris 10 years ago to temporarily display it at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the country’s national library.
“The document had its own first-class seat, and it was taken from the airport to the Bibliothèque by police motorcade,” Mrs. Arteni said. “When it arrived, workers there actually saluted it, because they understood how important it is to our country’s history.”
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
Thanks for sharing. I'll be in New York before it's gone.
Yes, thank you for sharing that. That is awesome and inspiring.