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The New York Public Library to Display Historic Copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights

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Two handwritten, American treasures displayed together in “Foundations of Freedom” on July 1, 2, and 3

JUNE 26 – The New York Public Library will display two rare pieces of American history on July 1, 2 and 3 in the free exhibition “Foundations of Freedom” – an original copy of the Bill of Rights, and a copy of the Declaration of Independence in Thomas Jefferson’s hand.

The two treasures – both from the Library’s Manuscripts and Archives Division – are not often displayed for preservation reasons, but for three days, can be seen by the public on the second floor of the Library’s landmark Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. 
 
It is the first time that the two documents have ever been displayed together as an exhibition.
 
"As a prime source of free information and education, libraries are the true foundation of our democracy of informed citizens," said NYPL President Tony Marx. "We celebrate that tradition with a display of both the Declaration of Independence in Thomas Jefferson's hand, and one of the remaining original copies of the Bill of Rights, sent to the original states for ratification. This is the first time that these two historic documents will be displayed together, and we invite the public to come and be inspired for Independence Day."
 
The Library acquired both of the cherished documents in 1896, when John S. Kennedy – a trustee of The New York Public Library – donated them along with other items he purchased from Dr. Thomas Addis Emmet, a noted surgeon and collector of Americana.
 
Some other facts about the Library’s manuscript copy of the Declaration of Independence include:
  • The document is a handwritten copy by Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration.
  • The draft of the Declaration was completed on July 1, but before it was ratified on July 4, several changes were made to the text, including the removal of Jefferson’s lengthy condemnation of slavery, an excision intended to appease delegates from Georgia and South Carolina. In the days after July 4, a distressed Jefferson wrote out several fair copies of his original text and sent them to five or six friends. The Library’s copy is one of the two copies that have survived intact.
  • In the Library’s copy, Jefferson has underlined the words and passages that were excised from the final text.
  • It has been suggested, although never proved, that the Library’s copy is the one Jefferson sent to his former law professor and mentor, George Wythe.
  • The Library’s copy of the Declaration is also sometimes referred to as the “Cassius Lee Copy,” since its ownership has been traced back to Cassius F. Lee of Alexandria, Virginia.
  • The document consists of handmade laid paper written on both sides; it measures 12 5/8 inches high by 7 7/8 inches wide.
  • The manuscript is written in iron gall ink.
  • It was last displayed as part of the Library’s Centennial exhibition, “Celebrating 100 Years” in 2011.
 Some other facts about the Library’s copy of the Bill of Rights include:
  • The document is one of the at least 14 original copies of the Bill of Rights sent to the states for ratification in 1789.
  • The document is made of parchment; it measures 31 inches high by 27 inches wide.
  • The manuscript is written in iron gall ink.
  • While the Bill of Rights comprises the first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution, the Library’s copy actually includes 12 amendments, two of which were not ratified. The first of these dealt with compensation for members of Congress; the other outlined a system of representation for the House of Representatives that potentially could have resulted in a House with 6,000 members today.
  • It has been several decades since the Library last displayed the document.
  • This year, the Library and the state of Pennsylvania agreed to share display of the document starting in 2014. A new, state-of-the-art case is being created, allowing the document to displayed for extended periods of time both in Pennsylvania and at The New York Public Library’s landmark building.
The “Foundations of Freedom” exhibition will be open from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday, July 1; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, July 2; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on July 3.
 
Support for The New York Public Library’s Exhibitions Program has been provided by Celeste Bartos, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Mahnaz Ispahani Bartos and Adam Bartos Exhibitions Fund, and Jonathan Altman. 
 
Additional support for the exhibition of the Bill of Rights is made possible by The Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Foundation.
 
Contact: Angela Montefinise | 212.592.7506 | angelamontefinise@nypl.org
 
 
About The New York Public Library
The New York Public Library is a free provider of education and information for the people of New York and beyond. With 91 locations—including research and branch libraries—throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, the Library offers free materials, computer access, classes, exhibitions, programming and more to everyone from toddlers to scholars, and has seen record numbers of attendance and circulation in recent years. The New York Public Library serves more than 18 million patrons who come through its doors annually and millions more around the globe who use its resources at www.nypl.org. To offer this wide array of free programming, The New York Public Library relies on both public and private funding. Learn more about how to support the Library at nypl.org/support.