The New York Public Library To Display Rare Copy of The Declaration of Independence in Thomas Jefferson’s Hand

Free display will be view for a limited time between June 29 to July 3 at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue

JUNE 22, 2017 – In celebration of Independence Day, The New York Public Library will display a rare historic copy of the Declaration of Independence – written in Thomas Jefferson’s hand – from June 29 to July 3.

The free public display will be held in the Library’s Gottesman Gallery on the first floor of the iconic Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Hours for the display will be as follows:

  • Thursday, June 29: 10 AM to 5 PM
  • Friday, June 30: 10 AM to 5 PM
  • Saturday, July 1: 10 AM to 5 PM
  • Monday, July 3: 10 AM to 5 PM  

The Declaration of Independence 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 the slave trade, 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.

The Library acquired this document 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. The document is now held in the Library’s renowned Manuscripts and Archives Division.

Some 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.
  • 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.

"For over 100 years, The New York Public Library has stood as a cornerstone of our democracy of informed citizens, providing free and open access to knowledge and opportunity,” said NYPL President Tony Marx. “Our renowned research collections, which preserve and make accessible to all truth, facts, and history, are key to that mission. The Declaration in Thomas Jefferson’s hand is one of our research collection treasures, and we are proud to display it so close to Independence Day. We hope it inspires all who visit, and reminds all of the principles on which this great country was founded.” 

The display coincides with the Library’s annual Independence Day tradition of hosting a special naturalization ceremony in its 42nd Street building. Days before the nation's birthday, at 11 am on June 30, 200 immigrants from 50 countries will become United States citizens in the Library’s Bartos Forum. The ceremony is being conducted by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, and is the fourth annual Independence Day naturalization ceremony at the Library.

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.

Media Contact:

Angela Montefinise |

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