Happy (almost) Independence Day!
Yesterday, a friend and I took our children to the New York Public Library to see an exhibit of one of two known surviving copies of The Declaration of Independence, written in Thomas Jefferson's own handwriting. According to the exhibit, before the Declaration of Independence was ratified on July 4th, a number of revisions were made to Jefferson's original text. Concerned about the revisions, Jefferson made several copies of the text he originally submitted to the Continental Congress. He underlined the passages which had been revised. One of those notable revisions, was Jefferson's lengthy commentary on slavery:
"of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people, who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished dye, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another"
This section, which was omitted to appease Georgia and South Carolina, could launch several class discussions and debates, but there are several other revisions worthy of analysis and debate as well.
Most surprising to me, was how small this 4-page copy of the Declaration of Independence was. I imagined a large parchment, but each of these sheets seemed no larger than an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper. The Bill of Rights, on display for the first time with the Declaration of Independence, was much larger, but due to age and low lighting in the exhibit area, it was much harder to read.
Today is the last of this three-day exhibit, so I urge anyone near New York to try to see it. It was amazing to see these founding documents of our democracy on display in a free public library, which, like a free public education, is a bedrock of democracy.
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