Tucked away within the extensive archives of the New York Public Library are countless priceless artifacts and documents that hold a historical significance to not just New York City, but the entire United States. One of those items is a rare copy of the Declaration of Independence written by none other than Thomas Jefferson. For this Fourth of July, the document made a rare 2-day trip out of the Manuscripts and Archives Division and into a display case where visitors can see it up close.
Photograph by Jonathan Blanc, NYPL Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence at the New York Public Library is one of only four surviving copies of the document that were written by Thomas Jefferson. This “fair” copy reflects the original document as drafted by July 1st, 1776. Between the first and fourth of July, when the document was ratified, several changes were made to the text, including the removal of Jefferson’s lengthy condemnation of the slave trade, which was excluded from the later version to appease delegates of southern states. To save the original version, Jefferson wrote out several copies of his original text and sent them to five or six friends. You can see in the library’s copy that Jefferson underlined words and passages that were excised from the final text.
The Library acquired one of these copies in 1896 when it was donated by library trustee John S. Kennedy. The document came along with other items Kennedy had purchased from Dr. Thomas Addis Emmet, a noted surgeon and collector of Americana. It has been suggested that the Library’s copy was sent by Jefferson to his former law professor and mentor, George Wythe, though this has not been proven. It is sometimes called the “Cassius Lee Copy,” since its ownership can be traced back to Cassius F. Lee of Alexandria, Virginia.
Courtesy of the NYPL
The document will be on display in the Library’s Gottesman Hall on the first floor of the iconic Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street today, July 2nd, from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM. The exhibition is free, but know that food, drink, and backpacks are not permitted in the gallery. The next chance to see this document will be when it is on display in the Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library’s Treasures, a permanent exhibition scheduled to open in November 2020. The exhibition will feature over 100 other items from the Library’s extensive research collections, including other historical documents like the Bill of Rights, George Washington’s handwritten farewell address, and a letter from Christopher Columbus to King Ferdinand documenting his discovery of America.
Untapped Cities is proud to have The New York Public Library as a partner in our Untapped Cities Insider program. Over the course of the next year Untapped Cities and the Library system will be crafter unique experiences for Untapped Cities Insiders at branches throughout New York City. Our next visit will be on Friday, August 2nd, 2019 when we will get an inside look at the exhibitions and archives inside the Library of Performing Arts! Not an Insider yet? Become a member today to join us on this special visit!