Friday, July 2, 2010

Happy Independence Day!

The technical date of legal separation with Great Britain for the American Colonies is actually July 2nd, 1776.  This was the date the Second Continental Congress voted to approve the resolution of independence that had been proposed back in June. The Declaration of Independence, which was Congress' statement explaining the decision, wasn't actually approved and signed until July 4th.

There were technically five authors of the Declaration of Independence, Roger Sherman, John Adams, Robert Livingston, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was the primary author, and did most of the "heavy lifting," but all five labored over every word to make sure it precisely expressed the Congress' intentions and desires.

In fact, the Library of Congress has recently revealed just how much labor had gone into every word of the Declaration of Independence. With the help of Hyperspectal Imaging, they have been able to see changes made to the Declaration, including key phrases.

One rough draft refers to the "fellow subjects" of the Colonies, but the final version we know today refers to "fellow citizens." With the imaging technique the Library of Congress was able to see that not only did this wording of "subjects" survive the drafting process, but actually made it into the final version. In the final version, the new term is placed over the old in much darker text, but was previously unreadable. At some very late point, Jefferson's thinking on the matter of a person's relationship to the state (and vice versa), and changed the word to "citizens," which is connotative of a more fraternal society, instead of the old hierarchical order of Europe.

The tiny find is fantastic for archivists and historians; it gives a great insight into the early formation of our country, and the men who created it. It also shows us just how human Jefferson was. Not only was he rethinking huge issues up until the last possible moment, but he scratched things out and rewrote as better thoughts came to mind. Historically, that one word had the ability to change the direction of our country, from another copy of the old European model, into something new that we're still trying to define today.

Want more resources?

Books/Digital Library Resources/Media/More:
CARL catalog-Declaration of Independence 
CARL catalog-American Revolutionary War

Web articles:
Hyperspectral Imaging by Library of Congress Reveals Change made by Thomas Jefferson in Original Declaration of Independence Draft 

Archiving Early America-Declaration of Independence

Web video:
Inside The Vaults - The Declaration of Independence via U.S. National Archives
(discusses preservation of the document, and a mystery associated with it)


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