published Friday, July 2nd, 2010

Thomas Jefferson made slip in Declaration

  • photo
    Librarian of Congress James Billington points to a correction in the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson, Friday, July 2, 2010, at the Library of Congress in Washington. Recent imaging of the document clearly confirmed that Jefferson originally wrote "subject" then changed it to "citizen." (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON — Preservation scientists at the Library of Congress have discovered that Thomas Jefferson, even in the act of declaring independence from England, had trouble breaking free from monarchial rule.

In an early draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote the word "subjects," when he referred to the American public. He then erased that word and replaced it with "citizens," a term he used frequently throughout the final draft.

The Library released news of the struck word for the first time on Friday.

Fenalla France, a research chemist at the Library, said her lab made the discovery last year by using hyperspectral imaging, using a high resolution digital camera that compiles a series of images to highlight layers of a document. Some of those invisible layers — like erased text and even fingerprints — pop into view on a computer screen.

In switching from "subjects" to "citizens," France said it appears Jefferson used his hand to wipe the word out while the ink was still wet. A distinct brown smudge is apparent on the paper, although the word "subjects" is not legible without the help of the digital technology.

"This has been a very exciting development," France said, calling the findings "spine-tingling."

Historic, handwritten documents reveal clues about the past that word processors cannot illuminate, said James Billington, librarian of Congress.

"It shows the progress of his mind. This was a decisive moment," Billington said. "We recovered a magic moment that was otherwise lost to history."

Accompanied by police escort, the document was unveiled outside its protective case for the first time in 15 years on Friday morning for a demonstration of the hyperspectral imaging technology. It normally can only be viewed through a 130-poundb oxygen-free safe.

Donning a pair of white researchers' gloves, Maria Nugent, director of the Library of Congress' top treasures collection, slowly lifted a piece of off-white corrugated cardboard to reveal the rough draft of the Declaration, which includes handwritten corrections by both John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.

"That's a pretty good editorial committee," said Billington, who was present for the procedure.

The rough draft was written on two sheets of white legal-sized paper, on both the back and front sides of the sheets.

The document was returned to the library's vault on Friday after the testing.

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cbc123 said...

http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/

I'm looking at the final online document, and can only see the word "Citizens" once. It is in the list of grievances against the King. "He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands."

In context, these people were the subjects of the King as colonists. I don't see it as much of a difference, but it provides good bait to introduce this science/history article. Maybe a better (less catchy) title for the article would be "New analysis reveals previous drafts of the Declaration of Independence" But who am I to talk, its not like I've ever been published.

July 2, 2010 at 10:54 p.m.

Well, the document was written over a number of weeks prior to the July 2nd ratification and was edited several times by John Adams and Ben Frankin.

July 2, 2010 at 11 p.m.
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