Enfilade

Discovered: New Parchment Copy of the Declaration of Independence

Posted in the 18th century in the news by Editor on April 22, 2017

A parchment manuscript of the Declaration of Independence, believed to date from the 1780s and held in the West Sussex Record Office in England
(West Sussex Record Office Add Mss 8981)

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

For me, this discovery is particularly interesting in terms of the process: knowledge of the Sussex copy grew out of Dr. Danielle Allen’s creation in 2015 of the online resource the Declaration Resource Project. Allen was, incidentally, awarded a MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant in 2001, when she was part of the Department of Classical Languages & Literatures at The University of Chicago. CH

From The New York Times:

Jennifer Schuessler, “A New Parchment Declaration of Independence Surfaces. Head-Scratching Ensues,” The New York Times (21 April 2017).

In a bit of real-life archival drama, a pair of scholars [Danielle Allen and Emily Sneff] are announcing a surprising discovery: a previously unknown early handwritten parchment of the Declaration, buried in a provincial archive in Britain. The document is the only other 18th-century handwritten parchment Declaration known to exist besides the one from 1776 now displayed at the National Archives in Washington. It isn’t an official government document, like the 1776 parchment, but a display copy created in the mid-1780s, the researchers argue, by someone who wanted to influence debate over the Constitution. . . .

Its subtle details, the scholars argue, illuminate an enduring puzzle at the heart of American politics: Was the country founded by a unitary national people, or by a collection of states? “That is really the key riddle of the American system,” said Danielle Allen, a professor of government at Harvard, who discovered the document with a colleague, Emily Sneff. . . .

The new discovery grew out of the Declaration Resources Project, which Ms. Allen, the author of the book Our Declaration, created in 2015 as a clearinghouse for information about the myriad versions—newspaper printings, broadsides, ornamental engravings—that circulated in the decades after independence. So far, the project’s database counts some 306 made between July 4, 1776, when Congress commissioned a broadside from the Philadelphia printer John Dunlap, and 1800. (The parchment ‘original’ at the National Archives was in fact signed in early August 1776, nearly a month after independence.) . . .

The full NY Times article is available here»

An article by Allen and Sneff describing the Sussex copy and addressing its significance is in preparation for publication in Papers of the Bibliographic Society of America; the article is available for download from the Declaration Resources Project.

From the Declaration Resources Project:

Danielle Allen is a political theorist who has published broadly in democratic theory, political sociology, and the history of political thought. Widely known for her work on justice and citizenship in both ancient Athens and modern America, Allen is the author of The World of Prometheus: The Politics of Punishing in Democratic Athens (2000), Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Broad of Education (2004), Why Plato Wrote (2010), and Our Declaration (2014), and co-editor with Rob Reich of Education, Justice, and Democracy (2013) and with Jennifer Light of From Voice to Influence: Understanding Citizenship in a Digital Age (2015). She is a Chair of the Mellon Foundation Board, past Chair of the Pulitzer Prize Broad, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and American Philosophical Society.

Emily Sneff is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University with a passion for historical research, content development, and curation. Before joining the Declaration Resources Project, Emily was a member of the curatorial team at the American Philosophical Society Museum for two exhibitions on Thomas Jefferson: Jefferson, Philadelphia, and the Founding of a Nation in 2014, and Jefferson, Science, and Exploration in 2015.

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

Note (added 3 May 2017) — Danielle Allen, in an OpEd for The Washington Post, offers a compelling defense of the National Endowment for the Humanities in connection with the discovery of the Sussex copy of the Declaration of Independence. The essay is available here»

Save

Save

Save

Save