Even geniuses get edited. Hey, it happened to Thomas Jefferson.
Before affixing their John Hancocks to his Declaration of Independence, the other Founding Fathers reworked it. Unhappy about his heartfelt handiwork being tweaked by committee, Jefferson penned copies of his original and sent them to friends.
If you hurry, you can see one of those handwritten drafts at the New York Public Library.
“Jefferson wanted to be very clear that this is what he said, not what Congress was passing,” says Bill Kelly, the library’s director of research. One of the biggest changes was deleting a paragraph-long condemnation of the slave trade — in order to woo the plantation-loving delegates of Georgia and South Carolina.
Though the Man from Monticello himself had slaves, he had strong feelings about the way they were marketed, Kelly says: That Jefferson refers to slaves as “MEN” — one of the few words he capitalized — shows just how conflicted he was about the practice.
The other striking thing about this Declaration is how beautiful the handwriting is: Not only was Jefferson an accomplished architect, lawyer, inventor, agronomist, cook and violinist, but he also had what Kelly calls “gorgeous” penmanship.
Only two copies of his four-page draft survive. The library received its copy in 1897; the other is ensconced at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.
Because its paper and ink are so fragile, there’s only so often the Declaration can be displayed, each sheet encased in a Mylar sleeve. The last time the library exhibited it was in 2014. The rest of the time, it’s stored somewhere under the library’s Fifth Avenue building in a temperature- and humidity-controlled vault (65 degrees, 40 percent humidity).
On Friday, a line of people snaked around the library’s first floor and into Gottesman Hall, where the document’s been laid out in a glass case, flanked by security guards.
Kelly DeKeyser, 56, who was visiting from Florida, stood on line 25 minutes for a glimpse.
The wait was worth it,…