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News Museum Shows Draft of Declaration of Independence

NEWSDAY

Thomas Jefferson, as with most writers, usually didn’t get it right on the first draft, but thought he did.

So early in July 1776, when the Continental Congress was editing his draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson, unhappy with the changes, transcribed five copies of his version of the document for his friends.

“He did not like to be edited,” said Cara Sutherland, curator at the Newseum, a journalism museum in Arlington, Va., where the copy is on display for the next three months. Jefferson made the copies to preserve his original ideas.

Jefferson underlined about a third of the text in the two-page, double-sided document to show alterations or deletions. Criticism of England’s King George III for introducing slavery into the colonies was struck from the final version. Congress thought it hypocritical since Jefferson and many colonial leaders also had slaves, according to the display.

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This is on loan from the New York Public Library, a rare event. The library approved the Newseum’s request because it was the first museum willing to build a display case that maintained the correct temperature, low humidity and low light levels.

The Newseum chronicles the story of journalism and the media and is funded by the Freedom Forum, a nonprofit media organization. Sutherland said the document was important to the Newseum as it showed how news travels.

“Two hundred years ago you didn’t have 24-hour news. This document was presented on July 4. The first publication wasn’t until July 6 in the Pennsylvania Evening Post,” Sutherland said. That’s the time it took to set the type on the printing press.

“I didn’t know Thomas Jefferson’s draft had been changed,” said Tamber Christian, 29, of Virginia, a first-time visitor at the Newseum. “It’s nice. It fits right in to show the progression of different times of freedom and freedom of expression.”

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