In celebration of Independence Day, the New York Public Library is treating its visitors to an unprecedented viewing of two of the most important and rarest documents relating to the founding of the nation.
For the first time ever, and for three days only, the NYPL is placing its copy of both the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights on public view at the Library's main building on Fifth Avenue. So, in honor of the 237th birthday of the United States of America, I took a bus down to 42nd Street and stood in line with about a hundred other people to have a look.
After a brief wait and a nice chat with the young man who was right behind me, we were ushered into the Wachenheim Trustees Room, an elegantly appointed salon on the second floor, seldom open to the public. Here, surrounded by walnut paneling hung with 17th Century Flemish tapestries of the five continents, were three plexiglass cases, each holding the hand-written documents that are the foundation of this country's independence from England.
This was Jefferson's own copy, and is one of only two that have survived intact. Most interesting were the author's notations including underlined words and passages that were ultimately edited out of the final text - the most significant omission being Jefferson's condemnation of slavery which was excised to placate the delegates from Georgia and South Carolina.
The Library's examples of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights were gifts of a trustee, John S. Kennedy, and presented in 1896. Given their fragility and historical significance, these priceless artifacts are generally kept in a secure environment and seldom put on public display. It was a pleasure and a privilege to be able to view these treasures and to be reminded again of the great commitment and foresight of our Founding Fathers that allows us to live in freedom to this day.