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“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Abraham Lincoln, 1863

French Declaration of Rights Emulates U.S. Declarations

The Marquis de Lafayette (1757–1834), a general during the American Revolution and an important figure during the early days of the French Revolution, consulted with Thomas Jefferson about a declaration of rights before presenting one to the French National Assembly in July 1789. France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which was adopted by the French National Assembly on August 26, 1789, emulates the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Declaration of Rights.

Marquis de Lafayette. Declaration of the Rights of Man, Ante July, 1789. Manuscript document with emendations by Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (109.00.02) [Digital ID# us0109p2, us0109, us0109_01]

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Texas Declaration of Independence

Borrowing heavily from the form and words of the United States Declaration of Independence, the delegates of the “people of Texas” meeting in convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos, declared their independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836. As in 1776, a committee of five delegates was appointed to write the document. The committee selected George C. Childress (1804–1841), filling the role of Thomas Jefferson had played sixty years earlier, as chief writer of the document.

Texas Republic Declaration of Independence made at Washington on the second of March 1836, and the Constitution of the Republic of Texas, adopted by the Convention March 17, 1836. Houston: Printed at the Office of the Telegram, 1838. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (109.01.00) [Digital ID# us0109_01p0]

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Women’s Declaration of Rights

On July 4, 1876, during the Centennial Celebration of the Declaration of Independence, the National Woman Suffrage Association adopted a ringing Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States. The association sought equal rights for women and particularly the right to vote.

Declaration of Rights of Women of the United States, July 4, 1876. Elizabeth Cady Stanton Collection. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (111.00.01) [Digital ID#s us0111_1, us0111_0]

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First Conference to Discuss Women’s Rights

In July 1848, more than three hundred men and women assembled in Seneca Falls, New York, for the first women’s rights convention, at which Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s (1815–1902) famous Declaration of Sentiments was read and adopted. Modeled after the Declaration of Independence, Stanton’s document protested women’s inferior legal status and put forward a list of proposals for the moral, economic, and political equality of women. The most radical resolution was the demand for woman suffrage, a goal that would consume the women’s movement for more than seventy years.

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  • “Declaration of Sentiments” from Report of the Woman’s Rights Convention, Held at Seneca Falls, New York July 19 and 20, 1848. Rochester: North Star Office, 1848. Elizabeth Cady Stanton Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (111.01.01) [Digital ID# us0111_01a]

  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Scrapbook, 1848. Elizabeth Cady Stanton Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (111.01.02) [Digital ID# us0111_01b]

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Retouching the Declaration of Independence

In this illustration from Life magazine, an American woman retouches the Declaration of Independence by editing the famous line to read: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men and women are created equal.” In 1915 American women were pushing for equal rights, particularly the right to vote in national elections, which finally came with the 1920 adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment.

Paul Stahr. “1776—Retouching an Old Masterpiece—1915.” Cover illustration from Life, July 1915. General Collections, Library of Congress (112) [Digital ID# us0112]

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Recalling the Spirit of ‘76 for Women’s Rights

This postcard calls forth the spirit of 1776 to support women’s rights—particularly the right to vote. While women march for suffrage rights, George Washington is shown exclaiming “Did I save my country for this!”

Did I Save My Country for This!, ca. 1915. Postcard. National American Woman Suffrage Association Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (112.01.00) [Digital ID# us0112_01]

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“Wouldn’t the Founders of the Nation be Surprised”

America’s expansion and growing economic and military power since 1776 were frequently points of pride of patriotic Americans early in the twentieth century as war again erupted in Europe and threatened to engulf the United States. In the spirit of this ultra nationalistic fervor, John T. McCutcheon (1870–1949) made this celebratory drawing that was first published in the Chicago Tribune on July 5, 1915.

John T. McCutcheon. Wouldn’t the Founders of the Nation be Surprised if They Could See How It Has Grown! 1915. Pen and ink drawing. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (112.03.00) [Digital ID# cai.2a13864]

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A Call to Arms for African Americans

Frederick Douglass (1818–1895), a former slave and an outspoken leader of the Abolitionist Movement, called on African Americans to join the Union Army to fight for the freedom of all slaves and to preserve the federal Union in a March 2, 1863, speech at Rochester, New York. In the months after the Emancipation Proclamation, thousands of African Americans joined the fight against the Confederate States of America.

Frederick Douglass. Men of Color, To Arms! A Call. Broadside. Rochester, New York: 1863. Rare Books and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (112.02.00) [Digital ID# us0112_02]

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Spirit of the Declaration Invoked to Sell War Bonds

A 1918 poster by Joseph Pennell (1857–1926) for the World War I Fourth Liberty Loan Drive, invokes the spirit of the Declaration of Independence in the phrase “lest liberty perish from the face of the earth.” The statue of Lady Liberty is shown in ruins with New York City in flames.

Joseph Pennell. “Lest Liberty Perish from the Face of the Earth, Buy Bonds.” Watercolor sketch for poster, 1918. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (114.01.00) [Digital ID# LC-DIG-ppmsca-18334]

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King Calls Founding Documents “Promissory Note”

A skilled and charismatic orator and civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968), called on America to redeem the promises of the nation’s founders that all people are created equal. In his “I Have a Dream” speech during the 1963 March on Washington, King asserted that “When the architects of our Republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. . . . We have come to cash this check.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. Speech during the March on Washington, August 28, 1963. Typescript filed for Copyright registration. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (110.00.03)

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Demanding Equality for African Americans

On August 28, 1963, hundreds of thousands of Americans participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and heard Martin Luther King, Jr. deliver his monumental “I Have a Dream” speech. This souvenir portfolio, featuring the title of the famous civil rights anthem and containing pamphlets and fliers relating to the march, was published for participants.

National Urban League. “We Shall Overcome: March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” 1963. Portfolio cover by Louis Lo Monaco. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (113) [Digital ID# ppmsca-08060_0001u]

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The March on Washington

Danny Lyon was the first staff photographer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a national group of college students who joined together after the first sit-in by four African American college students at a North Carolina lunch counter. From 1963 to 1964, Lyon traveled the South and Mid-Atlantic regions capturing telling moments like this moving image taken at the March on Washington in 1963. This photograph is part of a limited edition portfolio that Lyon produced to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the civil rights struggle.

Danny Lyon. [The March on Washington, August 28, 1963]. Gelatin silver print, printed 1994. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (113.01.00) [Digital ID# ppmsca-19167]

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“Give Us American Rights”

The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s fought to achieve for African Americans the rights that the Declaration of Independence guaranteed for all Americans. In this photograph, a white young man holding a sign reading “Go Home Negro” and an African American young man holding a sign reading “Give Us American Rights” picket together in front of the F. W. Woolworth store in Greensboro, North Carolina. The store was the site of a lunch-counter sit-in by black students protesting segregation. Picketing, counter-picketing, and sit-ins were among the many forms of non-violent protests that played a significant role during the Civil Rights Movement.

Associated Press. [A white youth matched strides with a negro student picketing the F. W. Woolworth store in Greensboro, N.C.] April 20, 1960. Photograph. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (113.02.00) [Digital ID# cph.3c35508]

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Marching on Montgomery, Alabama, for Civil Rights

The struggle for civil rights and equality for African Americans was part of the reform surge of the Kennedy-Johnson presidential era. Here Americans, both white and black, are marching from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in March 1965, in an effort to focus national attention on federal legislation to guarantee voting rights for all Americans.

James H. Karales. Civil rights march [March 1965], published in Look Magazine, May 18, 1965. Gelatin silver print, printed later. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (113.03.00) [Digital ID# cph.3g04914]

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Spirit of the Declaration Invoked to Sell War Bonds

This 1918 poster for the fourth Liberty Loan bond drive invokes the spirit of the Declaration of Independence in the title That Liberty Shall Not Perish from the Face of the Earth. In 1917 and 1918, the U.S. government sold Liberty Loan bonds to defray the enormous expenses of World War I. Noted artist Joseph Pennell (1857–1926) produced this poster to promote the bonds by arousing patriotism. In this view of the Statue of Liberty in ruins and New York City in flames, he shows liberty in danger and almost destroyed.

Joseph Pennell. “That Liberty Shall Not Perish from the Face of the Earth-Buy Liberty Bonds.” New York: Heywood Strasser and Voigt, [1918]. Lithograph. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (114.03.00) [Digital ID# ppmsca-18343]

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Independence and the Union Celebrated

The American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence are celebrated in this pro-Democratic political print. Eight presidents are depicted, with Andrew Jackson (1767–1845) and Martin Van Buren (1782–1862) joining hands over a scroll with Jackson’s famous Jefferson Day dinner of 1830 toast, “The Union Must be Preserved.” Below stands George Washington, in uniform and holding a scroll inscribed “We declare ourselves free and independent.” He faces thirteen soldiers, representing the original American colonies, who are flanked by an American flag and the “National Flag of 1776.”

Thomas Moore. Independence Declared 1776. The Union Must be Preserved. [Boston: Joseph A. Arnold, ca. 1839]. Lithograph. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (114.05.00) [Digital ID# pga.02221]

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Centennial Celebration in Philadelphia, 1776–1876

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where the United States declared its independence in 1776, was the site of the nation’s major centennial commemoration in 1876. This advertising poster features the enormous main exhibition hall built on the grounds of Philadelphia’s Fairmont Park. The central image is surrounded by patriotic vignettes of historical events that had occurred in the hundred years since the drafting of the Declaration.

H. Schile. 1776, Centennial International Exhibition, 1876—History of the United States, 1875. Color lithograph poster. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (114.06.00) [Digital ID# pga.02653]

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Civil Rights Activists Occupy a Lunch Counter in Atlanta

During the struggle for the civil rights of African Americans, the occupation of lunch counters and restaurants was a familiar tactic to force their desegregation. In this photograph a group of activists are holding a sit-in at a Toddle House restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia. John Lewis (b. 1940), a civil rights leader and currently a member of the United States House of Representatives, and Judy Richardson, a founding member of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and now a producer of prize-winning documentaries, are among those pictured.

Danny Lyon. [Civil Rights activists occupying a lunchroom counter during a sit-in, 1962–1964]. Gelatin silver print, printed later. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (113.04.00) [Digital ID# ppmsca.24330]

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Frederick Douglass and the Declaration of Independence

Frederick Douglass (1818–1895), an escaped slave from Maryland and a leading spokesman for the Abolitionist Movement, appealed to the Declaration of Independence in seeking freedom from slavery for all African Americans. Douglass’s speech to the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society at Corinthian Hall in Rochester, New York, on July 5, 1852, has become famous for its direct challenge to the nation: “What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us?”

Frederick Douglass. Oration in Corinthian Hall. Rochester, New York: 1852. Susan B. Anthony Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (109.02.00) [Digital ID# us0109_02]

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Fulfilling the Declaration’s Assertion “that all men are created equal”

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968) wrote this letter on April 16, 1963, from a Birmingham jail to his “Fellow Clergymen” who criticized his involvement in a non-violent campaign against racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. King argued that African Americans could wait no longer to fulfill the Declaration of Independence’s assertion “that all men are created equal”: “We have waited for more than 340 years for our Constitutional and God Given Rights. . . .”

Martin Luther King, Jr. Letter from the Birmingham City Jail, 1963. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (111.02.01) [Digital ID#s us0111_02a, us0111_02b]

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Seeking to Limit the Power of Government

Using a quotation from former President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924), the Think American Institute issued this poster to promote limiting the growth of governmental power as the United States prepared for war in 1941. The American eagle soars carrying the symbols of liberty and war.

Think American Institute. “The History of Liberty is a History of the Limitation of Governmental Power, not the Increase of It”—Woodrow Wilson. Rochester, New York: Kelly-Read & Co. Inc., 1941. Offset lithograph. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (114.04.00) [Digital ID# ppmsca.19869]

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