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Two pages from the Huexotzinco Codex. Amate paper, 1531. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Huexotzinco Codex. Amate paper, 1531. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

The written word plays a uniquely significant role in America’s history. Documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address define who we are and what we aspire to be as a people. The Library of Congress holds documents associated with George Washington, George Mason, James Madison, Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Christopher Columbus among others—in trust for the American people. Periodically the featured items changed, because these rare and fragile documents can be displayed for only limited periods of time.

The Declaration of Independence

“We Hold These Truths To Be Self Evident . . .”

The “original Rough draught” of the Declaration of Independence, one of the great milestones in American history, shows the evolution of the text from the initial “fair copy” draft by Thomas Jefferson to the final text adopted by Congress on the morning of July 4, 1776.

Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826). “Original Rough Draught of the Declaration of Independence.” Page 2 (correction flap up) - Page 2 (correction flap down) - Page 3 - Page 4. Holograph with emendations by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin and others, June 1776. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (2)

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Fragment Of An Idea

This is the only surviving fragment of the earliest composition draft of the Declaration of Independence, written by Jefferson in mid-June 1776. This version was heavily edited before he prepared the “fair copy,” which we know now as “the original Rough draught.” None of the words deleted from this fragment appear in the Rough Draft, but each of the 148 words that were not edited are there. The writing below is Jefferson’s draft of a resolution on the resignation of General John Sullivan, July 26, 1776.

Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826). Fragment of Rough Draft. Holograph manuscript, June 1776. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (3)

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Reflections on the Declaration

The Declaration of Independence was the defining moment of Jefferson’s life. He envisioned a utopian political arena of continuous revolution, where each generation remade its laws and constitutions. In his letter to Roger Weightman, the mayor of Washington, Jefferson continued to espouse his vision of the Declaration and the nation as signals to the world of the blessings of self-government in an ever-evolving society. This was the last letter written by Jefferson, who died ten days later, on July 4, 1826. Coincidentally, John Adams, another great defender of liberty, died on the same day.

Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) to Roger C. Weightman (1786–1876). Page 2. Holograph letter, June 24, 1826. June 1776. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (6)

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Draft of the Virginia Constitution

Immediately after learning that the Virginia Convention had adopted its call for independence on May 15, 1776, Jefferson, a Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress, drafted “the fundamental constitutions of Virginia.” This draft profoundly influenced the Virginia government and was the direct predecessor of the Declaration of Independence. Shown here is Jefferson’s litany of abuses by King George III, a topic of great weight in the Declaration.

Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826). Draft of the Virginia Constitution. Page 2. Holograph manuscript, May 1776. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (4)

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The Pursuit of Happiness

Jefferson’s annotated copy of the first edition of the Scottish philosopher, Lord Kames’ book on moral philosophy shows how he used his books as building blocks in the development of his own philosophy. Kames was a leader of the “moral sense” school that held that people have an innate sense of right and wrong. When they act virtuously, they increase the general happiness of mankind. Thus, the pursuit of virtue and morality is the “pursuit of happiness.”

Henry Home, Lord Kames. Essays On the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion. Edinburgh: A. Kincaid & A. Donaldson, 1751. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress. Purchase, 1815 (5)

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Mason’s Declaration of Rights

The Virginia Declaration of Rights

A call for American independence from Britain, the Virginia Declaration of Rights was drafted by George Mason in May 1776, and amended by Thomas Ludwell Lee and the Virginia Convention. Thomas Jefferson drew heavily from this document when he drafted the Declaration of Independence one month later.

Mason wrote that “all men are born equally free and independant [sic], and have certain inherent natural rights,...among which are the Enjoyment of Life and Liberty, with the Means of acquiring and possessing Property, and pursueing [sic] and obtaining Happiness and Safety.” This uniquely influential document was also used by James Madison in drawing up the Bill of Rights (1789) and the Marquis de Lafayette in drafting the French Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789).

George Mason (1725–1792) and Thomas Ludwell Lee (ca. 1730–1778). Page 2 - Page 3. The Virginia Declaration of Rights. Holograph manuscript, May 1776. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (2.1)

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Fairfax County Resolves

The Fairfax County Resolves, written by George Mason and George Washington on July 17, 1774, was the first clear statement of fundamental constitutional rights of the British American colonies as subjects of the Crown. Adopted the next day by the Fairfax County convention, which met to protest British retaliations against Massachusetts after the Boston Tea Party, the resolves call for a “firm Union” of the colonies because an injury against one colony is “aimed at all.”

George Mason (1725–1792). Fairfax County Resolves. Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4. Holograph manuscript, 1774. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (4.1)

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Lafayette’s Copy of the Declaration of the Rights of Man

General Lafayette gave this copy of France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man to Thomas Jefferson before he presented it to the French Estates General. One of several such declarations circulated in revolutionary France, Lafayette’s draft was influenced by his years in America and his intimate knowledge of George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights.

Manuscript in a clerical hand and endorsed by Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826). Page 2. Holograph manuscript, July 1789. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (3.1)

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Madison’s Copy of the Proposed “Bill of Rights”

In response to the demands of the anti-federalists for amendments guaranteeing individual rights, James Madison (1751–1836) drafted these twelve amendments to the Constitution. Seen here in one of only two known copies of the preliminary printing, these amendments were closely modeled on Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights. Articles three through twelve were ratified by the required number of states in December 1791, and became known as the “Bill of Rights.”

[Proposed Articles of Amendment]. New York: Thomas Greenleaf. [September 14, 1789]. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (5.1)

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George Washington’s Commission

Washington’s Commission as Commander in Chief

George Washington, a leader of the revolutionary movement in Virginia, a former commander of Virginia’s frontier forces, and a British colonial army officer, was commissioned “commander-in-chief of the army of the United Colonies of all the forces raised and to be raised by them” on June 19, 1775, by the Continental Congress. Although others, including John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress, had hoped for this commission, Washington was appointed. He was chosen because of his military experience and congressional recognition of the importance of involving Virginia in the military forces then concentrated around Boston, Massachusetts. General Washington left almost immediately to take command of the American army, after assuring his wife Martha in a letter dated June 18, 1775, that he had reluctantly accepted the post after “I have used every endeavor in my power to avoid it.”

Commission signed by John Hancock (1737–1793) and Charles Thomson (1729–1824). Holograph on vellum, 1775. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (2.2)

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“. . . and to Declare them Free and Independent States . . .”

With these calm and deliberate words, John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, informed General George Washington that the Declaration of Independence had been adopted on July 4, 1776. President Hancock enclosed a copy of printer John Dunlap’s broadside of the Declaration of Independence along with the July 4 Congressional resolutions in Hancock’s own hand. Hancock’s letter requested that “you will have it [the Declaration] proclaimed at the Head of the Army.”

John Hancock (1737–1793). Resolution in the hand of John Hancock, July 4, 1776. Page 2. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (5.2)

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Washington’s Personal Copy of the Declaration of Independence

This is the only surviving fragment of the broadside of the Declaration of Independence printed by John Dunlap and sent on July 6, 1776, to George Washington by John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. General Washington had this Declaration read to his assembled troops on July 9 in New York, where they awaited the combined British fleet and army. Later that night, American troops destroyed a bronze-lead statue of Great Britain’s King George III that stood at the foot of Broadway on the Bowling Green. The statue was later molded into bullets for the American Army.

The Declaration of Independence. Broadside. [Philadelphia: John Dunlap, July 4, 1776]. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (6.1)

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Washington Records the British Surrender at Yorktown

With the invaluable help of a combined French military force commanded by the Comte de Rochambeau, General George Washington and his Continental Army cornered and forced the surrender of a large British army under the command of Lord Cornwallis. This defeat at Yorktown, Virginia, on October 19, 1781, forced the British to seriously negotiate for a peace and recognize American independence.

Although Washington had been an inveterate diary keeper since age sixteen, his diary for 1781 was one of only two he kept during the course of the Revolutionary War (the other was a weather diary for early 1780). Addressing his lapse, Washington admitted “I lament not having attempted it from the commencement of the War.”

George Washington (1732–1799). Holograph diary, October 19, 1781. Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4 - Page 5 - Page 6. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (3.2)

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Encampment of the French Army, July 17, 1782

The important role played by the French forces under the command of Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, during the American Revolution is represented by this small manuscript atlas consisting of 46 maps recording the camp sites occupied by the French army following the defeat of the British at Yorktown. Leaving Williamsburg, Virginia, at the beginning of July 1782, the French troops marched northward, averaging 10–15 miles per day.

Their journey, which followed approximately the route of present-day U.S. Route 1 and Interstate 95, ended at the beginning of December 1782, just outside of Boston. Depicted here is the site at Alexandria, Virginia, where the French troops were encamped July 17, 1782.

Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau (1725–1807). Amerique Campagne, 1782. “Plans des differents camps occupes par l’armee; aux ordres de mr. le comte de Rocambeau.” Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4. Manuscript atlas, 1782. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (4.2)

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Cornwallis’s Defeat at Yorktown

This stylized, pictorial map of the lower Chesapeake Bay emphasizes the Revolutionary War naval battle that took place off the Virginia coast prior to General Charles Cornwalllis’s surrender at Yorktown, October 19, 1781. It graphically illustrates the French blockade at the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay, preventing the combined fleets of English Admirals Thomas Graves and Samuel Hood from providing reinforcements to Cornwallis. The battle marked a turning point in American history with the remainder of hostilities between France and Great Britain taking place elsewhere.

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Constitution of the United States

The State House in Philadelphia

Drawn by George Heap, a surveyor and city coroner of Philadelphia, and Nicolas Scull, Surveyor General of the Province of Pennsylvania, this map shows streams, roads, and names of the landowners in the vicinity of Philadelphia. The top third of the map contains the first illustration in any format of the State-House or Independence Hall, home of the Federal Convention of 1787. The map was issued before the State-House was completed. Scull and Heap apparently worked from the architectural plans to depict the unfinished belfry.

A Map of Philadelphia and Parts Adjacent, With A Perspective View of the State House. Philadelphia: Lawrence Hebert, 1752. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress. Gift of the Madison Council, the Phillips Society and J. Thomas Touchton, and Mrs. and Mrs. Isadore Scott, 1998 (6B.1)

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Report of the Committee of Detail

On July 24, 1787, the Federal Convention appointed a five-man Committee of Detail, chaired by John Rutledge of South Carolina, to prepare a draft constitution that encompassed the results of deliberations up to that point. On August 6, the Committee submitted the document (as a printed broadside). There were substantial differences between this draft and the later version written by the Committee of Style, which was charged with fashioning the final draft. Perhaps the most dramatic change is what follows the opening the line of “We the People.”

Broadside annotated in the hand of William Samuel Johnson. Philadelphia: Claypoole and Dunlap, August 6, 1787. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Gift of the Johnson Family, 1911 (4.7)

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The Federalist

In the ensuing debate over adoption of the Constitution, James Madison teamed with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay of New York to write a masterful dissection and analysis of the system of government presented in the Constitution. The eighty-five Federalist articles were originally published in the daily newspapers in New York City as arguments aimed at the anti-Federal forces in that state, but their intended scope was far larger. James Madison’s Federalist no. 10 is one of the most important and enduring statements of American political theory. Its reasoned statement explains what an expanding nation might do if it accepted the basic premise of majority rule, a balanced government of three separate branches, and a commitment to balance all the diverse interests through a system of checks and balances.

Publius (pseudonym for James Madison). “The Federalist. No. X” in the New York Daily Advertiser. Page 2. (November 22, 1787). Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress (6.7a,b)

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A Looking Glass for 1787

The process of state ratification of the United States Constitution was a divisive one. This satirical, eighteenth-century engraving touches on some of the major issues in the Connecticut politics on the eve of ratification. The two rival factions shown are the “Federals,” supporters of the Constitution who represented the trading interests and were for tariffs on imports, and the “Antifederal,” those committed to agrarian interests and more receptive to paper money issues. The two groups were also divided on the issue of commutation of military pensions. The artist, Amos Doolittle, clearly sides with the Federalist cause. Connecticut is symbolized by a wagon sinking into the mud. Its driver warns, “Gentlemen this Machines is deep in the mire and you are divided as to its releaf—.”

Amos Doolittle (1754–1832). The Looking Glass for 1787. A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand, Mat. Chap. 13th ver 26. Engraving and rocker work, with watercolor on laid paper. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (3.8)

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Report of the Committee of Style

By Saturday, September 8, 1787, the work of the Convention was almost at an end. The delegates appointed a committee consisting of William Samuel Johnson of Connecticut as chairman; Alexander Hamilton of New York; Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania; James Madison of Virginia; and Rufus King of Massachusetts “to revise the style of, and arrange, the articles which have been agreed to by the House.” Johnson presented a digest of the finished Constitution on September 12, and the Convention ordered copies printed and distributed to the delegates. The delegates made few changes in the Committee of Style report. Motions were made to preface the Constitution with a Bill of Rights and to protect the freedom of the press, but both were defeated when put to a vote. According to Roger Sherman of Connecticut, both proposals were unnecessary because the individual state declarations of rights were still in effect. The Federal Constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787, by thirty-nine delegates attending the Convention. It was then sent to the states for ratification. This copy belonged to James Madison.

Broadside United States Constitution. Philadelphia: Claypoole and Dunlap, September 12, 1787. Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4 - Page 5 - Page 6. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. State Department transfer (5.6)

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Washington’s First Inauguration

Washington’s First Inauguration, April 30, 1789

George Washington passed through several cities—including Philadelphia and Trenton—on the way to his first inauguration at Federal Hall in New York City, then the temporary capital of the United States. Aware of the importance of this national ritual, the brown-suited Washington set many precedents during his first inauguration: the swearing-in took place outside; the oath was taken upon a Bible; an inaugural address was given (to the assembled Congress inside the Hall) the contents of which set the pattern for all subsequent addresses; and festivities accompanied the inauguration, including a church service, a parade, and fireworks.

According to a description in the May 1789 issue of Columbian Magazine: “About noon the illustrious Washington appeared, and as he passed under the first triumphal arch, the acclamations of an immense crowd of spectators rent the air, and the laurel crown, at that instant, descended on his venerable head. His Excellency was saluted on the common by a discharge from the artillery, and escorted into Philadelphia by a large body of troops, together with his excellency the president of the state, and a numerous concourse of respectable citizens.”

Washington’s inaugural address, numbering ten pages, reveals both the deep anxiety and the tenacious idealism with which he approached the office of the presidency. He steeped his words in a moral context: “No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States.”

George Washington (1732–1799). Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789. Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4. Holograph manuscript. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (3.11)

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Jefferson’s First Inauguration

Jefferson’s First Inauguration, March 4, 1801

Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, was the first to be inaugurated in the capital city of Washington, D.C. The ceremonies took place on March 4, 1801, in the Senate wing of the not yet finished Capitol building. Chief Justice John Marshall administered the oath of office to Jefferson, the first of five presidents-elect he would induct. In his speech Jefferson attempted to assuage the bitter rivalry between the Federalist and Republicans that had culminated in a deadlock election broken by Congress’s election of Jefferson on the 36th ballot. Jefferson remarked: “but every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principles. We are all Republicans. We are all Federalists.” Jefferson’s sentiments notwithstanding, his predecessor, former president John Adams, did not attend the ceremony—the first president to do so.

“Pieces.” Sheet Music, March 4, 1801. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (4.9)

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Emancipation Proclamation

Emancipation Proclamation—the First Draft

On July 13, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln consulted Cabinet Secretaries William H. Seward and Gideon Welles on the particulars of the Emancipation Proclamation. Both men were speechless. Seward anticipated anarchy in the South and perhaps foreign intervention. Seeing that Welles was even more confused, Lincoln let the matter rest, but on July 22 he presented this draft proclamation to the full cabinet. Reaction was mixed. Secretaries Stanton and Chase advocated the document’s immediate release, but Postmaster General Montgomery Blair foresaw defeat in the coming fall elections. Lincoln again abandoned the issue; however, it was clear to his advisors that his mind was set. There would be an Emancipation Proclamation at year’s end.

Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865). First draft of the Emancipation Proclamation. Page 2. Holograph document, July 22, 1862. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (2.3)

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The Proclamation Issued

President Lincoln issued the first printing of the preliminary version of the Emancipation Proclamation as an order from the commander in chief to the armed forces. Because the president had direct control over the army, it made it unnecessary to go through Congress to activate the Proclamation. The preliminary version differs from this final version of January 1, 1863, by placing a greater emphasis on the preservation of the Union as a motivating force for the Proclamation.

Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Washington: Government Printing Office, January 1, 1863. Page 2. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (3.3)

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If Slavery Is Not Wrong, Nothing Is Wrong

On March 26, 1864, former Senator Archibald Dixon, Governor Thomas E. Bramlette, and Albert G. Hodges, editor of the Frankfort, Kentucky, Commonwealth, journeyed from Kentucky to meet with Lincoln to discuss the recruitment of slaves as soldiers in Kentucky. There was considerable dissatisfaction in the Blue Grass state on the issue because, although the Emancipation Proclamation did not apply in the border states, runaway slaves could gain their freedom through military service.

Lincoln heard their complaints but went on to persuasively outline the benefits of allowing blacks to serve in the Federal Army. Lincoln began his statement, “I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel. And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling.”

Hodges was so convinced that he asked the President to put his arguments in writing. The result is perhaps Lincoln’s most candid statement on slavery.

Abraham Lincoln to A.G. Hodges. Page 2 - Page 3. Holograph letter April 4, 1864. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (4.3)

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The Construction of the Proclamation

The original autograph copy of the draft of the final Emancipation Proclamation was sold in 1863 at the Chicago Northwestern Sanitary Fair. The buyer, Thomas B. Bryan, generously presented the document to the Soldier’s Home in Chicago, which benefitted from the sale of lithograph copies until the original was destroyed in the devastating Chicago fire of 1871.

Photographic copies like the one shown here preserved the Proclamation’s unique construction. The superscription, “By the President . . . .” and ending, “In witness whereof, . . .” are in the hand of a clerk, and the printed insertions are from the preliminary proclamation of September 1862. The rest is in the hand of President Lincoln.

Lincoln’s final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863. Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4. Photographic copy. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

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The Gettysburg Address

An Official Invitation to Gettysburg

Judge David Wills’s letter to Abraham Lincoln is the official invitation to the president to participate in the dedication of Gettysburg Memorial Cemetery. Wills carefully explained to Lincoln that this was a state initiative. The proposed cemetery was planned and financed by states represented in death at Gettysburg. Wills, who had conceived the idea of a national cemetery and had organized the dedication, made it equally clear to the president that he would have only a small part in the ceremonies. Although there is some evidence Lincoln expected Wills’s letter, its late date makes the author appear presumptuous, especially when one realizes that Edward Everett, the principal speaker for the occasion, received his invitation in September. Seventeen days was extraordinarily short notice for presidential participation even by nineteenth-century standards.

Judge David Wills to Abraham Lincoln. Holograph letter. Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4. November 2, 1863. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Gift of Robert Todd Lincoln, 1923 (3.5)

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A Personal Note

The late date of Judge David Wills’s invitation, combined with the small role that Lincoln was asked to play in the ceremonies, has led many people to conclude that Wills was simply fulfilling a political or ritual duty in inviting the president to Gettysburg. Some have gone so far as to argue that Wills neither expected nor wanted the president to accept his invitation. The one-page enclosure of the same date negates that argument. Not only did Wills expect the president in Gettysburg, he urged him to stay at his own home.

Judge David Wills to Abraham Lincoln. Holograph letter, [November 2, 1863]. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Gift of Robert Todd Lincoln, 1923 (4.5)

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The Dedication Ceremony, November 19, 1863

These modern prints show the crowd around the platform at Gettysburg and a detail from that picture of President Lincoln on the platform. The original glass plate from the Mathew Brady Collection lay unidentified in the National Archives until 1952, when Josephine Cobb, chief of the Still Pictures Branch, recognized Lincoln in the center of the detail, hatless and probably seated; his bodyguard, Ward Lamon; and Governor Andrew Curtin of Pennsylvania. Cobb estimated that the photograph was taken about noon, three hours before Lincoln gave his now famous address. Scholars have disagreed on the identification of the figures in the photograph, but the best consensus is as follows: Lincoln’s private secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay, orator Edward Everett, and Gettysburg attorney and organizer David Wills.

Mathew Brady Collection. The Dedication Ceremony, November 19, 1863. Detail. Courtesy of the Still Pictures Branch, National Archives (6.4, 6.5)

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First Draft of Gettysburg Address

Seen here is the earliest known of the five drafts of what may be the most famous American speech. Delivered by President Abraham Lincoln in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, at the dedication of a memorial cemetery on November 19, 1863, it is now familiarly known as “The Gettysburg Address.” Drawing inspiration from his favorite historical document, the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln equated the catastrophic suffering caused by the Civil War with the efforts of the American people to live up to the proposition that “all men are created equal.” This document is presumed to be the only working, or pre-delivery, draft and is commonly identified as the “Nicolay Copy” because it was once owned by John George Nicolay, Lincoln’s private secretary. The first page of this copy is on White House (then Executive Mansion) stationery, lending strong support to the theory that it was drafted in Washington, D.C. But the second page is on what has been loosely described as foolscap, suggesting that Lincoln was not fully satisfied with the final paragraph of the Address and rewrote that passage in Gettysburg on November 18 while staying at the home of Judge David Wills.

Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865). “Nicolay Copy,” Gettysburg Address, 1863. Page 2. Holograph manuscript. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Gift of Hay family, 1916 (2.5)

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A Gracious Compliment

Edward Everett was quick to grasp what Lincoln accomplished at Gettysburg. As soon as Everett returned to Washington, he complimented the president on the “eloquent simplicity & appropriateness” of his remarks, adding in open humility: “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” Lincoln may have heard only the polite applause commonly awarded men of his station, whatever the occasion, which would stand in marked contrast to the crescendo of praise that sounded across the nation after the American people had time to read and reflect on the Address.

Edward Everett (1794–1865) to Abraham Lincoln. Holograph letter, [November 20, 1863]. Envelope. Page 2. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Gift of Robert Todd Lincoln, 1923 (5.5)

Read the transcript

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Columbus’s Book of Privileges

Columbus’s Three Voyages

Perhaps the earliest written description of Columbus is included in Angelo Trevisan’s record of the first three voyages of Columbus and Cabral’s 1500 landing on the Brazilian coast. Trevisan served as a representative of Venetian interests in Spain and for them he compiled his “Storia,” copied almost entirely from the notes of the historian Peter Martyr.

Angelo Trevisan. “Storia de la Navegacion del Colon” [Trevisan codex]. Venice: 1503. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress. Bequest of Mrs. John Boyd Thacher, 1925 (3.4)

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Caribbean Map

The large island of Hispaniola, today shared by the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, became the first site for permanent European settlement in America. And it remained so, until occupation of the other large islands of Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and Cuba took place during the years 1508–1511. By 1525 a Milanese humanist at the court of the Spanish crown, Pietro Martire d’Anghiera, also known as Peter Martyr, reported to his friend Gaspare Contarini of Venice that the islands of Hispaniola, Cuba, and Jamaica contained a million persons or more at the time of Columbus, but then, because of cruel treatment, despair, disease, or infanticide, there were almost none left.

Pietro Martire d’ Anghiera, (Peter Martyr). “Martyris Angli mediolanensis opera, legatio babylonica, oceani decas, poemata, epigrammate.” Seville, 1511. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress. Bequest of Mrs. John Boyd Thacher, 1925 (4.4)

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Columbus’s Book of Privileges

On January 5, 1502, prior to his fourth and final voyage to America, Columbus gathered several judges and notaries in his home in Seville to authorize the authentic copies of his archival collection of original documents through which Isabel and Fernando had granted titles, revenues, powers, and privileges to him and his descendants. These thirty-six documents are popularly called Columbus’s “Book of Privileges.” Four copies of his “Book,” existed in 1502, three written on vellum and one on paper. The Library’s copy, one of the three on vellum, has a unique paper copy of the Papal Bull Dudum siquidem of September 26, 1493, which extended the Spanish claim for future explorations.

Códice Diplomático Columbo-Americano. Seville, ca. 1502. Vellum. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Purchased from William Everett, 1901 (2.4)

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Columbus Reports on Discoveries of Island of India

In 1493, Columbus wrote a brief report concerning his discoveries of “Islands of India beyond the Ganges.” It was intended as a public notice to announce his encounters and to garner support for another voyage. The first edition of this letter was printed in Spanish in Barcelona in April 1493. Within the month a Latin translation of the letter was published in Rome by Stephan Plannck. In its preamble, exclusive credit was given to Fernando of Aragon for supporting the expedition—omitting Isabel’s support. Immediately Plannck published a corrected edition, the one on display, and it was this Latin edition that spread the news of discovery throughout Europe.

Christopher Columbus. Epistola de insulis nuper inventis. Printed letter, Rome: 1493. Page 1 (Latin). Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress. Purchased, 1946 (5.4)
In Latin: Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4 - Page 5 - Page 6 - Page 7 - Page 8
In English: Page 1 - Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4 - Page 5 - Page 6 - Page 7

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The Life of Columbus

There are hundreds of published accounts on the life of Columbus, beginning with the one written by his son Fernando. However, there is no absolute agreement among scholars concerning Columbus’s place of birth, his native language, his religious affiliation, his likeness, or the resting place of his physical remains.

Fernando Colombo. Historie del signor D. Fernando Colombo. . . Page 2 - Page 3. Venice, 1571. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress. Bequest of Mrs. John Boyd Thacher, 1925 (6.3)

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Lincoln’s First Inauguration

Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address

In composing his first inaugural address, delivered March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln focused on shoring up his support in the North without further alienating the South, where he was almost universally hated or feared. For guidance and inspiration, he turned to four historic documents, all concerned directly or indirectly with states’ rights: Daniel Webster’s 1830 reply to Robert Y. Hayne; President Andrew Jackson’s Nullification Proclamation of 1832; Henry Clay’s compromise speech of 1850; and the U.S. Constitution. Lincoln’s initial effort was typeset and printed at the office of the Illinois State Journal, edited and then reprinted. Lincoln sent four copies of the second strike to his closest political advisors for commentary, resulting in further changes.

The finished address avoided any mention of the Republican Party platform, which condemned all efforts to reopen the African slave trade and denied the authority of Congress or a territorial legislature to legalized slavery in the territories. The address also denied any plan on the part of the Lincoln administration to interfere with the institution of slavery in states where it existed. But to Lincoln, the Union, which he saw as older even than the Constitution, was perpetual and unbroken, and secession legally impossible.

Until the final draft, Lincoln’s address had ended with a question for the South: “Shall it be peace or sword?” In the famous concluding paragraph, Lincoln, following the suggestion of Seward, moderated his tone dramatically and ended on a memorable note of conciliation:

“I am loth to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stre[t]ching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

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  • Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865). Inaugural Address, 1861. Page 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Printed text with emendations in the hand of Lincoln. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (2.6) Gift of Robert Todd Lincoln, 1923 (2.6)

  • William H. Seward (1801–1872). Holograph notes on Lincoln’s inaugural address. 1861. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (3.6)

  • Holograph diary [in shorthand] entry for March 4, 1861. “Inauguration of President Lincoln at the U.S. Capitol” and stereograph view of the inaugural ceremony. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (5.9)

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