By YVONNE FRENCH
President Clinton chose to read from Thomas Jefferson's rough draft of the Declaration of Independence during an April 30 dinner celebrating the re-opening of the 1897 Library building now named after the third president.
Following his reading, President Clinton talked about his tour of "American Treasures of the Library of Congress," a new permanent exhibition, on view in the Thomas Jefferson Building. The show features Jefferson's rough draft through July 31. He remarked that the words "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," were not entirely Jefferson's. Jefferson had originally held the truths to be "sacred and undeniable."
The president said, "Ben Franklin gets credit for saying that these truths are self-evident. And that's a pretty good edit. Would that we all had such an editor." (According to exhibit curator Abby Smith, Jefferson did not like the changes -- fellow drafting committee members and the Continental Congress made 86 altogether -- and criticized them to his dying day.)
"As these exhibits show, we are, and have ever been, a nation of creators and innovators," the president continued. "We are all Jefferson's heirs, and we are doomed sometimes to succeed and sometimes to fail. I was amused at the picture of the massive double circular kite that Alexander Graham Bell thought might compete with the Wright brothers. He would do very well on the Frisbee circuit today, I think, but it wasn't much of an airplane. But if he hadn't had the courage to try that, well, we might not have had the telephone. We must always maintain that spirit."
The president arrived at the Library about 7 p.m. and was greeted by Dr. Billington. They spent 40 minutes studying the "American Treasures" exhibition with Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.); Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.); Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist; Rep. William M. Thomas (R-Calif.), chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library; Paul A. Allaire, chairman and chief executive officer of the Xerox Corp.; John Kluge, chairman of the James Madison Council; and mezzo soprano Marilyn Horne.
In addition to his interest in the rough draft of the Declaration, President Clinton was especially impressed by the music and motion picture materials, according to Gerard W. Gawalt, a manuscript historian who was on hand to answer questions. Ms. Smith said that the president mentioned he had wanted to read Briton Hammon's narrative (1760). She promised to send him a copy of the original, which tells "of the many Hardships [Hammon] underwent from the Time he left his Master's House, in the Year 1747, to the Time of his Return to Boston."
While President Clinton toured the exhibition, 675 guests from Congress, the Xerox Corp. and the Library's James Madison Council ate a buffet dinner on the mezzanine level of the Great Hall. At 8:15 the president, who was on crutches due to a leg injury, the Librarian and the others joined Mrs. Trent Lott, wife of the Senate majority leader; and Walter Scott, president, chairman and CEO of Peter Kiewit Sons' Inc., at a table in the Northwest Curtain, where most guests, including Mrs. Ted Stevens, wife of the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, had assembled. Others watched from monitors in the Northwest Pavilion and mezzanine.
Dr. Billington opened the program by thanking the Xerox Foundation for its generous funding of the exhibition and reception. He noted that the exhibition is available online (http://www.loc.gov), and that many of its items came to the Library through copyright deposit: "The location of the copyright office in the Library of Congress provides a record of historical creation and creativity. ... American tradition is a living one. It adds the new without subtracting the old.
"The Library of Congress houses the largest and most diverse collection of recorded knowledge ever assembled on earth," he continued. "For almost 200 years, this collection has informed legislators, impressed scholars and inspired creators. Now, with the grand reopening of the Jefferson Building, we have an appropriate venue to delight and inform millions of visitors with this exhibition. We hope that all Americans will come here to see the cultural patrimony that the Library of Congress holds in trust for them."
The readings began with Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who clerked for Attorney General Robert H. Jackson, and whose papers are in the Library. As he cited Jackson: "The future of the court may depend more upon the competence of the executive and legislative branches of government to solve their problems adequately and in time than upon the merit which is its own. There seems no likelihood that the tensions and conflicts of our society are to decrease." Jackson had made the statement in 1940, during the 150th anniversary of the first session of the Supreme Court.
Sen. Daschle read from a letter from Thomas Jefferson to Sen. Samuel H. Smith in which Jefferson offered to sell his personal library to Congress after the invading British burned the Library of Congress in 1814. "I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from this collection ... there is in fact no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer."
Rep. Gingrich then read from Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion, by Henry Home. Jefferson used the book in the development of his own philosophies. "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."
After his reading, President Clinton spoke of how "President Lincoln invoked the Jeffersonian ideal to heal a wounded nation as he stood at Gettysburg. President Roosevelt looked toward the world that would follow World War II, and he too called upon Jefferson for inspiration and courage. The words that he [Roosevelt] wrote then are as relevant today as they were in 1945, and I would like to close with them:
'We must do all in our power to conquer the doubts and the fear, the ignorance and the greed, for today science has brought all the different quarters of the globe so close together that it is impossible to isolate them one from another. Today we are faced with the preeminent fact that if civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships -- the ability of all peoples of all kinds to live together and work together in the same world at peace.'"
"Documents both historical and artistic speak eloquently long after their makers are gone," said Mr. Allaire. "The Library of Congress is the perfect place to make these documents available. They are a symbol of democracy we often take for granted."
Ms. French is a Public Affairs Specialist in the Public Affairs Office.