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  • A number of reproductions of the Declaration of Independence desk were made during the 19th century.  The most famous of these was owned by Otto von Bismarck.  Princess von Bismarck remained convinced that her desk was the original and made a visit to the National Museum of American History to meet with curators in 1982 to discuss the desk.

    Replica Writing Box: Princess von Bismarck visits the museum

  • A number of reproductions of the Declaration of Independence desk were made during the 19th century. The most famous of these was owned by Otto von Bismarck.  While researching a book on the desk, curator Silvio Bedini corresponded with Princess von Bismarck about the   desk owned by their family.  Her letter indicates that the Bismarck family remained convinced of the authenticity of the desk in their possession.

    Replica Writing Box: Princess von Bismarck

  • Thomas Jefferson and Dr. James Mease, who was the first antiquarian of Philadelphia, exchanged letters in 1825 on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration.  Mease wrote to Jefferson to inquire as to where Jefferson had resided in Philadelphia when he penned the Declaration.  Already at this time there was a strong sense of nostalgia for the revolutionary period and therefore was a heightened interest in discovering the details of where this important event took place.  In his response, Jefferson considers the historical significance of the writing box in the history of the creation of the Declaration.

    Relic of the Revolution: Jefferson's letter to Dr. James Mease

  • In the 1820s, as American politics became increasingly partisan, Federalist opponents of Jefferson and his party, the Republicans, belittled the Declaration of Independence.  Timothy Pickering and others charged that the Declaration of Independence was not an intellectual departure, but rather that it expressed ideas that were completely common at the time.  In the first excerpt, Jefferson writes to James Madison, answering the charges that the Declaration was a "commonplace compilation."  In the second excerpt, Madison responds.

    Remembrances of the Revolution: Was Authorship Important?

  • Thomas Jefferson's descendants gave the writing box to the nation. The Department of State preserved it until 1921, then transferred the desk to the care of the National Museum. Since that time, the desk has sometimes appeared on exhibition, although its fragile materials limit the length of time that curators decide to expose it to light and humidity.

    From Department of State to the National Museum: The Jefferson Writing Box Comes to the Museum, November 1921

  • This cloth banner celebrates the electoral victory of Thomas Jefferson over John Adams in the presidential election of 1800. The banner is believed to be one of the earliest surviving textiles carrying partisan imagery, created at the dawn of the first American party system in which power passed from Federalists to Jeffersonian Republicans. Its imagery celebrates Jefferson's electoral victory, while denigrating Adams, his opponent. The banner pictures Jefferson's likeness below an eagle with a streamer in its beak that proclaims, "T. Jefferson President of the United States of America / John Adams is no more."

    Jefferson as President: Victory Banner

  • The final text of the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.  Distinct differences exist between this edited document and Jefferson's draft.  Also, the text bears the traces of Jefferson's key influence, the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and Jefferson's own ideas on a Constitution for Virginia.  The resultant final draft was designed to appeal to many audiences: to rally support among the colonists, to make a case to the British, and to garner support from other foreign allies.

    A founding document: the Declaration of Independence

  • On June 7, 1776 Richard Henry Lee put forth a resolution calling for Colonial independence.  While the congress considered the resolution they appointed a committee of five men to draft a declaration, including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston.  Between June 11 and June 28, Jefferson produced a draft which he then shared with the other members of the committee.  This copy of the "original Rough draught" of the Declaration includes the changes made by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and others.

    A document in process: the earliest surviving draft of Jefferson's Declaration

  • How was the nation thinking about the Revolution and independence in the 1820s?

  • How is the Jefferson writing box related to the nation's historical memory?

  • What does the Jefferson lap desk look like?

  • As the delegates from the many colonies were meeting in Philadelphia at the Continental Congresses, local communities were expressing their thoughts on becoming independent from England.  Towns crafted their own statements on independence or drafted explicit instructions for their delegates to the colonial legislatures.  In this way, public support gathered for the radical step of breaking from the British.  This statement from the town of Natick, Massachusetts shows that local communities were pledging their "lives and fortunes" to the cause of independence.

    Revolution of the People: Natick Massachusetts' Resolution on Independence

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