Thomas Jefferson made slip in early Declaration draft, researchers say
WASHINGTON — Preservation scientists at the Library of Congress have discovered that Thomas Jefferson, even in the act of declaring independence from England, had trouble breaking free from monarchial rule.
In an early draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote the word “subjects,” when he referred to the American people. He then erased that word and replaced it with “citizens,” a term he used frequently throughout the final draft.
The library released news of the stricken word for the first time Friday.
Fenalla France, a research chemist at the library, said her lab made the discovery last year by using hyperspectral imaging, using a high resolution digital camera that compiles a series of images to highlight layers of a document. Some of those invisible layers — like erased text and even fingerprints — pop into view on a computer screen.
In switching from “subjects” to “citizens,” France said it appears Jefferson used his hand to wipe the word out while the ink was still wet. A distinct brown smudge is apparent on the paper, but the word “subjects” isn’t legible without the high-tech help. Scholars had speculated that the smear might have been the erased word “patriots” or “residents.”
“This has been a very exciting development,” France said, calling the findings “spine-tingling.”
“It shows the progress of his mind. This was a decisive moment,” said James Billington, librarian of Congress. “We recovered a magic moment that was otherwise lost to history.”