“That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States…”
Can you imaging finding something like this? One of the greatest pieces of writings in history has a second copy…in England. Harvard University researcher Emily Sneff came across it back in 2015 when she searched for the Declaration of Independence in Britain. She found something in a West Sussex record office when an item struck her “as odd because it mentioned parchment, a material suggesting a document made for a special occasion and not simply a broadside copy.” From The Guardian:
“I reached out to them a bit skeptically,” Sneff said. “The description was a little vague but once we saw an image and talked to a conservator we started to get excited.”
Before Sneff asked, the British officials had never taken a close look at the manuscript. They had received it in 1956 from a local man, who worked with a law firm that represented the dukes of Richmond. “The closer we looked at it there were just things that made it a clearly unique and mysterious document,” Sneff said.
[Harvard Professor Danielle] Allen and Sneff first tried to deduce when and where the manuscript was made by analyzing handwriting, spelling errors and parchment styles and preparation. They concluded it dated to the 1780s, and was produced in America, most likely in New York or Philadelphia.
Their next question proved more difficult: who was the man behind the parchment? Allen and Sneff believe the leading candidate was James Wilson, a Pennsylvania delegate to the continental congress, one of six men to sign both the declaration and constitution, and, later, one of the original supreme court justices. The researchers argue that Wilson, who argued vociferously for a popularly-elected president and separation of powers, played a more influential role in American history than most historians have recognized.
The clue that led them to Wilson, Sneff said, was a stark anomaly on the manuscript compared to its counterpart in Washington DC and later copies: “The names of the signers are all scrambled.”
Allen and Sneff presented the document, “known as ‘The Sussex Declaration,'” last week at Yale.
Now the two experts will try to find out how it landed in Chichester:
Copies of the declaration made their way to England in the wake of its original 1776 signing, but the Sussex Declaration was made sometime in the next decade, years when America’s leading statesmen were at odds over a post-war financial crisis, an armed uprising and an uncertain constitution. Somehow the manuscript landed in Britain, possibly in the possession of the dukes of Richmond.
Sneff said she is hoping to gain access to the papers of the dukes to trace the declaration’s history, possibly as far back as Charles Lennox, a contemporary of George III who was called “the radical duke” because he supported American colonists in their rebellion against the king and parliament.
“It would be nice to associate this document with the radical duke,” Sneff said.
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