1829 "Declaration of Independence" Draft by Thomas Jefferson Engraved by Charles Toppan

This historical and rare item celebrates one of the most influential writers, politicians, and American Revolutionary figures, Thomas Jefferson. The one-of-a-kind collage pairs a four-page facsimile steel-engraved draft of the Declaration of Independence, printed in 1828, with an engraved portico bust portrait of Thomas Jefferson. The Declaration draft engraving was commissioned for the first biography of Thomas Jefferson, Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, edited by Thomas Jefferson Randolph, Boston, and published by Gray and Bowen, 1830. All four pages of the draft were meticulously engraved by Charles Toppan. 

In early May 1776, Jefferson made a weeklong journey to Philadelphia to be a delegate to the Second Continental Congress. The Congress appointed a committee of five men to draw up a statement explaining why the colonies wanted independence. They chose John Adams, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, and Thomas Jefferson.

At only thirty-three years old, Jefferson was one of the youngest members of Congress. A shy student of the Enlightenment, Jefferson was not a passionate speaker and said little during the meeting. But he was known and respected for his skill as a writer. The committee chose Jefferson to draft their Declaration of Independence. Over the span of two and a half weeks, writing and rewriting, Jefferson crafted an argument for independence and freedom, and penned perhaps the most celebrated sentence in American History, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

All that remains of the first handwritten draft is a cut fragment that was found behind a picture frame in 1947. This small portion of Jefferson’s handwritten draft now lives in the archives at the Library of Congress, with the rest of the Jefferson Papers Collection. The fragment shows the process Jefferson went through when writing the Declaration of Independence; there are lots of crossed out sections, scribbles, and errors. 

After Jefferson was content with what he wanted to say, he made an unknown number of clean copies to be shared with John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and other members of the committee so they could add their thoughts and approve what Jefferson had written. Jefferson referred to this copy of the Declaration as the “Original Rough Draught.” This engraving is a facsimile of this “Original Rough Draught.” The majority of the 86 edits seen on this copy of the draft are in the handwriting of John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. At a later date, most likely in the 1800s, Thomas Jefferson went back to his draft and annotated in the margins which changes were suggested by Adams and Franklin.

After the rest of the committee read the draft and provided their input, Jefferson made a final document, which included some of the committee’s edits, to be submitted to Congress. This version of the draft, known as the “Fair Copy,” was presented to Congress on June 28, 1776. 

Comparing it to the final text adopted by Congress on the morning of July 4, 1776, the “Original Rough Draught” of the Declaration of Independence shows the evolution of the text, from start to finish. Thomas Jefferson was highly critical of the changes being made to the document he wrote. Most of the edits on this “Original Rough Draught” are additive, rather than subtractive. Changes such as capitalization, punctuation, inserting a forgotten word, or rephrasing certain sentences were suggested by Franklin and Adams. However, the edits made to the “Fair Copy” draft by Congress were much more extensive. The change Jefferson fought the hardest was the removal of an entire paragraph on the third page of the Declaration that attributed responsibility of the slave trade in the colonies to King George III. In his Autobiography, Jefferson explains why this passage was cut from the Declaration of Independence:

“The pusillanimous idea that we had friends in England worth keeping terms with, still haunted the minds of many. For this reason those passages which conveyed censures on the people of England were struck out, lest they should give them offence. The clause too, reprobating the enslaving the inhabitants of Africa, was struck out in complaisance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who on the contrary still wished to continue it. Our northern brethren also I believe felt a little tender under those censures; for tho’ their people have very few slaves themselves yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others.”

Although Thomas Jefferson may have thought the removal of this paragraph was cowardly, the rest of his Declaration remained assertive, strong, and decisive and continues to be a sturdy foundational document for the United States of America hundreds of years later. 

Charles Toppan (1796-1874) was a noted early antiquarian and the first to produce an engraved facsimile of Jefferson’s manuscript of the Declaration. Toppan opened his own engraving business in Philadelphia in 1829 at the age of thirty-three. Although other Philadelphia engraving firms, such as Draper, Underwood, Bald, Spencer & Hufty, were already well-established in the city, Toppan saw an early success due to his fine artistic ability. After many partnerships throughout the nineteenth century, Charles Toppan & Co. would engrave many notable pieces of American history, including this Declaration facsimile, ornate bank notes, and stamps depicting contemporary figures in elaborate scrollwork. Today, many of works are held in the Library of Congress and the U.S. Postal Museum.  

CONDITION: 

Facsimile Steel-engraved Draft of the Declaration of Independence.  Philadelphia: Charles Toppan, 1829. Four folio-format wove paper sheets printed on rectos only, from Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, edited by Thomas Jefferson Randolph, Boston: Gray and Bowen, 1830. With old folds lines still present, deckled edges, light stains. Sheets measure 13 3/4 x 9 in.  

Th. Jefferson. After painting by Otis. Engraved by T. Kelly. Published by Samuel Walker, Harlem Place, Washington Street, Boston. Second state. Stipple engraving, portico portrait, full bust, facing ¾ left. Small vignette of a scroll “Declaration of Independence” and amassing of papers, ink well, and books at bottom. Decorative oak leaf and acorn border. Publication line printed bottom, center. Paper is healthy, faint paper tone to bottom margin. No signs of foxing. Impression is strong. Measures 4.11” x 3.13”.

The pages are artfully displayed together in two separate inset windows with gold fillet. The central portrait is matted with an acid-free tan mat and displayed within a black and gold frame. The elements are presented in a custom hand-built black and gold wooden frame. All framing elements are archival and to the highest conservation standards. Framed dimensions: 30" H x 68" W x 2" D.




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