Many years ago, July 4th meant more than returning fireworks to the East River. To commemorate the humble origins of our country, the New York Public Library will display a rare copy of the Declaration of Independence written in longhand by Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson wrote the Declaration in Philadelphia between June 11 and June 28, 1776, at the age of 33. His editors were John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman, and they decided to cut a large section of his original version that condemns the Crown's support of slavery (Franklin also replaced Jefferson's "sacred & undeniable" with "self-evident" because Franklin apparently had a keen eye for purple prose).

With the slavery-addicted states appeased, the Declaration was completed on July 1, and ratified by the Continental Congress on July 4th.

Upset by the redactions, Jefferson dashed off copies of his original version to his friends, with the axed language underlined. The NYPL's copy, written in iron gall ink, is believed to be one sent to Jefferson's former law professor, George Wythe. Jefferson also discussed the edits in his autobiography:

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 offense. 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 these censures, for though their people had very few slaves themselves, yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others.

The NYPL's copy, displayed at the Celeste Bartos Forum at the Libary's main location, will also be present at the naturalization ceremony for 150 immigrants taking place on July 2.

You can look at this ancient text and ponder the ironies of a slave-holding member of the aristocracy expounding on the ideals of freedom and liberty in language that is now used by a cabal of Supreme Court justices to essentially disenfranchise the public, at the following times:

Friday, June 27: 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.
Saturday, June 28: 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.
Sunday, June 29: 1 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.
Monday, June 30: 10 a.m. to 7:45 p.m.
Tuesday, July 1: 10 a.m. to 7:45 p.m.
Wednesday, July 2: 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Thursday, July 3: 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.