Collection in Focus: The Declaration of Independence

One of the most timeless and eloquent of historical documents, the Declaration of Independence stands with the Magna Carta, as a classic charter of freedom. The document is a formal statement by the representatives of the Thirteen Colonies announcing their separation from Great Britain and the birth of the United States of America. The Morgan’s copy is one of just twenty-five recorded copies of the first printing of the Declaration and is considered one of the two or three finest in existence.  

The text was drafted by Thomas Jefferson and approved by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. On that day, it was resolved that an accurate copy should be printed and distributed to “the several Assemblies, Conventions & Committees or Councils of Safety and to the several Commanding Officers of the Continental troops.” A few weeks later, fifty-six delegates to the Continental Congress signed a slightly but significantly different version of this text, which was engrossed on parchment and is now on display at The National Archives.

The Morgan’s copy of the Declaration came into the hands of Benjamin Chew (1722–1810), who, until the Revolution, was chief justice of Pennsylvania. It was preserved as part of the Chew family archives in Cliveden, their country house in Germantown. The Morgan purchased it at auction in New York in 1982.