In an early draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote the word "subjects" whenever he referred to the American people. He then erased that word and replaced it with "citizens," a term he used repeatedly throughout the final draft. The LOC released news of the struck word for the first time on Friday, July 2.
Fenalla France, a research chemist at the Library, said her lab made the discovery last year by using hyperspectral imaging, which employs a high resolution digital camera that compiles a series of images to highlight layers of a document. Some of those layers reveal erased text and even fingerprints that 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, although the word "subjects" is not legible without the help of the digital technology.
"This has been a very exciting development," France said, calling the findings "spine-tingling."
Historic, handwritten documents reveal clues about the past that word processors cannot illuminate, said James Billington, librarian of Congress.
"It shows the progress of his mind. This was a decisive moment," Billington said. "We recovered a magic moment that was otherwise lost to history."
Accompanied by police escort, the document was unveiled outside its oxygen-free protective case for the first time in 15 years for an additional round of hyperspectral imaging. It normally can only be viewed through a 130-pound oxygen-free safe.
Donning a pair of white researchers' gloves, Maria Nugent, director of the Library of Congress' top treasures collection, slowly lifted a piece of off-white corrugated cardboard to reveal the rough draft of the Declaration, which includes handwritten corrections by both John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.
"That's a pretty good editorial committee," said Billington, who was present for the procedure. The rough draft was written on two sheets of white legal-sized paper, on both sides of the sheets.
The document was returned to the library's vault on Friday after the testing. A copy of the rough draft of the Declaration can be viewed online at http://www.myLOC.gov.
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