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The Declaration of Independence -- Draft Copy

Black and white image of Jefferson's rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, showing numerous handwritten changes.
This "original rough draft" is in Jefferson's handwriting.  The more famous engrossed version of the Declaration of Independence features the penmanship of Timothy Matlack.

Library of Congress

Intended to announce and justify the birth of a new nation, the Declaration of Independence has grown into an emblem of core principles of the United States and continues to influence millions throughout the world. The presentation of the document through time has mirrored its rise in importance amongst American relics.

A Draft Copy

On June 11, 1776, the Second Continental Congress entrusted a committee of five delegates (Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert R. Livingston and Roger Sherman) with composing the Declaration of Independence. The committee chose thirty-three year old Thomas Jefferson to draft what he called an expression of “the American mind.” Though he “turned to neither book or pamphlet,” Jefferson relied on his knowledge of philosophy as well as the sentiments of the Virginia Constitution, the Declaration of Rights and Richard Henry Lee’s resolution proposed to Congress on June 7. Jefferson later recalled, “I drew it; but before I reported it to the committee I communicated it separately to Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams requesting their corrections.” The revised copy was submitted to Congress on June 28, 1776.

The Extant (Existing) Documents

There are six extant drafts. Only one copy is referred to as the “original rough draft” with copy edits by Franklin, Adams and the Congress. It is located in the Jefferson Papers at the Library of Congress. Four additional drafts were sent by Jefferson to colleagues and do not contain edits by Congress. Later, Jefferson also made his own notes on the Declaration debates and included them in his autobiography in 1821.

At Independence National Historical Park, look for...

Inside the Declaration House at 7th and Market Streets, see a re-creation of the rooms where Jefferson lived while drafting the famous document. View paintings of four committee members at the Second Bank Portrait Gallery on Chestnut Street between 4th and 5th Streets. During the summer months at Library Hall, the American Philosophical Sociey often displays a Jefferson draft that was sent to Richard Henry Lee.

Part of a series of articles titled The Declaration of Independence Through Time.

Independence National Historical Park

Last updated: March 21, 2019