In celebration of Independence Day we are pleased to share some of the rare books and historic documents related to America’s great Founding Fathers, particularly those instrumental in drafting the United States Declaration of Independence. Adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, The United States Declaration of Independence announced the sovereignty of the thirteen American colonies, thereby forming the United States of America. A committee of five drafted the formal declaration including John Adams who became the second United States President, Thomas Jefferson who became the third United States President, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston who negotiated the Louisiana Purchase to the Minister of France. Congress issued the Declaration of Independence in several forms, it was initially published as the printed Dunlap Broadside which was widely distributed to the public and later in several limited reproductions including the rare Jacksonian Era Broadside below.
As the committee to draft the Declaration formed, diplomat and statesman John Adams persuaded the group to appoint Thomas Jefferson to compose the document which was later edited by Congress. Asserting the natural and legal rights of the American people, the original draft listed the people’s grievances against King George III with Jefferson’s resounding statement: “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.”
John Adams’ credentials as a revolutionary secured him two terms in the United States Government, first as President George Washington‘s Vice President (1789 to 1797) and subsequently as the second President of the United States (1797 to 1801). A year after the ratification of the Declaration of Independence, Adams published his landmark treatise, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America. Adams published the work on constitutional theory as a response to the liberal French statesman Turgot, who had criticized the new American state constitutions for their conservative economic framework. Adams’s Defence was often cited in the debates of the Constitutional Convention. “A work marked by insight, breadth of views, conviction, courage, and—we may venture to add—much wisdom”- Larned, Literature of American History 2287.
One of the more controversial characters in the development of the nation, American statesman Alexander Hamilton founded America’s first political party, The Federalist Party which emphasized the importance of a strong centralized government. As president, John Adams came to resent Hamilton’s influence mainly due to his scandalous private life. In the summer of 1797, Hamilton became involved in the first major American public sex scandal which was exposed by notorious journalist James T. Callender in his The History of the United States for the Year 1796. Hamilton was forced to make a public confession of the affair in order to maintain his public image. “His confession had the merit of a proud bravery, for it showed him willing to endure any personal humiliation rather than a slur on his public integrity” (DAB). Mrs. Hamilton tried to buy up all copies of the 1797 pamphlet, but some escaped. In 1800, in the midst of the Jefferson-burr election, anti-Federalists such as William Duane reprinted Hamilton’s admission of infidelity.
Prior to serving as the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson was elected the second Vice President, serving under John Adams from 1797 to 1801. A proponent of democracy, republicanism, and individual rights motivating American colonists to break from Great Britain and form a new nation, he produced a number of formative documents and decisions at both the state and national level. Jefferson also kept a journal in his later years which was later published and edited by his grandson in 1829 and accompanied by four volumes of his extensive correspondence, most of which he penned between the years of 1775 and 1826, the year of his death.One of the many legal briefs published in the early 1800’s, Jefferson also published Proceedings of the Government of the United States in Maintaining the Public Right to the Beach of the Mississippi regarding a dispute with Edward Livingston over a tract of land on the Mississippi, which Jefferson had claimed for the federal government while President. Livingston had sued Jefferson for $100,000, but the case was dismissed. Concerned that the public considered the court’s dismissal to be based on a technicality.
Leading author, politician, inventor, and statesman Benjamin Franklin left a legacy of scientific and political achievement. Hailed as the “first great American” by historian Frederick Jackson Turner, America’s “first philosopher” by David Hume and “one of the most sensible men that ever lived” by Emerson. Benjamin Franklin, in both his life and writings, “held true to a fundamental ideal with unwavering and at times heroic fortitude: a faith in the wisdom of the common citizen” (Isaacson, 478-93). Franklin’s works encompass shrewd observations on the literature, philosophy and religion in early America.
Perhaps the most famous and influential example of an autobiography ever written, The Private Life of the Late Benjamin Franklin was originally written for Franklin’s son William, then the governor of New Jersey. The work portrays a fascinating picture of life in Philadelphia, as well as shrewd observations on the literature, philosophy and religion of the time. Franklin wrote the first five chapters of his autobiography in England in 1771, resumed again 13 years later (1784-85) in Paris and later in 1788 when he returned to the United States. Franklin ends the account of his life in 1757 when he was 51 years old. Considered to be the greatest autobiography produced in colonial America” (Archiving Early America).
In addition to the rare works highlighted above, our collection currently includes a broad range of Americana including works by George Washington, Thomas Paine, John Hancock, and Abraham Lincoln among many others.