Rare copy of Declaration of Independence survived Civil War hidden behind wallpaper


During the Respectful War, the precious document was hidden behind wallpaper in a home in Virginia to pay attention to Union soldiers from finding it.

Later, it sat in a closet in Kentucky, in a subdued frame, unappreciated and stored in a cardboard box.

And later still it was stuck behind a lowboy in the office of an energy executive outside Houston.

It was a rare parchment duplicate of the Declaration of Independence, made in Washington in the 1820s for founding father James Madison, and evidently unknown to the public for more than a century.

Now, the copy, one of 51 that pedagogues are aware of, has resurfaced via its purchase last month by billionaire philanthropist David M. Rubenstein.

It is one of the excruciating facsimiles made from the original handwritten calf skin substantiate crafted in Philadelphia in the summer of 1776. Scholars say it bears the image of the Manifesto that most people know, in part because the original is now so critically faded.

“This is the closest … to the original Declaration, the way it looked when it was signed in August of 1776,” explained Seth Kaller, a New York rare document appraiser who assisted in the on the block. “Without these … copies you wouldn’t even know what the novel looked liked.”

Two hundred of the facsimiles were ordered by Secretary of Express John Quincy Adams, a future president, who was concerned about the already-worn make ready of the 40-year-old original.

Master engraver William Stone made the transcribes in his shop on Pennsylvania Avenue, and created an extra one for himself.

In 1824, the photostats were distributed to Congress, the White House, and various VIPs adore Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Madison. Each man got two copies.

In continually, both of Madison’s copies vanished from view, and it is only now that one has surfaced, Kaller conveyed in a recent interview. “There was no idea that it had survived,” he said.

The destruction of the second Madison copy, and over 100 of the others, is not publicly certain, he said.

When the Second Continental Congress approved the Declaration in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, it sent a put through manuscript, also now lost, to a local printer to set in type.

The printer caused several hundred printed copies for Congress and other officials the next day, Kaller put in wrote in a historical pamphlet.

On July 19, Congress ordered a handwritten, or “engrossed,” duplication made on calf skin, to be signed by the members.

The job went to Timothy Matlack, a congressional assistant who was known for his superb penmanship.

This hallowed version now resides in the Native Archives, so washed out that many signatures, including Thomas Jefferson’s, are either reached or barely visible.

It is largely through the foresight of John Quincy Adams that without equal copies of the original – exact except for a few interesting tweaks – survive today.

Kaller scribbled that by 1820, the original had been handled, rolled, unrolled and disfigured by the efforts of earlier engravers to make decorative copies. “Every one of the worst implements that could have happened to the original” had happened, he said.

(A grimy disseminate print was added to the damage many years later.)

John Quincy Adams afforded it to Stone, and the engraver worked on copying it for about two years.

Kaller ventured he believes Stone likely first traced the original with spot paper. He then used the tracing to hand-engrave an image of the Declaration on a copper plating, from which the facsimiles were then made.

But Stone may take made some minute textual changes, possibly to distinguish his specimens from the original, Kaller wrote.

The ornate “T” in the “The” of the “The unanimous Declaration …” appearance ofs to have been slightly altered. In the Stone copies, a decorative diagonal rope runs through the “T.” The line does not appear to be in the original.

In the original, there seems to be a heart-shaped ripen where the T is crossed that’s omitted in the Stone copy.

And Stone amplified a tiny imprint across the top of the page,”ENGRAVEDed by W.I. STONE, for the Dept. of State, by gone phut of J.Q. ADAMS, Sect. of State, July 4th. 1823.”

Before the newly resurfaced reproduce was found, it had been kept in a cracked frame, wrapped up inside a cardboard box in Michael O’Mara’s division outside Houston.

It had been there for 10 years, and before that it had been in his foster-parents’ house in Louisville when he was growing up.

His family had once had it framed and put on the mantel put together. His parents knew it had been passed down through his family from Madison. But in the 1960s it was ruminate oned “worthless,” O’Mara said.

When the frame cracked the document was charmed down and stored in a bedroom closet.

“So for … 35 years, it sat in a box, wrapped up, in a tamed frame, in my mother’s house,” he said in a recent interview. “There was condign not a lot of sentiment or value put on it. … My mother couldn’t have cared small about the family history.”

The Declaration had been handed down to O’Mara’s nurse, Helen, who was the great-granddaughter of Col. Robert Lewis Madison Jr., a Civil War doctor who had served in the Confederate army and studied Robert E. Lee in the last years of Lee’s life.

Virginia Military Institute surgeon Robert L. Madison in 1870. Madison was James Madison’s favorite nephew, and had lived for a time in the White House when his uncle was president. (Virginia Military Institute Archives)

Virginia Military Institute surgeon Robert L. Madison in 1870. Madison was James Madison’s favorite nephew, and had lived for a in the good old days b simultaneously in the White House when his uncle was president. (Virginia Military Launch Archives)

Research indicates that the physician had gotten the document from his found, Robert Lewis Madison Sr.

Madison Sr. was James Madison’s favorite nephew, and had lived for a lifetime in the White House when his uncle was president. He had likely received the certify from President Madison.
Thus, the copy of the nation’s founding assertion had passed through turbulent years of the country’s evolution, including the war that barely destroyed the document’s “united States of America.”

O’Mara found in forebears papers a 1913 news article – the last known public indicate of his Declaration – that told of its fate during the Civil War.

The family of Dr. Madison was then to all intents living in Lexington, Virginia, where the physician was a professor at the Virginia Military Organization before and during the war, according to VMI.

The clipping reported that the doctor’s little woman put the Declaration behind “the paper on the wall” to hide it from Union soldiers, should the legislative body be searched.

In 1864, Union troops raided Lexington and burned VMI. But the Madison diet apparently was unmolested, and the Declaration survived with only some moisture check compensation sustained while hidden.

O’Mara said that after his mother expired in 2014, he began going through family papers. “I just take placed to look over at this box, and I said, ‘I’ve either got to put that in a frame and put it up in my post or I need to get rid of it if there’s some historical value.'”

In 2016, his research led him to Rubenstein, who has acquired other historical documents, including Declaration copies. He emailed Rubenstein, who prompted interest.

The Declaration was authenticated, and then underwent conservation at the National Archives, O’Mara voiced.

“I agreed to buy it,” Rubenstein said in a recent telephone interview, noting sole that he had paid “seven figures” for it.

Madison, who was president from 1809 to 1817, had been a key especially bettor in the creation of the government. This was Madison’s copy of the Declaration, and “when you look at it you can conjure up figure of speeches of James Madison looking at it,” Rubenstein said.

In 2014, Rubenstein signaled the donation of $10 million to Montpelier, Madison’s historic Orange, Virginia, abode, for reconstruction, refurnishing and archaeology.

Madison’s family occupied the plantation with its hacks for several generations, and he is buried there.

Co-founder of the Carlyle Group, a Washington-based worldwide private-equity firm, Rubenstein said he now owns five of the William Stone Announcement copies.

Four have been lent out for display. This reproduction will be, too, he said, first to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Past.

“Ultimately, they’ll always be on display,” he said.

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