- Associated Press - Thursday, August 28, 2014

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - In the summer of 1776, as 33-year-old Thomas Jefferson was writing the first draft of what became the Declaration of Independence, he solicited the thoughts of some colleagues.

He was anxious to hear from Benjamin Franklin, for instance, because of the much older man’s “more enlarged view of the subject.”

Franklin made minor suggestions, which is why “we hold these truths to be self-evident,” as opposed to holding them “sacred and undeniable.”

Jefferson could write like a demon; Franklin was a devil of concision.

In a spectacular and unusual exhibition - “Jefferson, Philadelphia, and the Founding of a Nation” - at the quiet American Philosophical Society Museum, just behind Independence Hall on Fifth Street, one can see the letter Jefferson wrote to Franklin seeking his editorial advice.

But one can also see Jefferson’s handwritten copy of the Declaration “as agreed to by the House and also as originally framed”; the copy is annotated with the changes made during debates.

There is also the Windsor swivel chair Jefferson acquired in Philadelphia and reportedly sat in as he wrote his great Declaration in the redbrick house still standing at Seventh and Market Streets; a first broadside printing of the Declaration (rushed to Continental Congress delegates on July 5, 1776); the only surviving broadside copy printed shortly thereafter on vellum; a 1775 printing of the in-progress Articles of Confederation, the nation’s “constitution” before the Constitution, which referred to “states” instead of colonies - at Jefferson’s novel suggestion.

There are numerous prints from the famous Birch’s Views of Philadelphia, unsullied cityscapes that give an arcadian view of the early city. Jefferson, who disliked cities, was an original subscriber to this book of prints.

The list of treasures goes on, without being uncritically celebratory of the subject. Jefferson’s complexities and sometimes unpleasant contradictions are not ignored. For instance, there is a formal letter he wrote in 1793 in which he agrees to free his enslaved chef James Hemings - but only if Hemings agrees to train another cook at Monticello, Jefferson’s Virginia plantation. (James was an older brother of Sally Hemings, Jefferson’s longtime enslaved consort.)

“The impetus for this (exhibition) was that Jefferson was the president of (the American Philosophical Society) for 17 years, both before and after he was president of the nation, and we have an enormous amount of material on him,” said Merrill Mason, museum director.

The current head of the society, Keith Thomson, has also written two books on Jefferson and was keen on exploring the man. Thomson believes that the APS, in which Jefferson had a passionate interest, “was one of Jefferson’s primary links to Philadelphia even after he left the city for Washington in 1800.”

Jefferson himself said his 1797 nomination as president of the APS, founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743, was “the most flattering incident of my life.”

And he meant it.

The current exhibition, which runs through Dec. 28, is just the beginning of the APS effort. “Jefferson, Philadelphia” will be followed next year by “Jefferson, Science, and Exploration,” and in 2016 by “Jefferson, Native America, and the West.”

Together the three exhibitions, almost entirely drawn from the APS’s own holdings, will cover Jefferson’s entire career, touching on many of his political, scientific, and personal interests, including the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark expedition, and his intense involvement with American Indian languages.

The first exhibition is already the most-visited in the museum’s history. In July alone, Mason said, about 1,000 people a day viewed it. The museum is open only four days a week, Thursday to Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Why has the exhibition proven so popular?

“The name Thomas Jefferson and his handwritten draft of the Declaration - those are the two things that get them in the door,” Mason said. “Then it’s the phenomenon of having the real things, the actual objects, rather than big electronic renderings. The real things provide a very intimate experience.”





Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer, https://www.inquirer.com

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