- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2017

You can thank an English-owned knockoff of the Declaration of Independence for proportional representation in the House of Representatives.

Founding Father James Wilson used the Sussex Declaration at the 1787 Constitutional Convention to give federal power to the people, two Harvard University researchers told an audience Thursday at the National Archives.

“If you look at the architecture of our institutions, the Senate reflects the view that it was founded on the basis of treaties among equal states, and the House represents the view that it was based on a single people that needed to be proportionally represented,” said Harvard professor Danielle Allen. “And that, of course, was the fundamental debate in the [Constitutional] Convention.”

Emily Sneff, research manager of the Declaration Resources Project at Harvard, found the so-called Sussex Declaration in England while compiling a database of known copies of the Declaration of Independence. The Sussex version is the only known parchment — meaning it was handwritten on animal skin — copy of the document.

Ms. Sneff and Ms. Allen researched to determine the age of the parchment, who commissioned it and why, and to identify when and how it moved to England.

“If you love a good mystery, it’s pretty hard to walk away from exciting archival projects,” Ms. Allen said.

The researchers determined that Wilson, who was one of the original six justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, is “the most plausible candidate” for commissioning the parchment, but they said they are still working to disprove various hypotheses for how and why the document ended up in England.

The Sussex Declaration was deposited at the West Sussex Record Office with other papers from the Duke of Richmond’s law firm. It may have been held by the Third Duke of Richmond, who was known as the “Radical Duke” for his support of the Colonies during the revolution.

The researchers believe Wilson, who signed both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, commissioned the Sussex Declaration to help make his case for proportional representation at the convention.

Wilson wrote in 1785 that the Declaration’s “these United Colonies” declared a collective federal government as opposed to separate state governments because it did not list the colonies separately.

“Can we forget for whom we are forming a government?” Ms. Allen said, quoting Wilson. “Is it for men, or for the imaginary beings called states?”

She said Wilson was the first Founder to argue that the Declaration called for a single, united country.

An audience member asked if Wilson’s copy is a misrepresentation of the original Declaration. Ms. Allen said it is, but so are many other copies, including perhaps even the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives.

Ms. Allen wrote in a column for The Washington Post in 2015 that four different official versions of the Declaration existed by 1777. There was the text as recorded in Congress’ minutes, the official printing requested by Congress, the calligraphy parchment at the National Archives and the prints sent to the 13 states.

There was also an unauthorized printing by Philadelphia newspaperman Benjamin Towne, who, in an attempt to scoop the official printing by newspaperman John Dunlap, added what Ms. Allen said is a mistake that may exist on the parchment in the National Archives — a period after “the pursuit of Happiness.”

The parchment’s poor legibility makes the ink mark indistinguishable between a period and a coma, but the Archives uses a period in its transcriptions of the document. Ms. Wilson said the addition of the period incorrectly breaks up the Founders’ self-evident truths from the role of government and their political theory on revolution.

She said Wilson’s copy and arguments at the convention conveyed his understanding of what happened when the Declaration was signed.

The Sussex Declaration’s listing of signatories is “most remarkable,” Ms. Sneff said.

The signatories at the Continental Congress signed the document from right-to-left in north-to-south geographical state order, but without state labels. Many prints added state labels and repositioned the signatures.

The Sussex Declaration, however, mixes up the names, further emphasizing a united country over separate states.

“The fact that the proportional representation view got as far as it did and gained as much traction as it did was because of the arguments Wilson was making,” Ms. Allen said.

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