A Copy of the Declaration of Independence Foments Controversy

by Oletta Branstiter

A copy of the Declaration of Independence has been discovered by two Harvard researchers in Chichester, England. After two years of study and verification, they have released their findings to the public. The copy, found at the West Sussex Record Office, is believed to have been created in the 1800s.

The researchers, Emily Sneff and Danielle Allen, were surprised to find that the names of the signatories were not displayed in the same way as the original document.

While all the names of the representatives of the existing colony-states at the time of the original Declaration are present, it appears that every name was copied by the same unknown hand in regular text lines instead of in columns representing each state.

This newly discovered manuscript is not a replica of the United States Declaration of Independence, but merely a copy of the words and names that are written on the authentic historical parchment separating the colonies from British rule.

As Sneff and Allen made note of the distinctive differences found on the “Sussex Declaration”, as it has come to be known, like its landscape orientation, they also proffered a tantalizing hypothesis:

If this copy was commissioned by James Wilson, a Founding Father who promoted a strong central government, the arbitrary positioning of the signers’ names could, they propose, suggest an argument “that the country’s authority rested on the people rather than on the authority of the 13 states.”

The delegates of the states forming the Continental Congress were specifically entrusted to sign the original document, as formal representatives. Later, in 1787, the Constitution, would be signed in a similar manner, to adopt the rule of law in our new Republic.

To suggest that our founders intended our nation to be a pure Democracy makes one question the motivation of the researchers. As one of six state representatives that signed both the Declaration and the Constitution, James Wilson was a strong proponent of an authoritarian central government.  Nevertheless, he agreed with the majority of the delegates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, mandating a federalism defined in a Republic, as specified in Article 4, Section 4:

“The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.”

Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution goes into great detail about the methods of electing representatives from each sovereign state in order to establish a federal Congress.

Our Constitution is and has always been a careful balancing act between states rights and the power of a unifying governing body. Instead of placing ruling power in the hands of the people, our founders were wise enough to enact a representative form of government among the states, in which the rule of law maintains preeminence over the whims of man.

Photo credit: West Sussex Record Office

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