A Second Declaration of Independence discovered in England
A pair of researchers just made an incredible, and surprising discovery in England – a second Declaration of Independence.
There are several copies of the Declaration, but they are just that – copies. They are generally printed rather than handwritten, and unlike the original (and this new version), they aren’t printed on parchment paper. The original, known as the Matlack Declaration, sits in the National Archives and remains one of the most important documents in history. The newly discovered document is the only handwritten and signed copy on parchment paper known to exist beyond the original.
Harvard researchers, Danielle Allen and Emily Sneff, discovered the second Declaration in a records office in Sussex County, England. Due to the location, the document is being referred to as the Sussex Declaration.
“Up until now, only one large-format ceremonial parchment manuscript was known to exist,” Allen told CNN. “That one is in the National Archives and was produced in 1776. This one was produced a decade later, with the signed parchment as its source.”
Both Declarations measure 24 by 30 inches and are printed on parchment paper, but one major difference between the two documents is that the Sussex Declaration is oriented horizontally. The signatures also look different, which illuminates a significant shift in American politics between the time of the signing of the Matlack and the Sussex Declarations.
The signatures on the Matlack Declaration are grouped by states, which denote the political climate at the time when the colonies were loosely united behind a similar goal but still had bitter disagreements over how powerful the federal government should be. The original Declaration was meant to signify that the signees were representing 13 separate, but connected governments.
The Sussex Declaration, by contrast, featured the names in no particular order. The signatures on the Sussex Declaration were also the same size, meaning that John Hancock’s John Hancock is a reasonable size.
The exact history of the Sussex Declaration is still being researched, and it’s unclear how and when the document reached the UK or who wrote/copied it. The prevailing theory at the moment is that it may have been sent to Charles Lennox, the Third Duke of Richmond. Lennox was a member of the British aristocracy who was noteworthy for his support of American independence. He died in 1806, leaving no heirs. His estate reverted to his nephew Charles, and the Declaration may have been lost at the time. The Sussex Declaration was forgotten until 1956, when a man representing the Richmond estates connected to a local law firm donated it to the West Sussex office.
The Sussex Declaration was discovered partly by accident. For the last few years, Allen and Sneff have been searching for copies of the Declaration from the 18th century. In August 2015, they found an entry in Sussex that indicated that the document was listed as a parchment, which would make it unique. After a bit of research, the duo confirmed the general date, establishing that it was created in the 1780s. Further research suggests that the Sussex Declaration was commissioned by Founding Father James Wilson, or one of his political allies.
Allen and Sneff are currently working with Harvard, the West Sussex Record Office, the British Library, and the Library of Congress to research the document. The next step will be to perform hyperspectral imaging analysis on the parchment, a process that collects electromagnetic data.